Seven-run eighth was a breakthrough in every way for Red Sox
It was the best inning of the season. It was the best game of the season. It was a seven-run, eight-hit frame, starting with “Sweet Caroline,’’ and ending after the Red Sox greeted Oakland’s fifth pitcher of the inning with “Everything Is Awesome.’’
Stop the presses, people. Trailing, 4-0, in the eighth, the beleaguered, much-buffeted Red Sox scored seven times in the home half of the inning and beat the Triple A’s, 7-4, Sunday at sunny Fenway Park.
It was a breakthrough day in every way. The Sox had been 1-26 in games in which they trailed after seven innings. They had not won three straight since April 9-11. The victory gave the Sons of John Farrell a three-game winning streak and kept them out of the cellar of the American League East by a few percentage points.
Best of all, now they get to leave town and play hundreds of miles from the angry fans and nonstop noise of Boston.
Boston’s baseball summer was beginning to feel like Deflategate 2 when Rusney Castillo walked to the plate in the eighth with the Sox down by those four runs. Upstairs in the press box, the sad stories and obits were being prepared.
You know the drill. The last-place Sox were going to score one or zero runs for the major league-leading 15th time. They were going to be 0-28 in games in which they trailed after eight innings. They were going to fall flat at the end of the homestand that featured memorable support from ownership and the front office. They were going to fall 6½ games out, their largest deficit of the season.
And then a bunch of good things happened. Castillo hit his first home run of the season. Dustin Pedroia and Brock Holt followed with back-to-back singles. Hanley Ramirez made it 4-2 with a single. After a pitching change, David Ortiz made it 4-3 with a sac fly. After another pitching change and a Mike Napoli strikeout, Pablo Sandoval lined a single off the Wall in left, moving Hanley to third.
The Sox got a much-needed break on Sandoval’s hit. It should have been caught for the third out of the inning, but Oakland left fielder Mark Canha gave up, turned, and watched it hit the base of the Wall.
That was the only break the Sox needed. Xander Bogaerts put the Sox ahead with a two-run double and the jailbreak was on.
This made for a happy day at Fenway. Folks who stayed (a few gave up and left, and who could blame them?) were rewarded. It gave the Sox a stay of execution from the ever-ready-to-bury talk show circuit.
“This is a momentum-builder for us, no doubt’’ said Farrell. “The way in which we won . . . it was as big as the win itself. It was a much-needed win.’’
Indeed. The victory gave the Sox a 5-2 homestand after a 1-6 road trip. It also validated (for one day, at least) the supportive commentary from ownership and the front office that had made it a homestand of unusual urgency.
At the beginning of the homestand, Red Sox/Globe owner John Henry had assured the constituency that the jobs of general manager Ben Cherington and Farrell were safe. He said “they’re very good at what they do . . . you can’t blame the manager . . . the general manager of this team is going to be general manager for a very long time.’’ Three days later, Cherington came forward and said the Sox still have what it takes to win the AL East. He cited progress, and said we need to be more patient as we wait for this $200 million squad to live up to its potential and start playing better baseball.
Ramirez and Sandoval were twin-tower lightning rods at Fenway throughout the week. Ramirez was called out (by fans and media) for his bowser tendencies, but was staunchly defended by Cherington. He got a key hit in the eighth. Sandoval was buried on the bench after a couple of errors and a hitless week, then came back with two hits Sunday, including the lucky laser to left.
Go easy on the Panda, folks. He is the ultimate streak player and he is a veteran who understands the 162-game haul. He is not prone to panic. He’s won three World Series. He’s wildly overpaid and may be a burden at the end of his pact, but despite what you have seen he is not a burden today.
“It feels good to sweep the series,’’ said Sandoval, who always seems to be smiling and sweating. “I was glad to keep the line moving and I was excited to see my teammates excited. It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.’’
Winning three games in a row is a start. And getting out of town, away from the noise of us, may be just what this team needs.