Sign up for 108 Stitches, our Red Sox newsletter
The glass half-full view of the 2019 Red Sox begins with the fact that the glass is not completely empty.
Thirteen games into their title defense, it’s striking how narrowly the Red Sox have avoided an 0-13 start. The team has either been tied or trailed through at least six innings in every one of its contests to date, a reflection of a starting rotation that routinely has left the club running uphill in the face of early deficits.
But the Sox are not winless in 2019. Instead, thanks largely to an onslaught of late-inning, game-changing hits by Mitch Moreland in pivotal moments, the team is off to a disappointing yet slightly less jarring 4-9 start in the wake of a 7-6, walkoff victory over the Blue Jays on Thursday night at Fenway Park — an escape act that permitted the Red Sox a chance to breathe.
“We can get some sleep,” Xander Bogaerts said on his way out of the clubhouse. “We won.”
For as much as the Red Sox have struggled to resemble last year’s juggernaut to this still-early point in the season, there is one similarity that has been noteworthy. The team continues to define itself by its refusal to relent over the full course of 27 outs, helping to explain how Thursday’s early 5-0 deficit — the product of a three-run homer by Justin Smoak and a two-run blast by Rowdy Tellez in the top of the third inning against Sox starter Nate Eovaldi — did not get rubber-stamped into yet another loss.
The ability to erase massive deficits — Thursday marked the second win in a game in which the Sox trailed by five; they’ve also emerged from a three-run hole for another one — has permitted the Red Sox some sense of connection to their championship performance.
“We never stopped playing last year and we’re not going to stop playing this year,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. “You see it however you want to see it. I do feel that we still have to make adjustments. We know we’re gonna pitch, but as far as stopping playing and all that, we never do that.”
The Red Sox positioned themselves to do that when they returned serve after Toronto hung its five-spot on Eovaldi. Boston scored three runs in the bottom of the third on a pair of run-scoring doubles (one crushed by J.D. Martinez into the Triangle, another dumped to right field by Rafael Devers against an outfield that was shifted toward the opposite field) and a Dustin Pedroia two-out single that the second baseman ripped just inside the first-base line.
The team added another run in the fifth inning before tying the contest in the seventh when Moreland fouled off a pair of 1-2 pitches, keeping the at-bat alive long enough to blast a 94 m.p.h. fastball from Joe Biagini for a solo homer into the Red Sox bullpen. The homer was the fifth of the year and fourth by Moreland in his last four games with an at-bat, the longest such streak of his career.
Though Jays shortstop Freddy Galvis lined a solo homer into the Blue Jays bullpen to give Toronto a 6-5 lead a half-inning later, the Red Sox once again refused to back down. Mookie Betts walked off Blue Jays closer Ken Giles with one out in the the ninth, then scampered home when Moreland again fouled off a pair of two-strike pitches on the way to a game-tying extra-base hit, this one a double to center on a 97 m.p.h. fastball.
The Jays opted to walk Martinez intentionally, then delivered an accidental free pass to Bogaerts to load the bases. With a drawn-in infield, Rafael Devers, who entered the game without a single RBI, chopped a single over the second baseman for the first walkoff hit of his career, the 22-year-old enjoying his place in the center of the mob scene.
“Just super-happy out there, celebrating with my teammates,” Devers said through translator Daveson Perez. “Maybe tomorrow I’ll feel the pain from the punches, but today I feel good.”
So did the Sox — an outcome that seemed unlikely when Eovaldi, despite stabilizing the game after his rough third inning, added to a pile of woe for the Red Sox starters by allowing five runs on six hits (including the two homers and four walks) in five innings.
After Eovaldi joined the Red Sox last year, he gave up four homers and walked 15 batters in 76⅓ regular season and playoff innings. Already in 2019, he’s issued 10 free passes and been stung for six homers in 15 innings. His ERA sits at 8.40, while the Red Sox rotation owns an 8.79 mark.
That’s the sort of performance that could have had the Sox in danger of being winless at this point in the season. But the Sox proved capable of an escape from their early hole, thanks to strong work from the bullpen (four innings, one run) and defense (four double plays, three involving Pedroia) as well as their continued evidence of late-innings fight. And now, with three come-from-behind victories — all of which featured key contributions from Moreland — the Sox can make a case to remain optimistic in the face of their early-season adversity.
“Do we have to clean up a few things? Of course. We know it,” said Cora. “But it’s good to win a game and move forward.”
Alex Speier can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @alexspeier.