Mookie Betts seemed perplexed. Walkoff victories typically inspire on-field displays of unbridled joy, but on Wednesday evening, the unassuming nature of the final run hardly represented obvious cause for an eruption.
With the bases loaded and none out in the ninth inning of a tie game, and Rangers reliever Jesse Chavez having thrown seven of the previous eight pitches for balls, Betts kept the bat on his shoulder as a 3-and-1 fastball came nowhere near the outside corner. A slow-motion carousel of four Red Sox advanced 90 feet, and as Betts approached first — just after pinch-runner Marco Hernandez crossed home — his teammates likewise meandered toward the bag in understated fashion.
Yet at a time when the Red Sox have been flailing in the pursuit of wins, when the club stood in danger of falling below .500 for the first time since early May, artistry was no prerequisite for emotion. And so, the walk from the dugout gave way at first base to an ambush of Betts, as players dumped bottles of water and an ice bucket on their teammate in a demonstration fueled with equal parts celebration and relief after a 4-3 victory over the Rangers.
“We need every win we can get right now,” acknowledged starter Rick Porcello, who garnered a no-decision despite 6⅔ innings in which he threw darts — sliders to complement four- and two-seam fastballs — to the edges of the strike zone while allowing two runs, walking none, and striking out six.
In a way, the nature of the game-winning run served as a template for a team that hopes to overcome its sideways journey through the first two and a half months of the season.
The operative word in the ninth was patience. Given an opportunity thanks to a Christian Vazquez ninth-inning leadoff double and a broken-bat single by Jackie Bradley Jr. that advanced pinch-runner Hernandez to third, the Red Sox did not fall flat on their faces in uncontrolled pursuit of their goal. Instead, rookie Michael Chavis — whose soaring strikeout rate has resulted in his relocation to the bottom of the lineup — proved patient enough to ignore four straight offerings from Chavez for a walk. Betts was prepared to jump on the first pitch he saw with the bases loaded, fouling off a cutter, but then refused to expand the strike zone while accepting his game-winning free pass.
Patience won a game for the Sox. Patience is what will be needed if a disappointing trek to mid-June is to give way to something more over the summer.
The rally came in a game where Porcello seemed in jeopardy of giving the game away before it had truly started. He gave up three straight hits with two outs in the first — including booming doubles by Nomar Mazara and Hunter Pence that put the Sox down, 2-0 – before correcting course and retiring the next 15 batters on the way to his solid performance.
With Porcello stabilizing the game, the Red Sox employed a tactic that they’ve rarely utilized in recent weeks: the two-out hit with runners in scoring position, with Andrew Benintendi playing a key role in three separate one-run rallies.
In the first, with the Red Sox down, 2-0, he lined a double to left and then scored on Rafael Devers’s two-out, 2-and-2 single up the middle. Two innings later, with Bradley on first, Benintendi sent a rocket to center for a run-scoring, two-out triple that tied the game. Then in the fifth, Benintendi jumped on a first-pitch curveball from Texas starter Lance Lynn (no-decision after six innings of three-run ball with eight strikeouts and one walk) and clubbed it off the Wall in left-center to give the Sox a 3-2 lead. His three extra-base hits matched a career-high, and continued a strong 12-game stretch (.327/.389/.612 with nine extra-base hits) in which he’s finally found the all-fields approach that he’s sought since the second half of last season.
“It’s been a grind for pretty much the whole year trying to find my swing again,” said Benintendi. “I feel like I’m barreling up more consistently the last few days. Just go from there.”
The promise of Benintendi’s midseason recovery and the in-game rebound of Porcello, however, nearly gave way to disappointment on Wednesday. With the Sox clinging to a 3-2 lead in the eighth, the Rangers capitalized on a pair of Red Sox lapses. A stray Brandon Workman cutter hit Shin-Soo Choo to give Texas a free base runner with one out, and an errant throw by Vazquez to first on a sacrifice attempt by Delino DeShields placed runners on second and third, allowing a game-tying sac fly.
But while those mistakes produced the Red Sox’ second blown save in three days against Texas, they did not congeal into defeat. Instead, Workman allowed no more than the unearned run, and Matt Barnes (3-1) — leaning heavily on a fastball he blew by the Rangers — delivered a scoreless ninth.
Those performances allowed Vazquez to move beyond the disappointment of his misplay to set the game-winning rally in motion, allowing the 35-34 Red Sox to keep intact the firewall that has separated them from a losing record for the last five weeks.
Such an accomplishment was modest — but for a team that had lost five of six and nine of 14 entering Wednesday, a single win represented a reprieve and a first step on what needs to be a methodical road forward, in a game that struck manager Alex Cora as “very, very important.”
“I’ve been saying the goal is to get to five over [.500],” said Cora, whose team has had no more than four more wins than losses this year. “We need to get there. . . . We still have time to do that.”