OAKLAND — For Sunday, May 21, 2017, it was a must win.
If the Red Sox had fallen a fourth straight time to the Oakland A’s and dropped a game under .500, oh boy would Red Sox Nation have been rattled and combusting. Instead, the angst was toned down for at least a day.
An off day Monday will dial it down even more, but then comes a homestand, and the red-hot Texas Rangers are in town. This will be a true test of where the Red Sox are trending.
The Red Sox beat the A’s, 12-3, on Sunday. It was a laugher, which was better than being laughed at as they had been in the previous three games.
They did it by taking advantage of errors, with three stolen bases (two by Andrew Benintendi), a home run (Mitch Moreland), great defense and baserunning by Mookie Betts, three hits by Hanley Ramirez, and a quality start by lefty Eduardo Rodriguez.
They did it with a little extra adrenaline flowing in the series finale — aggressive in all phases — some of the players simply fed up with what’s been taking place.
They had a multirun inning in the ninth, scoring five times. They pounded 15 hits.
This was so “must win” that Dustin Pedroia nixed a scheduled day off because he wanted to play. He’s the leader, and he did what leaders do — produced two hits, and an RBI. When he said Saturday that the Red Sox needed to come back Sunday and win, he wasn’t kidding.
Pedroia tries to say all of the right things when things are rock bottom, but even he feels the moment. And the moment he was feeling was giving him a gnawing pain in the pit of his stomach.
So the narrative was changed for a day.
Other than an uptick in urgency, perhaps the most important thing that happened Sunday was that Rodriguez completed eight innings for the first time this season. He had gone six innings five straight times, all of them quality starts, but this time he was able to save the recently battered bullpen. He was due to get to a place where everyone around the team was hoping he’d get to — pitch more economically so he could get through the seventh.
He got through the eighth for the third time in 49 career starts.
Many young pitchers have to get over that economizing hump. He took advantage, according to John Farrell, of the aggressive early-in the-count swinging of the A’s. He threw only 98 pitches and probably would have attempted a complete game had his offense not scored five in the top of the ninth.
Rodriguez obviously likes pitching in this ballpark because he took a no-hitter into the eighth inning last Sept. 4, when he allowed a single to Marcus Semien with two outs.
“I just tried to throw the ball to put it in play,” Rodriguez said. “I just wanted to give us a chance to win the game. I feel more comfortable, I feel I’m able to control my pitches more.”
“He had a big shutdown inning in the fifth and sixth,” Farrell said, knowing that E-Rod had problems in those innings in the past. “We’ve seen in last two starts he’s had shutdown innings in the fifth and sixth innings.”
Farrell called the start the maturation of Rodriguez in that he knows what pitch to use to get an out. Rodriguez has stopped the thought process that he needs to strike out everyone to be effective. That mind-set is what has caused him to elevate his pitch count in the past.
There was no gloom and doom in this snapshot of the team. There have been plenty of those in the last 43 games.
At least they could travel 3,000 miles knowing they salvaged a game and had a 3-3 road trip. When you think about it that way, it doesn‘t sound so bad, but to say this team is out of the woods would be shortsighted. One win does not make everything go away, but on this day it was a must win and in that sense the Red Sox met the challenge.
Now comes the tough part.
Trying to put some distance between this point and the .500 mark is paramount. This up-and-down syndrome they’ve experienced all season is nauseating for the fans and for the team. It’s caused all sorts of issues that they had hoped would be dormant to rise to the surface, like did management do enough to replace David Ortiz given how helter skelter the offense has been? Has Ortiz’s departure also left a leadership void? Is Farrell doing enough to motivate his players? Did the Red Sox give themselves with enough pitching depth? Why have they been so bad defensively?
In these times those issues and many others arise. They will be issues for a while or for as long as the Red Sox stay in this .500 mode.
Baseball certainly has a way of changing the narrative on a daily basis, depending on the outcome that day.
There was urgency in the offense, the defense, and the baserunning. And in this start Rodriguez came of age just when the team needed him most.
Video: Eduardo Rodriguez highlights vs. A’s