ATLANTA — There were many times early in his career, more than he would care to remember, when Xander Bogaerts would cringe at the thought of coming to the plate with runners in scoring position.
Where others saw opportunity, Bogaerts felt pressure. Baseball is enough of a game of failure without having it further compounded by higher stakes.
“I didn’t like it when I was young. You feel like you have to do something right now,” Bogaerts said.
Now when he comes to the plate and sees teammates on the bases looking back at him, Bogaerts knows it’s the pitcher who should be worried.
It happened again in the ninth inning against the Atlanta Braves on Monday afternoon.
With the Red Sox leading by three runs, Braves manager Brian Snitker sought to keep the game close by intentionally walking J.D. Martinez to load the bases with one out for Bogaerts.
Righthander Bryse Wilson got ahead of Bogaerts 0 and 2 then left a slider over the plate. Bogaerts lined it to center field for a two-run double.
It was the clinching hit in a game the Sox won, 8-2.
Martinez has 39 home runs and 115 RBIs and Snitker was smart to avoid him. Most managers would in that situation. But Bogaerts has hit .347 with a 1.169 OPS in 124 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
He is 8 of 15 with six extra-base hits with 27 RBIs with the bases loaded.
If postseason opponents determine they will not let Martinez beat them, Bogaerts will be waiting. He has 88 RBIs, one off his career best with 23 games still to play.
“RBIs are a product of what happens before you get to the plate,” Martinez said. “It’s out of your control. But it’s still a big situation and Xander has been there for us. I don’t mind getting walked.
“He’s a good hitter and he’s showing everybody how good he is.”
Cora has viewed Bogaerts as a run producer since the start of the season. He hit fifth behind Martinez on Opening Day and in all but 15 games this season has hit either third, fourth or fifth.
It’s easy to tell Bogaerts he should aspire to be one of the best shortstops in the game. Putting him in a position to accomplish that speaks louder.
“I’ve always thought he could be that kind of player,” Cora said.
Some players view an intentional walk to the previous hitter as a challenge, if not an insult. Bogaerts embraces a different emotion.
“I think I’m more happy,” he said. “I’ve got a chance to drive someone in. Try to hit it to the outfield somewhere. I don’t know why they do it but I like it.
“J.D.’s having an amazing season, so I guess I’m going to be facing a lot of situations like that.”
The 95-44 Sox have won five of their last seven games and lead the American League East by 8½ games with the Yankees losing in Oakland.
In their first visit to two-year-old Sun Trust Park, the Sox didn’t have a hit for four innings before a sellout crowd of 40,394 that included many of their fans.
Impressive Atlanta rookie Touki Toussaint cracked in the fifth inning of a scoreless game as Eduardo Nunez, Ian Kinsler and Christian Vazquez had consecutive doubles. A single by Mookie Betts made it 3-0.
Kinsler was 2 for 5 with three RBIs. He is 15 of 41 (.366) in his last 11 games with four extra-base hits and six RBIs.
“Any time you contribute offensively it’s a lot of fun and winning games is a lot of fun,” Kinsler said. “That’s really it. It comes down to wins.”
The critical part of the game from a pitching standpoint came in the seventh inning.
Ryan Brasier, who the Sox are testing with higher-leverage situations, inherited a 3-1 lead.
Ender Inciarte led off with a sharp single to center. Nick Markakis then singled to left field with one out before Johan Camargo reached on an infield hit to load the bases.
Kurt Suzuki, who does damage to the Red Sox in any uniform, sent a sacrifice fly to right field.
As is his habit in recent weeks, Cora went to Heath Hembree in a tight spot and he struck out Ozzie Albies with a high fastball.
Hembree has stranded 26 of 33 runners he has inherited this season.
The Sox used eight pitchers in all. The Braves had eight hits and drew six walks but were 1 for 12 with runners in scoring position and left 13 men on base.
Nathan Eovaldi started for the second time in four games; the Sox bringing him back after his start in Chicago on Friday lasted only two innings because of a long rain delay.
He pitched 3⅓ scoreless innings despite putting six men on base and throwing 86 pitches.
The crowd of relievers included Steven Wright, who worked a scoreless fifth inning in his first major league appearance since June 22. Wright was out with knee inflammation.