ANAHEIM, Calif. — As the innings dragged on in familiar fashion, as Southern California twilight transformed into darkness, a sense of foreboding loomed in the cooling night air. This wasn’t so much a season flashing before the Red Sox’ eyes as much as it was a slow-motion display of sand tumbling through the bottleneck of an hourglass.
It was a night on which the Red Sox – who held leads of 4-0 and 6-3 – should have won easily. It was a night on which the Red Sox – who blew a two-run ninth-inning lead to a team that entered the night 0-62 when trailing after eight, whose pitchers walked a season-high 11 batters, whose hitters at one point went 0-for-24 with 10 strikeouts, who committed a costly error in the outfield to give up the lead and another on the bases to sacrifice a chance to retake it – in many ways deserved to lose.
Yet on a long night in Angel Stadium – not far from where the Red Sox suffered a memorable and somehow galvanizing 18-inning loss in last year’s World Series against the L.A. Dodgers – the Red Sox resisted for a night the forces that seemed intent on steering their season into a ravine. However improbable the odds, however remote the possibility of leapfrogging two teams at this late stage of the season, the Red Sox refused to let their remaining embers of hope for 2019 get extinguished.
On Friday night and Saturday morning in Anaheim, the Red Sox – after enduring a late-innings meltdown that took them to the brink of their most devastating loss of the season – instead gathered and reasserted themselves, claiming a 7-6, 15-inning victory over the Angels. The perceived significance of the win was underscored by the raucous applause that could be heard from inside the postgame clubhouse before it opened to the media.
“Every win is important,” said Mookie Betts in a clubhouse where relief and exhaustion were palpable. “It’s crunch time. Every little thing is magnified. I’m glad we won today.”
Of course, the phrase was uttered early on Saturday morning, shortly after the after-midnight conclusion of a 5-hour, 23-minute game that had started at 7:08 Pacific Time. Betts managed to play the role of the hero with a most unusual feat, bookending the scoring with solo homers in the first and 15th innings – delivering his 22nd and 23rd homers of the year in the same game but on different days.
The second shot came against Angels reliever Trevor Cahill, with Betts ambushing a first-pitch cutter with two outs and none on and drilling it into the Red Sox bullpen beyond the left field fence. The location and trajectory of the homer were similar to the one that Betts hit to open the game in the top of the first off Halos starter Jose Suarez.
“It felt like yesterday,” Betts said at about 1 a.m. of his first homer of the game. “I guess it kind of was yesterday.”
Indeed, much transpired between the two homers. The Red Sox raced out to a comfortable 4-0 advantage with the Betts leadoff blast (the 18th of his career, extending his own Red Sox record), an RBI single from Brock Holt in the second, and a two-run homer by J.D. Martinez off Suarez in the third.
The Martinez mash was his 33rd of the year and his 16th against lefties (second-most in franchise history to the 18 hit by David Ortiz in 2006). The scorching slugger now has 14 homers in his last 34 games and five in his most recent six contests.
But the advantage quickly started eroding. Nate Eovaldi allowed a solo homer to Angels leadoff man Brian Goodwin in the bottom of the third inning – the only blemish in what was otherwise an outstanding outing by the righthander, who struck out a season-high eight batters over four innings while limiting the Halos to a run on three hits.
“I felt really good,” said Eovaldi, who was pleased with his ability to locate his fastball at the top of the zone, thus setting up the rest of his arsenal – particularly his splitter – to induce swings and misses. “I felt like I made a couple minor adjustments with my mechanics and they really worked.”
The bullpen could not make the same claim over the next five innings. Lefty Josh Taylor, summoned to handle the fifth inning, immediately started paddling upstream, walking two batters and allowing a single to load the bases.
Though Taylor tiptoed past Mike Trout (infield pop-up) and Shohei Ohtani (groundball forceout at the plate), he was replaced with two outs by Marcus Walden, with manager Alex Cora electing a right-on-right matchup against slugger Albert Pujols. The move backfired, as Pujols delivered a two-run single to center to bring the Angels with a run at 4-3.
The Sox responded in kind in the top of the sixth, scoring two runs on a Martinez RBI double and an Andrew Benintendi sac fly. Yet that three-run edge proved inadequate in regulation. Goodwin hit a solo homer – his second of the game – off Matt Barnes in the seventh, and after Workman narrowly escaped a bases-loaded jam in the eighth, he could not avoid harm in the ninth.
Workman – the ballast of the Red Sox bullpen for most of the year – issued back-to-back walks to open the ninth, with a fielder’s choice by Shohei Ohtani putting runners on the corners with one out. After Workman got ahead of Albert Pujols, 0-2, the righthander left a curveball up in the zone, which the veteran lined to right to drive in a run – part of a 4-for-7 night.
Yet one run quickly turned to two, when Martinez – playing in right field with Mookie Betts in center and Jackie Bradley Jr. still sitting on the bench – kicked the ball for a run-scoring error that allowed Ohtani to score from first and that tied the game, 6-6. Though Workman stranded three runners to extend the game to extras, the die seemingly was cast.
Only it wasn’t, thanks to the work of two Red Sox relievers. Darwinzon Hernandez pitched the 10th and 11th innings, striking out five with a dominant fastball. Andrew Cashner – unable to fulfill his intended role of stabilizing the rotation after the Sox acquired him in July, but enjoying something of a revival out of the bullpen – entered in the 12th and punctuated the scoreless inning by getting Mike Trout on a towering flyout to left. With the Red Sox lineup amidst a stretch of extended futility, Cashner remained locked in while delivering scoreless frames in the 13th and then again in bottom of the 14th, after the Red Sox seemingly slipped on a banana peel in the top of the inning.
Martinez drew a one-out walk and was replaced by pinch-runner Bradley. Marco Hernandez then grounded to third, with Matt Thaiss fumbling the transfer for an E5 that put runners on first and second. But Bradley almost immediately got picked off of second for the second out of the inning, and Hernandez was held at third when Benintendi delivered a hard two-out single to right.
Still, while the Sox were held scoreless that inning, Cashner gave them one more chance, with Betts finally delivering the go-ahead run. Cashner closed out his epic relief performance of four scoreless innings by getting Pujols to line out to left with Trout on first in the bottom of the 15th.
“We trust the player,” Cora said of Cashner. “We traded for him, we knew he was going to contribute, we thought he was going to be in another role, now he’s in this role and he did an outstanding job.”
It was a victory that was more atrocity than artistry, but a win nonetheless – a ‘W’ that breathed a bit of oxygen into the remaining embers of belief in the Red Sox clubhouse, the team moving within six games of Cleveland while remaining 5 ½ behind Oakland and 4 ½ behind the Rays in the race for the two wild-card spots.
“If we want to play in October, we better play better,” said Cora. “I know it’s going to be hard to pull this off. We’ve got the talent, but we’ve got to get locked in, we’ve got to do it. There’s a lot of good teams playing out there, and the teams that we’re chasing, they’re playing pretty solid baseball. We’ve got to keep going, we can’t stop now. We’ve been playing good for 10 or 12 days, and it’s not the time now to relax.”
Rather, in the pre-dawn darkness of the California night, it was the time for something else: Sleep, something that perhaps came a bit easier to the Red Sox thanks to the outcome, and where improbable – though perhaps not yet impossible? – dreams still could take shape.