As the zeros spread across the innings, the momentum built by the Red Sox in recent weeks seemed in jeopardy. One night after the bullpen coughed up a late lead en route to an extra-inning defeat against the Rockies, a similar outcome seemed possible on Wednesday after a three-run, seventh-inning advantage went up in smoke.
The idea of spending an offday chewing on the aftertaste of two straight disheartening defeats, with the team with baseball’s best record — the Astros — coming to Fenway over the weekend, seemed unwelcome. And ultimately, it proved unnecessary, thanks in no small part to the rookie who jolted the Red Sox from their somnambulant start to the season back into a more familiar spot of contention.
With Xander Bogaerts (leadoff double) on second and Rafael Devers (intentional walk) on first in the 10th inning, Michael Chavis jumped on a first-pitch cutter from reliever Chad Bettis and sent a hard grounder through the middle of the infield. The single sent the Red Sox to a 6-5 victory over the Rockies at Fenway, with Chavis collecting the first walkoff hit of his career.
“Needed. Much needed,” sighed Bogaerts.
The degree of difficulty in the victory proved far greater than expected. The Red Sox jumped on starter German Marquez for an early five-run advantage. Andrew Benintendi, Mookie Betts, and J.D. Martinez strung together hits to open the first en route to a 2-0 lead.
The same trio again delivered back-to-back-to-back hits in a three-run third, with Benintendi ripping a triple to center, Betts flicking an RBI single to right, and Martinez crushing a slider into the bullpen for a two-run homer that put the Red Sox ahead, 5-0. Martinez now has five homers in his last seven games and nine round-trippers on the year.
“He’s getting pitches in his zone, and he’s not missing them,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. “It’s amazing what he does on a nightly basis. I bet, when you come here, you don’t want that guy to beat you, but at the same time you still have to pitch him, and when he gets his pitches, he’s not missing them lately.”
That early outburst seemed like it would be plenty with increasingly steady Eduardo Rodriguez carving the strike zone with four- and two-seam fastballs, a wipeout changeup, a slider that flummoxed lefties, and a nasty cutter. Through six innings, he’d given up just two runs on seven hits (no homers) and one walk while striking out 10.
Yet with the lefthander’s pitch count at 99 and the Sox still leading, 5-2, Cora elected to have Rodriguez return for the seventh. The decision quickly backfired when three straight lefties reached — Ryan McMahon on a single, Tony Wolters on a double, and Charlie Blackmon when getting clipped by a fastball — to load the bases.
Fireman Matt Barnes was summoned to try to preserve the increasingly unstable 5-2 lead. Instead, the righthander allowed all three inherited runners to score, giving up a two-run single to Trevor Story and, after a Nolan Arenado strikeout, an RBI ground out to pinch hitter Daniel Murphy.
Though Marcus Walden came in to strike out Raimel Tapia and end the inning, the Rockies, for the second straight night, had stormed back to erase what had seemed an insurmountable early deficit. Barnes was charged with his third blown save of the year, making him one of seven pitchers to give up that many leads this season.
Meanwhile, despite his dominance for most of the night, Rodriguez was saddled with an unimpressive — albeit deceiving — line of five runs allowed in six-plus innings on nine hits.
“You look at the line and it looks ugly, but he pitched a lot better than that,” said Cora.
Still, Rodriguez left with a no-decision not only because of the late runs allowed but also because Marquez settled down after allowing Martinez’s homer. The strike-pumping righthander retired 11 of the next 12 hitters he faced and ultimately worked into the seventh.
His recovery, in turn, left the contest in the hands of the bullpens. While the Rockies mixed and matched their way through the remainder of the game, the Red Sox turned to the remarkably reliable Walden, who delivered 2⅓ perfect innings while striking out four. The appearance was his eighth of at least two innings, tied for the most in relief of that length in baseball this year.
His impressive arsenal — mid-90s four- and two-seam fastballs, low-90s cutter, and sharp slider — have helped the rookie produce a glimmering 1.46 ERA while holding opponents to a .140 average.
“His stuff is playing great at this level right now,” said Cora. “He gave us more than enough to have a chance to win.”
Walden steered the game into extra innings, where Heath Hembree (double, walk, two outs) and Brandon Workman (strikeout of David Dahl) delivered a scoreless 10th to position the Sox for their second walkoff of the year, with Chavis delivering the finishing blow.
“I turned, got tackled by Mookie, gave him a hug. That was great, honestly. I’m a big hugger,” said Chavis. “That’s what every kid dreams about, honestly.”
For all of the Red Sox, the dreams seemed likely to be a bit sweeter entering the offday given a victory that offered a measure of relief.
“We get a happy offday,” said Cora. “Yesterday was disappointing and today had the same taste for a while. But we ended up winning and now we enjoy the offday and [will] be ready for Friday.”