Sandy Leon was on the ball in Tuesday’s Red Sox win
TORONTO — It was a footnote in a game where 17 runs were scored over 10 innings. But what Red Sox catcher Sandy Leon did in the sixth inning against the Blue Jays on Tuesday night was the best defensive play of the Red Sox season, in the estimation of manager Alex Cora.
“That was amazing,” Cora said.
Toronto had a 2-1 lead when it loaded the bases with no outs against Brandon Workman. Kevin Pillar popped up to right field for the first out. Kendrys Morales, a slow runner, stayed at third base.
Luke Maile then sent a roller up the third base line. Leon jumped out from behind the plate, shed his mask, chased the ball down, and in one motion slapped the tag on Morales as he ran by.
Workman and third baseman Eduardo Nunez had no play on the ball.
“Do or die,” Leon said. “I thought it was going to stay fair so I picked it up. It was a crazy play.”
Workman was worried the ball would come loose.
“Morales is a big guy, I don’t know how Sandy held on to the ball,” he said. “It was one of the best plays I’ve ever seen.”
Score it a 2-unassisted, which is a rarity outside of interference calls on the batter. Special assistant Jason Varitek, who played 17 years professionally after three seasons at Georgia Tech, said he had never witnessed a play like that before.
“Sandy showed great field awareness,” Varitek said. “That was the only play he had. He also has to secure the ball and make the tag.”
Leon also made a smart play to end the inning. When Randal Grichuk grounded a ball in front of the mound, Leon shouted at Workman to toss the ball to the plate for a force rather than make the more risky throw to first base.
“I think that was the only play because it was so slow,” Leon said.
Leon also contributed offensively to the 10-7 victory with a double in the eighth inning that started a four-run rally.
“His baseball IQ is way up there,” Cora said. “The good thing about him is he’s willing to keep learning . . . He’s able to slow down the game. There’s not a big moment. The bigger the moment, he’s able to slow it down and think through the situation.”
Rafael Devers was activated off the disabled list and started at third base. He was 2 for 4 with a double, a two-run home run, and two runs scored in a 10-5 victory after missing 10 days with a left hamstring strain.
Devers went into the game with a .721 OPS, a step back from the .819 he had over 58 games last season. Devers also has 20 errors, the most in the majors.
Inconsistency has been an issue in his first full season in the majors.
“I can’t say that it’s been good,” Devers said via a translator. “I know that there’s more in there, that I can give more. But that’s baseball; you can’t predict the ups and the downs. Sometimes you’re good and sometimes you’re not so good.
“I’m just glad to be back. I know that I can give more than I have.”
Cora believes Devers has played well.
“It’s been a good one. He’s 21,” the manager said. “He’s had his ups and downs. Obviously everybody focused on the errors. He’s a guy [with good range] at third base. He’s made some mistakes, yeah. But at the same he’s been learning.”
Cora said he would not replace Devers for defensive purposes late in a game unless it was a double switch in one of the interleague games in Philadelphia next week.
“As of now, we trust him,” Cora said. “So we’ll let him play.”
To avoid playing consecutive games on turf, Cora said Devers would not start on Thursday.
It appears Blake Swihart will return from the 10-day disabled list sooner than Ian Kinsler.
Swihart, who strained his right hamstring on Aug. 2, will meet up with the team in Baltimore on Friday. He will take some swings against Eduardo Rodriguez in live batting practice.
Kinsler, who strained his left hamstring on Aug. 3, will work out with Single A Lowell over the weekend then join the Sox in Philadelphia on Tuesday.
It appears likely the Sox will activate Swihart on Tuesday. Kinsler is eligible to return on Wednesday but the team may wait a few extra days to make sure the 36-year-old is fully recovered.
With Devers back, the Sox have adequate coverage at second base with Brock Holt and Nunez.
Christian Vazquez is working out in Florida during the trip. He has been out since July 8 with a broken right pinkie that required surgery.
Mookie Betts and his girlfriend, Brianna Hammonds, are expecting their first child in mid-November. Betts broke the news on Twitter and Instagram . . . To make room for Devers on the roster, infielder Tony Renda was optioned to Triple A Pawtucket . . . Cora does not expect to start backup catcher Dan Butler until one of the games of Saturday’s doubleheader at Baltimore. Leon has started all five games since Swihart was injured . . . The Sept. 9 game against Houston at Fenway Park has been picked up at ESPN and will start at 8:10 p.m. ESPN also is expected to add the Sept. 23 game at Cleveland, although that has not yet been announced. The Sept. 3 game at Atlanta will start at 1:05 p.m., not 1:30 as was originally the case.