The wounds of a brutal seven-game road trip were still fresh when the Red Sox returned to Fenway Park Tuesday. The rain Monday that put their series opener against the Twins on hold for a day couldn’t wash them away.
Staring up the standings at all of their AL East rivals — even if only four games separated them — left everyone from the clubhouse to the front office carrying the weight of the season’s disappointment so far.
Despite the talent, the payroll, the daily work, and the process, manager John Farrell admitted, the season “has not been acceptable to anyone.”
Having seen both the highest peaks and deepest valleys in his 13 seasons in Boston, designated hitter David Ortiz said, “We need to regroup and go back to the old days.”
All the while, owner John Henry was meeting with the media, both venting and taking responsibility. The season, he said, was “painful to watch.”
And there still were more than 100 games in front of them.
“Every game is big from here on out,” said Tuesday night’s starter, Clay Buchholz. “Obviously, we haven’t played up to the caliber of players we have on this team. The bar is set pretty high for this club. There’s nobody in this clubhouse that doesn’t expect that or want it any other way.”
The Sox’ 1-0 win over the Twins was still marked by many of the issues that made May such a struggle — ineffectiveness at the plate nearly undermining a solid performance on the mound — but for a team that had just lost six of seven, it was a win.
“Much needed,” said shortstop Xander Bogaerts, whose two-out double in the seventh was the catalyst for the decisive run, which was driven in by Rusney Castillo. “Probably the biggest win of the year, coming off a tough road trip, starting off the homestand on a positive note.”
The Sox had won eight one-run games before Tuesday night, but with a doubleheader on Wednesday, Bogaerts said this one needed to be a springboard.
“Just come in here with the same excitement and ready to go tomorrow again,” he said. “We’ve been having a lot of tough luck, but I really think this 1-0 win will go a long way for us.”
Starving for run support most of the season, Buchholz again had little room for error. For as sharp as he was in his eight shutout innings, the lineup had to claw to muster a run for him to work with.
The Sox put Twins starter Mike Pelfrey in a tight spot early but let him off the hook. In the second inning, Pablo Sandoval worked a one-out walk and Mike Napoli followed with a double off the Monster to put a pair of runners in scoring position.
But Bogaerts reached for one of Pelfrey’s splitters on a 1-and-2 count and bounced it to shortstop Danny Santana, who was playing in on the grass and threw Sandoval out at the plate. Sandy Leon popped to short to end the threat.
Buchholz was carving up the Twins lineup, using his fastball, cutter, and curveball. He piled up eight strikeouts and allowed just five baserunners (three hits, two walks).
He was two pitches away from an immaculate inning in the fifth, when he struck out Eddie Rosario and Eduardo Escobar on three pitches apiece, then started Aaron Hicks with a first-pitch strike. He walked Hicks on six pitches, but came back and rang up Santana on four pitches to finish off the inning.
Buchholz was still looking for his first win at Fenway Park this season. It wasn’t until the seventh that the Sox put him in position to get it.
Bogaerts fell behind, 0-and-2, to Pelfrey, but after fouling off a slider and a sinker away, he was waiting on another offspeed pitch.
“I got one the first pitch, missed it, and stayed with my approach and I got one,” Bogaerts said.
When Pelfrey left a splitter over the middle of the plate, Bogaerts shot it deep to center field. As he watched it fly, he thought he finally put the Sox on the board.
“I really thought I had that home run,” he said.
The ball dotted the wall on the 379 sign and Bogaerts settled for a double. Leon’s five-pitch walk brought Castillo to the plate, and after Pelfrey missed low with a first-pitch sinker, then got one over for a strike, Castillo fouled off three straight pitches before taking a knee-high sinker on the inside of the plate and shooting it up the middle for the single that scored Bogaerts.
“I thought it was a good at-bat for me, especially given the situation in the game, and thankfully I was able to drive in the go-ahead run after some tough at-bats prior to,” said Castillo, with staff assistant Adrian Lorenzo interpreting.
Leon was thrown out at third to end the inning, but the run counted.
A week ago, seven innings of five-hit, one-run ball was enough for Pelfrey to bottle up the Sox, but even with the Sox going just 1 for 7 with runners in scoring position Tuesday night, the one run was enough.
“Things hadn’t been going our way,” said Castillo, who also robbed Hicks of a homer at the fence in right for the first out of the eighth. “But luckily we were able to turn it around today and get a ‘W’.”
The next step is turning around the season, a game at a time.
“No pressure though,” Bogaerts said. “I don’t think we’re putting pressure on ourselves, but we’re well aware that we need to turn things around pretty quick and I really believe that this win tonight will definitely turn the whole thing around for us.”