There’s a no-frills batting cage behind the home dugout at Fenway Park, just a few steps away from the field. Once the season is over, air seeps through the cracks around the door and the cement walls become cold to the touch.
It was there Marco Hernandez rebuilt his career last winter, swinging at balls placed on a tee to improve the strength of his surgically repaired left shoulder.
Hernandez could have returned home to the Dominican Republic or stayed close to the team’s complex in Fort Myers, Fla. But the 26-year-old infielder chose Boston so he could work with the team’s medical staff and give himself the best chance to play again.
“I got here in November and stayed until February,” Hernandez said. “My mom came to visit, so did my cousin. They understood I needed to be here. I was by myself a lot.”
The work paid off when Hernandez was called up from the minors on June 8. He felt even better when he homered to help beat the Baltimore Orioles on the last road trip.
But what happened Tuesday night was beyond all that. Hernandez drove in the winning run with an infield single with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning as the Red Sox beat the White Sox, 6-5.
“Unbelievable,” Hernandez said. “It really is.”
Hernandez helped create the tying run in the eighth inning when he pinch ran for Christian Vazquez with one out. He took second on a wild pitch, just beating the throw from catcher James McCann. Then he scored on a single by Eduardo Nunez.
Nunez had two hits and two RBIs in the game. But manager Alex Cora took him out and put Sandy Leon in the No. 9 spot because he wanted Hernandez to stay in the lineup hitting seventh in case his spot in the order came up in the ninth.
“We were debating whether to keep Nunie in the game and put Sandy in that spot. In the end we felt it was the best matchup for us, keeping Marco in the game,” Cora said.
Sure enough, Andrew Benintendi led off the ninth with a double before Jace Fry got two outs. Intentional walks of Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. followed and Hernandez came to the plate.
He swung at cut fastball and grounded it to the left side. White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson made an off-balance throw to first that Hernandez beat by a step.
Hernandez raised his arms to signal he was safe then wrapped them around Vazquez in a hug before the rest of the Sox mobbed him.
“They treated me the right way even when I was hurt,” Hernandez said. “They never let me alone in the tough moments. They’re part of my family.”
The feeling is mutual.
“It was amazing,” Bradley said. “I had a very good feeling when Marco came to the plate. He’s going to battle. He’s going to have a professional at-bat. He was able to get it just out of the reach and beat it out. It was a lot of fun and couldn’t happen to a better guy.”
Hernandez went 25 months between major league games. He had surgery to repair a dislocated shoulder in 2017 then needed it done over again in 2018. As the Red Sox roared to the World Series last season, he was a name that never came off the injured list.
Once a well-regarded prospect, Hernandez became a player the Sox hoped would come back but couldn’t count on.
“To constantly battle back when certain days it wasn’t feeling right, it shows the tenacity he has to fight back,” Bradley said.
Hernandez, a lefthanded hitter, was 1 for 10 against lefthanders this season. But he felt confident against Fry.
“Two outs, winning run at third. I tried to put the ball in play,” he said. “I tried to hit the hole then let me run to first base.”
Hernandez didn’t look where the ball was, he just ran as hard as he could. Anderson perhaps could have had a force at third but took a shot at the long throw to first.
“I hit in the hole and I hit it soft,” Hernandez said. “I had a chance to run.”
Hernandez has gotten more familiar with Boston better than he ever expected. He’s adept finding his way around the city and knows the menu at Abe & Louie’s.
“I feel like I’m from Boston now,” he said. “But it was all worth it. We needed to win this game and I’m glad I could do it.”