TORONTO — For Marco Hernandez, every at-bat is a gift — even if that at-bat comes in the ninth inning of a tied game on the road as the Red Sox were trying to avoid dropping two of three to a Blue Jays team that came in sitting fourth in the division, 23.5 games behind the first-place New York Yankees for the second time in two weeks.
Playing for manager Alex Cora, stay-ready situations are nothing new to him.
“You never know with Alex,” Hernandez said. “You’ve got to be ready.”
Hernandez wasted no time.
He let an errant fastball from Jays reliever Ken Giles go by him. Then he saw one he liked. Giles tucked a 96.3 mile-per-hour fastball down and away and Hernandez sent it flying over the left-field fence.
In the dugout, there was never a question.
“I was actually in the tunnel area when he hit it and I heard everybody go crazy and I was like, ‘Did he just do this again?’ It’s insane,” said Michael Chavis.
Hernandez’s homer was the difference in the Red Sox’s 8-7 win over the Jays at Rogers Centre. It was his second of the season and somehow even more dramatic than his game-tying homer in Baltimore in May.
Hernandez pumped his fist as he rounded second. He had no idea that the Sox dugout had just exploded.
“I didn’t see nobody,” Hernandez said. “I was running the bases. But everybody hugged me when I got into the dugout.”
The Sox were able to pick up their 26th come-from-behind win of the season, tied for the most in the American League. They’re now 13-11 in one-run games. Sox pinch hitters have been godsends this season, hitting .432 with three homers and 13 RBIs.
Cora’s explanation came with a smirk.
“Just luck,” he said.
Early last season, Cora was admittedly against pinch-hitting. The production this year — especially in clutch spots — has him coming around.
“That’s a testament to who they are,” Cora said. “Not everyone can play every day, but they know they’ve got to be ready to contribute.”
Rafael Devers went 2 for 3 with a solo homer and two walks. J.D. Martinez went 3 for 4 with an RBI. Chavis went 1 for 4 with a three-run homer.
“It’s not one of those things where you’re like ‘Oh, it’s just another comeback.’ It’s incredible,” Chavis said. “We know at any time we can turn it around and come back so when it happens, it’s just a reminder we’re a good ball club. We are. At the end of the day, we’re a good ball club and we’re starting to bring it together.”
In order to do it, they had to dig themselves out of a ditch that only got bigger as the game stretched out.
In his first start since May — and also his first start since going on the injured list with a low back strain in June — Hector Velazquez gave up three runs on five hits and two walks in just 2⅓ innings.
After Devers continued his tear with a homer in the first, Velazquez surrendered the lead on a two-run single to Rowdy Tellez in the bottom of the inning.
The next frame, Velazquez left a sinker in the middle of the zone and Danny Jansen blasted it to center field for a solo shot that made it 3-1.
When Velazquez left the mound in the third, the Sox were down, but still in striking distance.
But things got bleak an inning later. Colten Brewer gave up a pair of homers — another solo blast by Jansen then a two-run shot by Freddy Galvis — that stretched the lead to 6-1.
“I mean, it didn’t look pretty the first three innings, four innings to be honest with you,” Cora said. “We started looking at how are we going to get through this where we were at pitching-wise, then all of a sudden we started pitching better, putting better at-bats.”
It left the Sox offense facing an uphill climb, but they responded by blowing up for six runs in the sixth.
Mookie Betts sparked the rally with a leadoff walk, then Devers followed up with a single to center that made it first-and-third with no outs.
With the table set, Xander Bogaerts stroked a ground ball to right for a single that scored Betts, pushed Devers to third, and trimmed the deficit to 6-2.
Martinez kept the line moving with a line drive to center that scored Devers to make it 6-3.
After pinch hitter Eduardo Nunez popped up for the first out of the inning, Christian Vazquez worked a walk that loaded the bases.
The next hitter, Jackie Bradley Jr. bounced a ground ball to short. The Jays got the out at second, but Bogaerts scored to close the gap to 6-4.
Then Chavis capped the rally when he barreled up a 2-and-2 slider from Jays reliever Tim Mayza and shipped it over the fence in left for a three-run homer that put the Sox over the top, 7-6.
“It’s not the first time we’ve done it,” Chavis said. “One of the fun things about this team is — I’ve said it through the full season, well, since I’ve been here — we can go out there and put up five or six at any time. The vibe in the dugout’s really comfortable in those times. It’s really easy to just give up and get lackadaisical but if you were in our dugout, you felt the vibe and how guys were talking, we never felt like we were out of it. We always know that at any time we can turn it around. It’s nice.”
Eric Sogard threatened to pull the rug out with a game-tying double in the eighth, but one last push was never in doubt.
“We found a way to win,” Cora said. “We won two out of three. That’s the most important thing. Regardless of how we did it, we did it.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.