Usually after a walkoff win, you feel pretty good about the night’s work. But the Red Sox didn’t so much as win this one. It will be recorded as an 8-7 victory, but it was decided by an errant throw in the bottom of the ninth by Marlins shortstop JT Riddle, who was trying to turn an inning-ending double play on an Eduardo Nunez grounder.
Sure, the “Dirty Water” music blared at Fenway Park on Tuesday night and the Red Sox were celebrating at home plate. As the cliché goes, any win in Major League Baseball is a big win. And in the larger scope of things — given the Red Sox had lost three straight and were 2-6 in their last eight games — yes, this was big.
But then you add up the bad bullpen work and, well, you start peeling away the layers of this game, what you come out of this with is more questions about this team going forward.
“We didn’t pitch well in the last third of the game, but we swung the bats well,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “We took advantage of their mistakes. As for the pitching, we have to get better. We know that. We weren’t good tonight. Too many pitches in the middle of the zone. We weren’t able to spin the ball like we always do. We weren’t able to pitch up in the zone. We paid the price, but we won the game.
“’I’m not concerned, but we need to get better. Walks are getting up there now. A lot of 3-1 counts. We trust their stuff, but we have to execute. We have a margin to improve and we’re going to work at that.”
Matt Barnes gave up four runs in one-third of an inning. Heath Hembree was tagged for one run, two hits, and one walk in two-thirds of an inning. And closer Craig Kimbrel blew a 7-6 lead in the ninth thanks to a pair of walks.
Yet it was win No. 91, more than any team in baseball. The Yankees kept up pace — 6½ games behind in the AL East — with a walkoff win over the White Sox.
So can you really feel great after a win like that?
By the time “Sweet Caroline” was playing before a sellout crowd of 36,708, the Red Sox had squandered a 4-1 lead and headed into the bottom of the eighth trailing, 6-4. They had to remind themselves that they were home with an enthusiastic crowd behind them, and they were playing the 53-win Marlins. Losing this game would have been really bad. Winning this game with three runs in the eighth and the unearned run in the ninth was really big.
It’s always hard to say a team is in a must-win situation in late August. But the fact is the Red Sox were. They had been swept by the Rays in St. Petersburg. And then the Marlins rallied for five runs against a leaky Sox bullpen in the top of the eighth.
So, yes, Jackie Bradley’s two-out, full-count, bases-loaded single that tied the score in the eighth was a great at-bat. A wild pitch by Tayron Guerrero to Mookie Betts, the next hitter, allowed the go-ahead run to score. There’s no doubt that Guerrero, who throws 100 miles per hour, was done in by nerves in front of the large, boisterous crowd.
To say the Red Sox needed to change the narrative is an understatement. It didn’t come as easily as it should have against the Marlins, but it happened nonetheless. Could it be a game that puts the Red Sox back on their dominant track?
“I’m not looking way out there,” said Cora of the September schedule. “Like I said, when September comes, and we know where we’re at and what we have to do, then we go from there, and if we have the luxury of setting up stuff for October, then we’ll do it. But right now, we’re not playing good baseball. The team that is right behind us [the Yankees] is playing good baseball.
“We have to keep playing good. Like I told you guys, there was a point in the season when we were 17-2, and then you look up and we were tied with those guys [Yankees]. Whoever is thinking way ahead, hey man, that’s great, but I’m thinking about start playing good baseball today and we go from there.”
I’m not sure this win eliminates the “What’s wrong with the Red Sox?” narrative. What everyone wanted to see was a clean game that featured a dominant bullpen after starter Brian Johnson did his part, allowing just one run in 4⅓ innings.
The Red Sox simply haven’t pitched well for nine days.
A return to Fenway always seems to heal the Red Sox ailments. But after Wednesday’s game against the Marlins the Red Sox hit the road for four games against the White Sox and three in Atlanta against the Braves. The Yankees host lowly Detroit before heading to the West Coast to meet playoff contenders Oakland and Seattle, so the AL East race will become clearer after that stretch.
While schedule-watching is only natural at this time of the season, the Red Sox know they simply have to play good baseball the rest of the way to comfortably win the division. But they can’t afford another 2-6 stretch.
The Red Sox still have to play the Yankees six times, the Astros three times, and the Indians three times in Cleveland. They’re 36-27 (.571) against teams .500 or better. And they need to at least keep that pace in September.
Was this a start toward that? The win column says yes, but the rest of what happened Tuesday night might give you pause.