SEATTLE — Most of his teammates had already left Safeco Field on Thursday night by the time Shane Victorino emerged from the trainer’s room.
Late nights at the ballpark are part of his routine now, with extra stretching and treatment required after games.
At 34 and coming off back surgery, Victorino has to maintain his body carefully or risk the Red Sox looking elsewhere for a right fielder.
“That’s the process going on every day to keep me feeling the way I am,” Victorino said.
The extra work was finally worth it Thursday night. Victorino hit his first home run of the season and made one of the finest defensive plays of his career in a 2-1 victory against the Mariners.
For the first time this season, Victorino showed how much he can still impact a game.
“Tonight was a flashback to two years ago for Vic,” manager John Farrell said. “You give him a lot of credit for all he’s been through physically. . . . He’s a difference-maker when he’s on the field and healthy.”
On a night when many players contributed, Victorino’s performance was particularly significant in that it offered proof the Red Sox are right to stay with him.
That Victorino is signed for $13 million is part of it, but so is the knowledge of what he is capable of.
Victorino was one of the most valuable players of the World Series champions in 2013. His 5.8 WAR, a statistic that measures across-the-board contributions, was second only to Dustin Pedroia.
Rusney Castillo, the $72.5 million Cuban player warehoused in Triple A, could be a good major league player in time. But Victorino has earned the right to show he still is.
“I just want to be part of the puzzle. The energy that I can bring out there, whether it be on offense, defense, running the bases. It’s about me being healthy,” Victorino said. “I feel like if I’m healthy I definitely can help by doing whatever. Playing the game, having fun, smiling, motivating other guys.”
Victorino homered to left field against Seattle starter Roenis Elias in the fourth inning, giving the Red Sox a 1-0 lead. It was his first home run since last July 25, 11 days before his back surgery. Victorino also singled and drew a walk.
The game was a major step forward for Sox starter Joe Kelly, who allowed one run on five hits with three walks and two strikeouts over 6⅓ innings.
Kelly may have been pitching to keep his spot in the rotation. The righthander allowed 21 earned runs on 26 hits and 11 walks over only 21⅓ innings in his previous four starts, the bad streak inflating his earned run average to 6.35.
In what was likely no coincidence, the starter for Triple A Pawtucket on Thursday was lefthander Brian Johnson, a former supplemental first-round pick. He allowed one run over 6⅔ innings against Columbus. Johnson allowed five hits and struck out eight without a walk.
Johnson is 4-2 with a 2.72 ERA in seven starts and drawing closer to being in consideration for an opportunity in the majors. Had Kelly pitched poorly again, it would have logistically easy for the Red Sox to move Kelly into the bullpen and promote Johnson.
Instead, Kelly had one of the more efficient starts of his career thanks to his reliance on a two-seam sinking fastball. He had a four-hit shutout going through five innings and to that point had thrown only 60 pitches. Of the 15 outs, 12 were on groundballs.
Seattle loaded the bases with two outs in the fourth inning. Dustin Ackley hit a hot shot that deflected off Mike Napoli at first base, but Pedroia was there for the carom and threw to Kelly covering the bag to end the inning.
“Pedey always has my back,” Napoli said.
Seattle tied the game in the bottom of the sixth inning. Nelson Cruz drew a walk. Kyle Seager followed with a single before Kelly threw a wild pitch.
With the infield back, Logan Morrison grounded to second and the run scored.
Kelly got an out in the seventh inning before walking No. 9 hitter Chris Taylor. With Kelly at 91 pitches, Farrell went to lefthander Tommy Layne.
Seattle pinch hit righthanded hitting Justin Ruggiano. He belted a slider to deep right field. Victorino sprinted back, flung his glove up behind him and made the catch.
“When that ball was hit, I tried to get the best route and get to the ball as quick as I good. There was a point where I just jumped in the air and it hopefully landed in my glove,” Victorino said.
When Victorino turned after hitting the wall and saw that Chris Taylor was far off first base. His throw was accurate and Napoli snared a tough hop to complete a thrilling double play.
“I’ll be first to say I definitely got lucky on that play,” Victorino said.
Four career Gold Gloves suggests it’s more skill than luck.
Victorino pumped his fist and yelled, showing emotion not seen since the World Series.
“That’s what I love to do,” he said.
In a 1-1 game in the ninth inning, Brock Holt doubled to left field against Seattle closer Fernando Rodney. Xander Bogaerts bunted Holt to third base. Pablo Sandoval pinch hit for Blake Swihart, and Rodney hit him with his first pitch.
The Red Sox thought it was intentional, Rodney wanting to quickly get around Sandoval to face Mookie Betts with a double play in order.
“I figured I’d be up there with Pablo on first one way or another,” Betts said. “I had to do whatever I could.”
Betts fouled off three two-strike fastballs before Rodney resorted to a changeup. Betts sent it to left field for a sacrifice fly.
Matt Barnes (2-0) pitched an inning in relief for the win. Koji Uehara recorded his eighth save. The Sox pitching staff has allowed one run in the last two games.
The Red Sox, now 17-18 and 3½ games out of first place in the American League East, have won four of five since a players-only meeting after a loss in Toronto on Saturday.
“We still have a lot of baseball left and I’m positive we’ll be there when we need to be,” Victorino said.