ARLINGTON, Texas — Six innings.
It seems like such a modest standard, and for much of the game’s history, it has been. Yet the role of starters has steadily dwindled, with pitchers only occasionally being asked to navigate an opposing lineup for a third time.
Still, even against that broader game-wide context, the Sox have plumbed ridiculous depths. Entering Monday’s game, the Sox had just 46 starts of at least six innings this year, tied for third fewest in the big leagues. The team had been immensely successful (32-14) in those contests, and dreadful when receiving fewer than five innings (20-41).
Few starters in the big leagues have struggled more than Kutter Crawford to log six frames, with the righthander having done so in just three of his 20 starts leading up to the outing against the Rangers. In his most recent three starts, he had yielded 12 runs in 11 innings, getting knocked out before five complete innings each time.
And so, Crawford’s performance Monday night — six innings in which he allowed two runs on four hits while striking out seven in a 4-2 Red Sox win over Texas at Globe Life Field that stopped the team’s four-game slide — represented a significant milestone for both pitcher and team.
“It’s important for him and it’s more important for us,” manager Alex Cora said. “That’s what we need. We need these kids to keep pushing to go deeper into the game. The 4 [innings] or 4 over and over and over again, at this level, it’s hard to win ballgames on a consistent basis. They understand that, and they’re working hard to get over the hump.”
The night did not initially appear set up for Crawford to do so. Rangers star second baseman Marcus Semien led off the bottom of the first by ripping a 91-miles-per-hour fastball over the heart of the plate into the left field seats for a solo homer. The longball was the 25th of the season for Semien and his ninth to lead off a contest.
“It was almost like a slap in the face,” Crawford said.
Crawford responded like someone who did not intend to suffer another. After he allowed hits to two of the Rangers’ first three hitters, he set down the next 14 batters in succession, pounding the strike zone to different locations with his wide-ranging arsenal that was headlined by a hopping fastball.
Even as Crawford mowed through the Rangers, it seemed for much of the night as if his one-batter lapse in the first might cost the team the game given the ongoing struggles of the offense. The threadbare Sox lineup — without Triston Casas (shoulder) for the rest of the year, and without Justin Turner (rest) and Wilyer Abreu (arm) for the series opener — offered little resistance to Rangers starter Jordan Montgomery through four scoreless innings, often flailing at air against the lefthander’s curveballs.
But in the fifth, Bobby Dalbec (2 for 4) lined a changeup to the opposite field, down the line in right, for a one-out double. Of course, runners in scoring position have been anything but a promising proposition for the Sox of late, given that the Sox entered the game having gone 6 for 71 (.085) with runners on second and/or third in their prior seven games. Luis Urías, however, pushed back against the pattern, lining a single to center to score Dalbec with the tying run.
The tie proved short-lived, with Crawford hitting a speed bump in the sixth.
Evan Carter smashed a ball off the warning track in center to open the inning and wound up with a triple when Ceddanne Rafaela wiped out on the dirt. Semien then laced a 2-1 cutter up the middle and through the drawn-in Red Sox infield for an RBI single, putting Texas back on top, 2-1.
Crawford again responded to adversity by tightening the screws, avoiding further harm and getting the game to the bullpen after 18 outs — a meaningful building block as the 27-year-old eyes becoming a more reliable contributor.
“My intention every time I toe the mound as a starter is to try to go at least six,” Crawford said. “Quality starts are a huge thing. It allows your bullpen to be rested and more fresh. So every time I go out there, I’m trying to go at least six innings.”
Though Crawford did not take a decision, the payoff for his efforts came shortly after both he and Rangers starter Jordan Montgomery (7 innings, 1 run, 8 strikeouts, no decision) were out of the game.
The Sox rallied against reliever Will Smith (2-7) in the eighth. Urías walked and advanced to third on a Connor Wong double to left. After a strikeout, the Rangers intentionally walked Rafael Devers to bring Rob Refsnyder to the plate. Refsnyder spoiled the strategy by lining a two-run single to center, giving the Sox a 3-2 lead. Adam Duvall followed with a sac fly to right to stretch the lead to 4-2.
The bullpen made the advantage hold up, with Josh Winckowski (4-2) getting credit for the win with a scoreless seventh inning, Garrett Whitlock rolling through a scoreless, six-pitch eighth, and Chris Martin — who went to school just down the road at Arlington High — pitching a scoreless ninth for his second save of the year and his 19th straight scoreless outing.
The victory marked the Sox’ first comeback victory in a game they trailed in the eighth inning or later since June 11. For a day, the 75-76 Sox could take some satisfaction in having influenced the playoff picture with a win over a team still competing for an October berth.
“Obviously we’re pretty disappointed with how this season has turned out,” Refsnyder said. “But we’ve still got a lot of fight in us.”