The Red Sox have spent the first half of the season waiting for wires to connect, for production throughout the lineup, for leads to hold up, for comeback efforts to end in victories instead of late-inning disappointments, for quality starts to run parallel to hot stretches at the plate, for wins to string together.
Every team in baseball had won at least four games in a row. Every team except the Red Sox.
Whether it was a quick burst in April or a flash of promise in June, the most fleeting signs of success had a way of short-circuiting on the Sox.
Either their ace Clay Buchholz was inexplicably shelled for nine runs or the pilot light went out on their batting order.
But with a fourth chance to stretch a winning streak to four games Wednesday night against the Marlins at Fenway Park, the Sox had a sense that things finally started to click.
“There’s confidence,” said Sox manager John Farrell. “And while the belief in our clubhouse has always existed, I think there’s a higher level right now, there’s no doubt. I think there’s been some guys in our lineup that have swung the bat with greater impact and consistency of late.”
From Rick Porcello’s six solid innings on the mound to David Ortiz’s 2-for-4 night at the plate, things lined up on both sides of the ball. And when Marlins’ misplays in the field left the door open, the Sox walked through it on their way to a 6-3 triumph that gave them their first four-game winning streak of the season and made them winners of eight of their last 11.
“There’s a good feeling in our clubhouse right now and we’re staying on that run of games,” Farrell said.
The Sox got on the board early by taking advantage of Miami being uncharacteristically sloppy in the field.
A four-run third inning started innocently enough with Marlins starter Tom Koehler handing out a one-out walk to Ryan Hanigan.
Things got rickety the next at-bat when Koehler fielded a comebacker from Mookie Betts, checked the runner, then let a throw go that was too far up the line for first baseman Justin Bour to grab.
With runners at second and third, the Sox cashed in. Hanigan scored the first run of the game on a groundout by Brock Holt. Then Xander Bogaerts bounced a soft grounder to the left side of the infield and sprinted down the line to beat the throw from shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria to score Betts.
Ortiz delivered the biggest blow, launching a 1-and-1 knuckle curve over the Monster for a two-run blast. Given an extra out, the Sox turned it into a 4-0 lead.
It wasn’t the last gift they’d get.
“We were opportunistic,” Farrell said. “They gave us an extra out and we were able to turn them into runs.”
But even with the lead, all eyes were still on Porcello in his last start before the All-Star break.
Porcello hadn’t won in his past eight starts, going 0-7 with an 8.18 ERA. But the chemistry he had developed with Hanigan before the catcher went on the disabled list in May was rekindled and their connection helped Porcello work around eight hits and a walk, holding the Marlins to just two runs.
When Porcello found himself in his biggest jam in the fourth inning after allowing five straight one-out singles, Hanigan twice made visits to the mound to get him on track.
“The goal is to dominate the game,” Hanigan said. “So we’re trying to go out there and do that and if we get into a jam, we’re trying to manage the situation.”
The last trip came with Porcello trying to wiggle out of a bases-loaded dilemma with two outs and Marlins left fielder Christian Yelich at the plate.
“I had told him that I wanted him to throw inside off the plate to Yelich before the inning,” Hanigan said.
Porcello had just put his curveball on the outer half to get a called strike and even the count at 2 and 2. Knowing how important the next pitch was, Hanigan had Porcello go back to the plan they had gone over before the inning.
Porcello jammed Yelich with a waist-high fastball inside, getting him to bounce a ground ball back to the mound and keeping any damage to a minimum.
“We got the two-seamer in, jammed him, ground ball back to him, got him out,” Hanigan said.
Porcello, generally not the most animated pitcher, hopped off the mound, letting out a howl as he went back to the dugout.
“I was probably fist-pumping,” said Hanigan.
The Sox tacked on an insurance run in the sixth when Ortiz scored on a Pablo Sandoval double-play grounder.
The Marlins finished themselves off in the seventh, getting what should have been the first out of the inning on an Alejandro De Aza comebacker but botching it on a Sam Dyson throwing error. De Aza went to second on a groundout, and scored when catcher J.T. Realmuto tried to catch De Aza stealing third and airmailed his throw into left field, making it 6-2.
The Marlins, who entered with the second-fewest errors in baseball, committed three and gave up a season-high five unearned runs, the most since they gave up six to the Nationals in 2012.
The Sox have had no problems making teams pay for their mistakes, scoring a league-high 57 unearned runs this season — 16 more than any other team in baseball.
“I think overall this year, we’ve done a very good job of that,” Farrell said. “They opened the door, they allowed us to build an inning.”
Porcello picked up his first win since May 16. In the process, the Sox pushed their record at home to 21-21. They’ve won their last four series, and in their past six games they’re hitting .298 and scoring 6.8 runs per game.
It all left them with a feeling that things were finally shifting.
“It seemed like everything was going south the first couple of months of the season,” Ortiz said. “And [Porcello] wasn’t the only one who struggled, all of us struggled.
“But I think that we learned from mistakes. And, once you learn it, you try to keep up with whatever you learned and hopefully that’s the case from now on.”