How chaos ensued from a close play on a ground ball to shortstop was hard for Brock Holt to figure out initially.
Chris Sale had the Red Sox lineup in a trance for seven solid innings.
Holt was coming out of the dugout to step into the on-deck circle in the eighth when Mookie Betts bounced one of Sale’s change-ups to the left side of the infield. White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez came charging in to grab it.
“I didn’t see it at first,” Holt said.
But with the Red Sox in a four-run hole, trying to avoid losing their fifth straight game and being shut out for the 10th time this season, the game tilted their way at that very moment.
It might have seemed like a garden-variety, bang-bang play on the surface, but Betts was in a gambling mood.
While he was kicking up dust down the first base line, he noticed what White Sox second baseman Gordan Beckham was doing. Beckham hadn’t played the infield in a month, but the motions of a middle infielder were ingrained in him.
“He was coming to back up [first base], because if he threw it away he would be going to get the ball,” Betts said. “As a second baseman, that’s what I’d do.”
Meanwhile, Ramirez was all the way across the field chasing the ground ball down.
“So I knew second base had to have been open,” he said.
The only person that could’ve possibly been thinking about covering second at that point was third baseman Conor Gillaspie.
“And I saw him at the pitcher’s mound,” Betts said.
He didn’t get a sign. No one screamed for him to go. Betts just made a break for it.
“He took off,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell. “And obviously he trusts his speed.”
At the same time, Holt decided to look up from the on-deck circle.
“Then the whole field kind of moves to second base,” Holt said.
By the time Beckham realized what was happening and screamed at Ramirez to cover second, it was too late. Betts was already sliding in safely.
Sale got the next two outs before leaving, but once he did, the Red Sox snapped out of a game-long funk. Dustin Pedroia plated Betts with a two-out single. David Ortiz would follow with a screamer off the Wall to score Pedroia. Then, after a Mike Napoli walk, Jonny Gomes doubled to the left-field corner to score Ortiz.
An inning later, Betts got on after being hit by a Javy Guerra fastball, then scored the tying run on a Daniel Nava double. And Holt came through with a single to right field that sealed the Red Sox’ 5-4 walkoff victory.
“We were down to Chris Sale, not feeling too good late in the game, then got him out and put some runs on the board and it kind of gave us some life there and we were able to finish it off, something that we haven’t been able to do recently. So it was a good feeling,” said Holt.
It wasn’t just Sale that had the Red Sox down. It was the day.
When they took the field, the scoreboard along the Green Monster showed all the sobering numbers. Ninety games into the season, the Sox were 12 games under .500 and 10½ games out of first place in the AL East.
Just hours before the first pitch, the Red Sox designated catcher A.J. Pierzynski for assignment and called up prospect Christian Vasquez. An uncertainty hovered over the clubhouse.
The Sox had a game to play, but they also had questions to answer.
Would they be sellers at the trade deadline? Would they make a move over next week’s All-Star break? Would they ostensibly chalk up this season as a lost one? Would they begin looking to the future?
When he stepped back to assess it all, general manager Ben Cherington said it was strange.
“I think we’re in an unusual and, perhaps, unique position,” Cherington said. “It’s unusual in that we haven’t been in this position, at least since I’ve been here, in a position of thinking about trading players at the deadline, so that’s unusual.
“It’s unique because on the one hand our team is where it is, but on the other hand we’ve got guys on the team who are performing at a very high level who were part of winning a World Series months ago. That just doesn’t happen often in baseball.
“Sometimes teams are sellers, not necessarily with guys that are coming off success like that. So, we’ll just have to see what happens. Whatever we do will be with a mind of trying to get better as quickly as possible and trying to build the next good team as quickly as possible.”
The Red Sox managed to cut through the tension with their seventh walkoff victory of the season. Losing seven of nine with one game left on this 10-game homestand left the Red Sox doing some soul searching and making some shakeups, but Farrell said that as they reassess with the All-Star break and the trade deadline approaching, they’ll still compete.
“I think when you get into some roster changes, there’s some unspoken message that is sent,” Farrell said. “Not in a threatening way, but indicates that the way we’ve been going isn’t acceptable. And while it was stated before the game that the investment in young players for the better of this season comes to the forefront a little bit, but that doesn’t change the competitive nature in every guy in uniform and I think that played out tonight clearly.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.