MINNEAPOLIS — Ryan Brasier had not pitched in a game for six consecutive days when Red Sox manager Alex Cora sent him out to protect a 2-0 lead in the ninth inning against the Minnesota Twins on Monday night.
The righthander was away from the team following the death of his father-in-law, going on Major League Baseball’s bereavement list so he could return to Texas with his wife and two children.
Had Brasier needed a day or two to be ready to pitch again, everybody would have understood. But he arranged to get treatment on his arm, played catch a couple of times and even threw off a mound.
“Tried to stay on top of things,” Brasier said.
It showed against the Twins, as Brasier retired C.J. Cron, Marwin Gonzalez, and Miguel Sano on 11 pitches, the last a 98-mile-per-hour fastball he blew by a swinging Sano to finish off one of the most satisfying victories of the season for the Sox.
That Brasier returned ready to pitch was significant, given the shape of the Red Sox bullpen. Brandon Workman was ruled out of the game after pitching in four of the previous five games. Cora also wanted to stay away from Matt Barnes and Marcus Walden.
The index card that lists the availability of the relief pitchers before the game had a lot of red squares and only a few greens.
“For everything that he went through, he actually took time to work on his craft,” Cora said. “That’s to show you how professional he is. He understands that he has a job to do. But at the same time, obviously, his family’s situation is more important. But he took time to keep his arm in shape, and today he did an outstanding job.”
Brasier told the Sox before he left that he would do what he could to not lose his edge while away.
“I wanted to stay at it,” he said. “I basically threw a bullpen the second to the last day I was home. I didn’t watch the games much. It’s weird being away from the team, but at the same time that’s not what I was thinking about.”
Over the course of a long season, even one inning can change so much. The Sox opened a big series with a win and were able to rest their primary relievers. They also have won six straight for the first time this season.
“Just keep getting better; that’s the most important thing,” Cora said. “It’s been good for six days now, there’s some strides, but we’re not where we want to be yet.”
The save was Brasier’s seventh of the season but his first since April 21. He had fallen down the list of late-inning options but came through on Monday when needed.
When Brasier got to Target Field before the game, he threw a few pitches off the bullpen mound and told the coaches he could pitch in the game as needed.
“That’s what I expected,” he said. “The bullpen has been taxed the last three or four games. I was ready to go.”
After Rick Porcello pitched seven strong innings, Colten Brewer came in for the eighth with a 1-0 lead and quickly put two runners on before squirming out of the jam.
That Jorge Polanco, a .332 hitter, decided on his own to put down a sacrifice bunt gave Brewer his first out helped the cause.
Brewer was the only player watching from the dugout when the Red Sox received their World Series rings back on April 9. The lanky righthander was the only player from outside the organization added to the 40-man roster in the offseason.
“That was a new experience,” he said. “But maybe it was good to have somebody new who was hungry to win.”
Brewer did not pitch well in April and May but so far this month has worked eight innings without allowing an earned run. He’s learning his job, and Cora is learning when best to use him.
But Brasier still had to lock it down against a Twins team that came into the game with the best record and highest-scoring offense in baseball.
“It’s huge,” Brasier said. “We’re rolling right now, and to keep it rolling against a team like that — scratch some runs together and keep them off the board — is huge.”
Now the Sox have a chance to win the series and build more momentum.
“We’re all feeling pretty good,” Brewer said. “This is turning our way now.”