No-hit bids are fragile things.
For five innings Tuesday night at Fenway Park, the Red Sox couldn’t find a crack in Drew Smyly.
The Rays lefthander either confused the Sox with his slider and cutter or got them to bounce ground balls around the infield with his fastball. It wasn’t that Smyly didn’t allow baserunners. Dustin Pedroia squeezed a seven-pitch walk out of him in the first inning, and Allen Craig worked him for a five-pitch free pass in the second.
For all the balls the Sox put in play the first five innings — 11 altogether — they couldn’t get one to drop.
Then, two pitches into the sixth, Smyly watched all the outs he had strung together unravel.
Mookie Betts stepped to the plate knowing Smyly had blown fastballs past him all night.
“So I was just kind of ready for a fastball,” Betts said.
Instead, Smyly fed him a slider to start the at-bat. At that point, Betts was just trying to find any way to get on base, but when Smyly left another slider hanging over the plate, Betts shot it into the Sports Authority sign over the Green Monster.
“He left it a little up and I put a pretty good swing on it,” Betts said. “Just trying to get on base.”
That quickly, Smyly went from flirting with his first career no-hitter while walking the tightrope of a tie game to putting his team in a hole.
On a night the Sox mustered just five hits, the homer would give them the only run they’d need in their 2-0 win, but Betts wasn’t done.
Two innings later, after ostensibly knocking Smyly out of the game, Betts came to the plate to face reliever Ernesto Frieri.
Betts blasted Frieri’s first pitch into the second row of the Monster seats for another solo shot.
“I was just first-pitch ready to go,” Betts said. “I figured he’d try to get strike one and I was going to be ready for that.”
After he rounded the bases, David Ortiz was waiting in the on-deck circle to give Betts a bear hug for Betts’s first multi-homer game. If it wasn’t the biggest hug he’s gotten, it was certainly from the biggest person.
“I think Papi was probably the biggest,” Betts said.
On the day when the 1975 Red Sox reunited at Fenway for the 40th anniversary of their American League title run, Betts, 22, became the youngest Red Sox player with a multi-homer game since Jim Rice did it at the same age during that ’75 season.
“Just one heck of an athlete,” Sox manager John Farrell said of Betts. “We’re seeing some pretty special things in a short glimpse here.”
There were times over the course of the night when Smyly seemed charmed.
In the fourth inning, he left a cutter hanging over the plate to Ortiz, who sent it screaming toward the triangle in center field.
The only thing stopping it from being Ortiz’s fifth homer of the season was Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, who crashed into the fence to bring it back in.
Ortiz shot Kiermaier a grin, knowing he’d robbed him of a homer. Kiermaier shot a smile at Smyly knowing he’d prolonged the no-hit bid.
A batter later, Smyly nearly coughed it up all on his own.
Mike Napoli had forced Smyly to empty out nearly every pitch he had — the fastball, the slider, the curveball — running the count full.
On the eighth pitch of the at-bat, Napoli bounced ground ball up the third-base line into no-man’s land. Smyly hopped off the mound to make a play, but in the rush he bobbled it, allowing Napoli to reach.
By the look on Smyly’s face as he stared at the sky, shaking his head with a wry smile, he was assuming he’d botched both the play and his first no-hitter. But the official scorer ruled the play an error.
But two innings later, Betts put an end to it. The homer was Betts’s sixth hit of the homestand, and he’s reached base all 12 times he’s seen the Rays.
“Not just Smyly, when any guy’s rolling, you’ve just got to stay in the game,” Betts said.
In the meantime, Sox starter Rick Porcello tossed seven scoreless innings.
“It was huge for Porcello to give us the opportunity,” Betts said. “He really, really gave us chances and chances and chances.”
Porcello’s been the most reliable arm on the staff. In his past two starts, he’s pitched 14 innings, giving up 10 hits, one run, two walks, 12 strikeouts, and no dingers. Porcello has three starts of seven or more innings. The rest of the Sox staff has four combined.
“I think any starting pitcher wants to go out and put up a strong performance,” Farrell said. “It happens that his starts have come following some outings where we needed him to go deep, but I don’t think Rick places any added emphasis on it.
“He’s a driven, highly motivated person in his own right regardless of the games we’re coming off of. But hopefully he gives us a little bit of a jump start, something to build on.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.