MINNEAPOLIS — For most of the year, the Red Sox looked like a club occupying a narrow band in the middle of the American League. The team often feasted on the junior circuit’s many second-division teams, yet proved largely incapable of matching the level of the elite teams in the AL.
The Red Sox arrived here having played seven series against three of the AL’s top four teams through the first half of the season. The results were dismal, with the Sox losing six of the seven series against the Astros, Rays, and Yankees, going 7-13.
And so, it is possible that the three games in Target Field may come to represent a milestone of sorts in the Red Sox season. Against a Twins team that entered the series with the best record and offense in baseball, the Sox claimed a notable series victory on the strength of a 9-4 victory in Wednesday’s rubber match that featured numerous contributions from a team determined not to let Tuesday’s 17-inning loss carry forward.
“They have a good team,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. “But we do, too.”
Through the first two games of the series, the Red Sox’ bats slumbered, the team scoring just five runs over 26 innings and failing to produce multiple runs in a single frame. Despite a short night of rest following Tuesday’s marathon, the bats looked alert against Twins starter Kyle Gibson on Wednesday.
After the Twins took a 1-0 lead in the first — a bigger inning being prevented only by an incredible throw by Jackie Bradley Jr. to gun down a runner at the plate — the Sox answered with three runs in the second on an attack mounted with a succession of paper cuts. Rafael Devers grounded a leadoff single to center and advanced to second on a walk. One night after the Sox went 1 for 13 with runners in scoring position, they produced three such hits in the second inning.
Brock Holt grounded a single to center to tie the game, Michael Chavis shot a soft liner to right for another run, and after a bases-loading walk and a strikeout, Mookie Betts plinked a run-scoring dribbler to third for a 3-1 lead.
The Twins responded against Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez. In the third, Minnesota capitalized on a pair of walks with a two-out, run-scoring single to narrow the gap to 3-2. One inning later, Minnesota took the lead with a pair of solo homers, as Willians Astudillo blasted the first pitch of the inning for a homer, and Max Kepler followed with a long ball of his own.
Yet down 4-3, Rodriguez settled into one of his most impressive stretches of the season. He retired 11 of the next 12 Twins he faced, striking out four, while showing some of the best action on his pitches — four-seam fastball, changeup, and cutter — to both sides of the plate that he’s had all year against a formidable lineup. The sudden discovery of efficiency permitted Rodriguez — coming off a seven-inning, one-run effort against Baltimore last Friday — to turn in back-to-back starts of at least seven innings for the first time since his rookie season of 2015.
“I think he found his four-seamer halfway through the game and he was relentless again, fastballs up, changeups down, good two-seamers to lefties,” said Cora. “The last two starts for him, we needed them, going deep into games and giving us a chance to win. I’m very happy with the way he performed.”
As Rodriguez gained control, Gibson saw his outing move in the opposite direction. The righthander, typically one of the least generous providers of free passes in baseball, issued five walks, matching a career high, and wasn’t terribly successful when working in the strike zone, as became evident when the Sox took the lead in the fifth by following a leadoff walk to J.D. Martinez with three hits and a sacrifice fly for a three-run inning to build the lead to 6-4.
Yet the rally came at a cost. Devers appeared to experience some discomfort when beating out an infield single, a notion that gained currency when he left for pinch runner Eduardo Nunez after reaching third on a Xander Bogaerts RBI double. Devers — who twice landed on the injured list in 2018 because of left hamstring issues — exited because of what the Sox described as right hamstring tightness, and is considered day to day.
“I felt it immediately, especially after that hit,” Devers said through translator Bryan Almonte. “Since I struggled with hamstring injuries last year I wanted to be more careful than anything . . . It’s not as bad as what I dealt with last year.”
Yet even without their starting cleanup hitter, the Red Sox added on, delivering another three-run inning in the eighth against Harvard alum Sean Poppen in which the top six batters in the lineup reached. Betts kicked off the rally with a triple to right-center, followed by an RBI double by Andrew Benintendi, and a run-scoring single from Martinez — a knock that came as a relief to a player who’d been 0 for 11 since the start of Tuesday’s extra-inning affair. A Nunez double pushed Martinez to third, and Bogaerts and Holt walked in consecutive plate appearances to push across the ninth run of the game for the Sox.
All 10 Red Sox position players reached base at least once, while nine did so at least twice. The sustained pressure — which included a 7-for-14 performance with runners in scoring position — represented a departure from the previous night’s loss and hearkened to the sort of victories that were a signature of the 2018 championship team, while adding to the best stretch of the season for the Sox. Boston has won seven of eight, heading into Thursday’s offday with a 41-35 record.
Alex Speier can be reached at email@example.com.