ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Put that Red Sox schedule back on the refrigerator. Those future dates at Fenway Park and other Major League Baseball venues can be circled. There will be a baseball season in Boston after all. The season and the Red Sox are back on.
The Sox put the capper on what was an ecumenically glorious day on the Boston sports scene whether you were a devout Red Sox, Celtics, or Bruins follower. All Boston sports prayers were answered on Easter Sunday with a holy trinity of triumph for the Hub.
The Left for Dead Sox broke out the brooms against the first-place Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. The resurgent Red Sox earned the sweep in their first extra-inning game of the season, snatching a 4-3 decision in 11 innings at the Trop to pull within five games of the American League East lead and four games from .500. It turns out reports of the Red Sox’ demise were greatly exaggerated.
Instead of a last stand, this series against Tamp Bay was a first glimpse at what the defending World Series champions are truly capable of when they escape the hardball haze they spent the first 19 games of the season in. There’s a lot of baseball left to play. The Sox preached they had recovery time from their tailspin. But patience isn’t the forte of the Fenway Faithful. Pessimism and panic are Boston baseball birthrights. The Sox entered this series staring eight games up at the Rays from the AL East basement. Boston did not want to make its degree of difficulty for a fourth straight division title quadruple axel-like.
The most encouraging aspect of the Sox’ first series win of the season was how it was done. Boston rediscovered its winning ways with quality at-bats in the late innings, excellent situational baseball execution, and attention to detail so sharp it was serrated. It also did it with an ensemble cast approach.
On Friday night, the Sox got no-hit for four innings, then pounded out 10 hits, and pulled away in the eighth with back-to-back home runs from Mookie Betts (officially out of his slump) and Mitch Moreland, reminiscent of the team that led the majors in runs scored last season.
On Saturday night, they survived squandering a 5-0 lead and scratched out the decisive run in the ninth, riding a huge pinch-hit double from new kid on the big league block Michael Chavis and a game-winning sacrifice fly from Andrew Benintendi. They stole the final out with catcher Christian Vazquez alertly picking Tampa Bay’s Tommy Pham off first base with the tying run on second.
On Sunday, the Sox shrugged off Matt Barnes surrendering the tying home run in the eighth for the second consecutive day. They dug deep and played small ball in the 11th to ding overpowering Rays reliever Jose Alvarado for the second straight day, manufacturing the winning run after Vazquez followed Jackie Bradley Jr.’s sacrifice bunt with a sac fly to deep center to plate Rafael Devers.
That’s what good teams do. They’re not one-dimensional. They possess multiple means of victory. It’s how the Sox turned last season into one big victory tour. Frankly, the Sox will take wins any way they can get them as they try to dig out of the early season crater they created. But winning three close games in three days in the late innings against one of their chief AL East competitors was reassuring for the Red Sox, who deep down might have been beginning to have their own doubts.
“It allowed us to show that we’re still a good team,” said Bradley. “And we beat a really good team in the Rays, who have been playing really good ball. We were able to sweep them at their place. We still got a lot more games to go, but it’s a good start.”
Speaking of good starts, don’t look now, but the Red Sox rotation is beginning to find its footing. Sunday’s starter David Price (five innings, five hits, two earned runs, 10 strikeouts, and two walks) deserved better than a no-decision. The crafty and cranky lefty made it two strong starts in a row, overpowering his former club.
For the first time in his distinguished career, Price registered double-digit strikeouts in an outing of five innings or fewer. Eight of those strikeouts were swinging, and five came on his two-seam fastball, according to MLB tracking data. Price’s 100th and final pitch of the outing was a changeup to strike out Daniel Robertson, who had dented him for a two-run gap double in the third, stranding a runner on first to keep it a one-run game.
Price’s pitch efficiency was hindered by his K-count and some defensive inefficiency behind him. With one out in the fifth, Xander Bogaerts slid for a Yandy Diaz grounder and allowed it to burrow beneath his body for a base hit. The next batter, Pham, hit a grounder to newbie second baseman Chavis. It looked like a 4-6-3 inning-ending double play with a sure-handed flip from Chavis, but Pham beat Bogaerts’s slow turn at second.
Bogey atoned in the sixth when he delivered a clutch bases-loaded single that put the Sox up, 3-2, and put Price in position for the win. However, it was another bad news day for Barnes. He served up the game-tying homer in the eighth for the second straight outing, doubling-over on the mound in disbelief. Pham did the honors Sunday.
No Sox starter earned a victory in this series, and they still only own two on the season. However, they’ve stopped giving their fielders whiplash from bloated WHIPs. In their last nine games, Sox starters have a 3.21 earned run average after posting something that looked like it was from the Romanian gymnastics judge in the first 13 games (8.79).
“We aren’t worried about outside this clubhouse,” said Price, who has been the best Sox starter. “We know the type of team we have inside the clubhouse, and I think we showed that the last three days.”
Yes, they did. The Sox looked like exactly who we thought they were, one of the best teams in the American League. This could be the Tampa Bay turning point.
Now, it’s up to them to not look back and keep the momentum moving forward as they return home to face the Detroit Tigers with Chris Sale on the mound. If Sale can revert to form like the rest of the team did here in the friendly, climate-controlled confines of the Trop then the Red Sox will really rejoice.
The Red Sox resurrection story was obviously not the most notable one of this sacred period on the calendar.
But the Sox too have arisen.