With hot Twins on deck, Red Sox are ready for a big test
BALTIMORE — Orioles manager Brandon Hyde chewed his team out on Saturday after they lost the first two games of their weekend series against the Red Sox by a combined 16 runs.
Everybody understands that Baltimore is resetting its organization under new front office leadership, and that there will be a lot of pain on the field before there’s progress.
But Hyde’s point to his players was that they’re getting an opportunity in the major leagues and treating it too casually.
The Orioles responded to their manager Sunday, scoring twice in the eighth inning to take a lead on the Red Sox. Hyde, who had been ejected in the fourth inning, saw the fire he wanted.
But talent is what wins, and the Sox scored five runs in the 10th inning for an 8-6 victory and a three-game sweep.
The Red Sox gave away the tying run in the eighth inning when Jonathan Villar drew a walk, stole second and third, and scored on a wild pitch.
The steal of third came when he timed up a casual throw from catcher Christian Vazquez back to pitcher Marcus Walden and took the base before the Sox could react.
It was inexcusable mistake. The Orioles then scored the go-ahead run off rookie Travis Lakins.
The Sox tied the game on a home run by Marco Hernandez in the ninth and took the lead when Rafael Devers hit a 458-foot shot to center field in the 10th. Both home runs came off Mychal Givens.
Mookie Betts and Vazquez added two-run singles later in the inning. Josh Smith allowed three runs in the bottom of the inning, but the Sox held on to win an ugly game.
At 39-34, the Sox are five games over .500 for the first time this season and very much in contention for the division title, only five games out with 89 to play.
They have scored 35 runs in their last four games and hit 14 home runs. This is the hot streak fans have been waiting for.
Now comes a much sterner test than the Orioles with three games against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field starting Monday night.
The Twins went into Sunday essentially tied with the Astros for the best record in baseball with the Dodgers a game behind. New manager Rocco Baldelli, in much the same way Alex Cora did for the Red Sox last season, is bringing out the best in a talented roster.
At 37, Baldelli is the youngest manager in baseball. But the Rhode Island native is drawing on his experience as a player, coach, and front office executive to prod Minnesota into contention after an 85-loss season in 2018.
Cora saw it coming when the Sox played the Twins seven times during spring training.
“They were a very athletic team offensively,” Cora said. “It seems like they’re doing different things. They’re on the fastball all the time. They were hitting the ball out of the ballpark in spring training.
“They have some interesting arms that are playing up right now, [Martin] Perez and [Michael] Pineda. It seems like [Jose] Berrios turned a corner [and] some interesting guys in the bullpen.”
Lynn native Derek Falvey, who runs baseball ops for the Twins, added C.J. Cron, Nelson Cruz, Marwin Gonzalez, and Jonathan Schoop to what was already a talented roster.
Shortstop Jorge Polanco is having the best season of his career, as is left fielder Eddie Rosario, whom Cora picked to play for Puerto Rico in the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
The biggest step forward has been taken by right fielder Max Kepler, an excellent defender who has become a consistent offensive threat.
The Sox are 15-22 against teams with at least a .500 record and have been outscored by 34 runs. Cora doesn’t necessarily believe that’s telling.
“A lot of people see that as important, playing against [winning teams]. I feel like we played well but we didn’t have the clutch hit,” Cora said. “You [go] back to the series . . . it’s a hit there, a hit there, a pitch here.
“We’re not caught up in that. We just have to go there and play well.”
That six of those 22 losses were by one run helps Cora’s point. But now they have to turn keeping it close into success. The coming series is a chance to prove something.
“We know they’re good. Just go out there, try and win the series, and move on,” Cora said.
The pitching, short of Chris Sale, is lined up well. Rick Porcello, David Price, and Eduardo Rodriguez are the scheduled starters. Porcello beat the Twins twice in two starts last season, allowing four runs over 12⅔ innings.
The Sox have given you some reasons to believe over the last week. You’ll know a lot more after the next three days.