The duffle bags were laid out across the clubhouse floor. Travel plans had players splitting in different directions — whether it was Washington, D.C., for the All-Star Game or elsewhere to recharge. And no matter the outcome of their first-half finale Sunday against the Toronto Blue Jays, the Red Sox were going to go into the All-Star break with the best record in the majors.
But with so many reasons for their focus to fade, what impressed Red Sox manager Alex Cora about his team’s 5-2 win over the Blue Jays was the way they put an exclamation point on the best first-half in baseball history.
Xander Bogaerts went 1 for 4, with two RBIs, following up his walkoff grand slam Saturday with a solo homer in his first at-bat. Brock Holt went 2 for 3 with a pair of RBI singles, Jackie Bradley Jr. went 1 for 3 with the go-ahead RBI double in the fifth inning, and starter Brian Johnson gave the Sox 4⅔ sturdy innings as the Sox recorded their 12th win in their past 13 games.
“It’s very important to finish strong the first part of the season,” Cora said. “You get caught up in making plans and going here and there, we’ve got some players going to Washington. You get caught up in that and you forget there’s a game. Especially today, that’s a tough one to play. For them to put up good at-bats, play good defense, BJ did an outstanding job, the bullpen was outstanding. That was a good win.”
For the first time since 2007, the Red Sox will head into the All-Star break with baseball’s best record. Their .694 winning percentage is the second highest in franchise history. Their 68 wins top the 1969 Orioles for the most by any team prior to the All-Star break. It’s the most wins in Red Sox history through 98 games.
Cora grinned when he pointed out the common denominator between this team and the 2007 World Series team.
“Me,” he said.
But Cora then gave credit where it was due before making it clear there that was more work to be done.
“It’s all them,” he said. “They do a good job preparing and digesting the information and they’re the ones that go out and perform. I think we’ve been very consistent throughout the season and I still feel that we can be better. There’s a few things that we can improve, and that’s a good thing. We’ve still got some challenges in front of us.
“It’s not like because we had a good first part of the season, it’s granted that we’re going to go all the way. We’ve got 64 more games in the regular season. We’re going to keep playing the way we’re playing and put pressure on people and then — we win, we lose — we turn the page. Keep moving. But we’re in a good place. I’m proud of what they have accomplished.”
The Sox beat the Jays for the eighth time in their past nine meetings by capitalizing on Toronto’s season-long struggles on defense.
With the game tied at 2 in the fifth inning, Jays left fielder Teoscar Hernandez horribly misplayed a seemingly routine fly ball from Sandy Leon to start the inning.
He looked looking for something to blame — the sun, the wind, the Wall — but Jays starter Marcus Stroman wasn’t interested. Stroman was putting together a strong outing in his fifth start since coming off the disabled list and wasn’t in the mood to have it sabotaged by histeammates.
As Leon strolled into second base like he had made a reservation, Hernandez motioned with his hands that the ball went over his head. Stroman didn’t hide his reaction.
He barked, “Catch the [expletive] ball.”
The Jays came into Sunday with the third most errors in the majors this season. This weekend alone, they piled up eight in four games against the Sox.
Mercifully, Hernandez’s lapse didn’t count as one of them. But it fed a Sox offense that runs a mile with every inch it is given.
As the Jays came apart at the seams, the Sox took advantage.
Following Hernandez’s misplay, Bradley shot a double off the center-field wall to drive in Leon and give the Sox a 3-2 lead. Mookie Betts moved Bradley to third with a fly ball to right.
Bogaerts shot a ground ball back up the middle that ricocheted off Stroman’s left leg before shortstop Aledmys Diaz snagged it and threw him out at first. But it was enough to score Bradley and give the Sox a 4-2 lead.
Holt tacked on an insurance run in the sixth with an RBI single.
Of the 19 teams since the start of the modern era in 1900 to win 68 of their first 98 games, 17 went on to win the pennant, and 11 went on to win the World Series.
“I said it [stinks] to go home right now because we’re playing this good,” Bogaerts said. “The team that we have, I don’t see no reason why we don’t continue.”