ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The ball Rafael Devers served out over second base in the top of the 11th inning on Sunday afternoon was measured at 71 miles per hour off the bat, undoubtedly slower than many of the cars rushing by Tropicana Field on Interstate 275.
But it landed for a single, Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier deciding to hold back rather than risk the ball bouncing off the artificial turf and getting by him.
A series of small, yet meaningful events followed for the Red Sox.
Michael Chavis drew a five-pitch walk, pitcher Jose Alvarado working him down and in after the rookie doubled off him on Saturday to help win that game.
Then Jackie Bradley Jr. was able to get his bat on a 98-m.p.h fastball and put down a successful sacrifice bunt, his first since 2015.
Bunting to get to the No. 9 hitter isn’t conventional, but the Sox preferred a productive out from Bradley rather than having him swing away at Alvarado. That lefty-lefty matchup didn’t favor Bradley.
“It’s as tough as anything in baseball,” said Bradley about trying to bunt that particular pitch. “I was glad to get the job done.”
With the infield in, Christian Vazquez’s job was to get the ball in the air. But he had not had a sacrifice fly since 2017.
“That guy is nasty, but I was trying to drive it,” Vazquez said. “I had faced him before and I felt pretty good.”
Vazquez took a curveball off the plate — “Forget that pitch,” he said — and swung at a fastball. He hit it deep enough to center field to score Devers.
From small things, big things come. The Red Sox had their run and held on for a 4-3 victory that completed a three-game sweep.
After a 2-8 start, the Sox have won seven of 12. They are now only five games behind the first-place Rays and start a 10-game homestand on Monday night.
“Hopefully this gets us on a good roll,” said Ryan Brasier, who had the save in all three games of the series. “Coming in and beating these guys like that, it can go a long way.”
Alvarado entered the series having thrown 9⅓ scoreless innings this season with 16 strikeouts. The Sox faced him twice and scored two runs on three hits and two walks.
Sox manager Alex Cora is an advocate of aggressive swings and an attack mentality at the plate. But he played for one run on Sunday.
“We don’t do that usually, but in the spot we were in, we had to do it,” he said. “You have to give those guys credit.”
Vazquez was 0 for 7 against Alvarado in his career with two strikeouts. But Cora didn’t mind the matchup.
“He’s been swinging the bat well, direct to the ball. He’s a good situational hitter,” the manager said. “He has a pretty good idea how to play the game. Against a tough guy who keeps the ball down, he put a good swing on it.”
It was only the second time in his career Vazquez drove in a run in extra innings.
“I’m not usually in that position,” he said. “It was fun.”
David Price allowed two runs on five hits over five slow-paced innings. He struck out 10 with two walks and threw 100 pitches.
Red Sox starters have a 3.21 earned run average in the last nine games. The rotation had an 8.79 ERA through 13 games.
“We’re getting better, absolutely,” Price said. “We can still get better. We understand that; we know that and we believe that. Keep it going.”
The Sox scored twice to take a 3-2 lead in the sixth inning.
Mookie Betts knocked Rays starter Tyler Glasnow out of the game with a single to right field. Pinch hitter Steve Pearce drew a walk off reliever Adam Kolarek. Chaz Roe then walked J.D. Martinez to load the bases.
Xander Bogaerts singled to right center, driving in two runs.
Brandon Workman and Colten Brewer worked perfect innings. Matt Barnes, who threw 29 pitches in the first two games of the series, was the choice in the eighth. He got one out before hanging a curveball that Tommy Pham drove over the fence in right field.
It was the second home run allowed in as many games for Barnes.
Marcus Walden replaced Barnes and went two innings for the win. He retired six of the seven batters he faced.