BALTIMORE — It was important to Red Sox manager Alex Cora to lay out small goals for his team — checkpoints to make sure it knew that climbing out of the early season hole it dug for itself was always reachable.
The first was to get to .500. Ever since, the target has been to get to five games over.
“It’s very important,” Cora said. “I’m not going to lie. It seems like we’re searching for a lot of stuff.”
Inconsistency made the goal elusive. The longest winning streak they could string together was five games.
But when they got to Camden Yards on Sunday, they had climbed to four games over .500, their goal once again in reach.
They very nearly let it slip away, blowing a 2-1 lead in the eighth inning. But a rally in the ninth and some big swings in extra innings allowed them to leave Baltimore with an 8-6 win over the Orioles in 10 innings that completed a three-game sweep of the Orioles, stretched their winning streak to five games and pushing them five games over .500 for the first time this season.
“Took us a while to get there,” Cora said. “That was good. Total team effort.”
Rafael Devers went 2 for 5 with the go-ahead homer in the 10th. Mookie Betts went 3 for 5 with a two-run single later in the 10th inning that padded the lead. Christian Vazquez went 2 for 6 and tacked on two more runs with a single in the 10th. Xander Bogaerts went 2 for 3 with an RBI double in the fourth inning. Jackie Bradley Jr. went 1 for 5 with an RBI double in the fourth as well that extended his hitting streak to seven games. Michael Chavis went 2 for 5 with two runs scored.
But the streak-saving swing came in the eighth inning from Marco Hernandez, who delivered his first homer of the season at the most opportune time, tying the game at 3. It was his second career homer. The first came at Camden Yards in 2016.
“My first one was here, so why not the second one,” Hernandez said.
In fact, it was the same pitcher, different pitch. Orioles righthander Mychal Givens tried feeding Hernandez three straight changeups, and Hernandez waited until he got one he liked.
“Try to put a good at-bat, try to get on base, especially the tying run,” Hernandez said. “I saw the ball go up in the zone and I put a good swing and hit it out.”
Hernandez’s homer salvaged an eighth-inning meltdown that started when Sox reliever Marcus Walden gave up a leadoff walk to Jonathan Villar and snowballed from there.
Desperate for a run — and win to snap a four-game losing streak — Villar stole second to move into scoring position. Then he took advantage of a lazy throw from Vazquez back to Walden on the mound and swiped third without a throw. With Rio Ruiz at the plate pinch-hitting for Keon Broxton, Walden let slider get away from him for a wild pitch that allowed Villar to score the tying run.
“We were slow to the plate, he stole second, and then he took advantage of a tendency,” Cora said. “Usually Christian doesn’t do that, but [Villar] was aware — game of awareness there — and he got to third. That’s what it takes. Then the wild pitch, he got a good lead and he scored.”
At that point, Cora had no choice but to go to the bullpen, calling on righthander Travis Lakins, who immediately gave up up a triple to right field to Stevie Wilkerson. The O’s cashed in on a single up the middle by Hanser Alberto that gave them a 3-2 lead.
The inning threatened to spoil a solid, if short outing, from Brian Johnson in his first start since last September. Johnson gave the Sox three innings, holding the Orioles to one run on five hits and two walks with two strikeouts.
With Cora looking to stay away from Matt Barnes and Brandon Workman, the Sox bullpen did its best to make sure the 2-1 lead stood up. Colten Brewer (one strikeout) threw a scoreless fourth, Mike Shawaryn worked around a pair of walks to get two outs in the fifth before Josh Taylor cleaned up the inning. Taylor (two strikeouts) notched two strikeouts in 1⅓ innings of work.
Workman still ended up coming out for the ninth, throwing a scoreless inning. Josh Smith gave up three runs in the 10th but was able to keep the Orioles at bay.
The Sox held firm at 5½ games behind the first-place Yankees as they head to Minnesota to close out their six-game road trip.
“Overall, there’s a good vibe,” Cora said. “We’re in the middle of the season. We didn’t come out of the blocks the way we wanted, but it’s still a long race and we’re still in the hunt. You start looking out — obviously, I always say I don’t look, I don’t see — but Fenway, in front of your door you have the standings and you see it. So we have a great idea where we’re at and what we’re doing as a team and we know we have to get better as a team.”
The Sox have now won seven straight on the road. They’re 22-17 away from Fenway this season. Next up, a three-game series at the AL-leading Twins.
“It was one of those where it was going to be an ugly loss or whatever, now it’s a great win,” Cora said. “We go to Minnesota and we keep playing good baseball.”