Red Sox

The surging Red Sox are finding unbelievable ways to win

From improbable Rafael Devers homers to spectacular catches, the Red Sox are using clutch plays to gain ground in the American League.

Xander Bogaerts making headfirst slide into third base
The days of Xander Bogaerts being one of the few saving graces for the sliding Boston Red Sox feel like long ago after an 8-2 road trip. Abbie Parr/Getty Images

COMMENTARY

I already wrote about Rafael Devers to begin the weekend, but can we just talk about that game-winning home run for a second?

The opposite-field home run is a rare bird in the 2022 game, with the 2022 ball — which was likely changed again in mid-May, say those who study this stuff intently. A home run on a pitch that is not only not in the strike zone, but was never in the strike zone, is rare on another level.

Paul Sewald’s 0-2 fastball that Rafael Devers put over the left-field fence Sunday. (Baseball Savant)

If you’re Paul Sewald, or any pitcher, you’re overjoyed if a hitter takes an 0-2 swing at that pitch. Even if it’s Devers. This season, he has swung at about three dozen pitches in that high-and-away area according to Baseball Savant, missing half the time. Before Sunday, Devers had one hit and zero line drives on pitches in that area — he’s had far more success down-and-away — and for all his free swinging, just one of Devers’ first 13 home runs came on a ball out of the strike zone.

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Sewald, one strike away from a scoreless eighth, wanted a swing there. Devers shouldn’t have given him one. Even Rafael Devers is gonna have a bad time if he swings at that pitch too much.

But in the smallest of sample sizes, a great player can always do a great thing.

“He’s the only person I’ve ever seen do that,” J.D. Martinez, who homered both Friday and Saturday to snap a personal month-long skid, told reporters. “It’s unbelievable. We talk about it all the time. He can cover so many pitches where a normal person can’t.”

“You cannot take [away] his aggressiveness,” manager Alex Cora told reporters.

“The pitch was closer than you think,” Devers noted.

All that said, it was easily the most believable part of a victory to end an unbelievable West Coast swing, even if a team like the Red Sox probably should win eight out of 10 given the ugly state of the AL West beyond Houston.

Kutter Crawford, who found out he was starting Sunday morning after Nate Eovaldi went on the injured list, was superb for five innings to set the table. Rob Refsnyder, a career Quad-A player, made the catch of his life to spare us Seattle phenom Julio Rodriguez coming up as the tying run.

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It’s a hard way to win long-term, of course, with both Eovaldi (back) and Garrett Whitlock (right hip) now absent from a rotation that still won’t have Chris Sale for at least another month. Thankfully, the schedule offers roughly two more weeks of relatively open runway — home to Oakland, NL Central-leading St. Louis, and Detroit, then three at fellow mediocre Cleveland.

After that, it ratchets fast. Twenty games against Toronto, the Yankees, and Tampa in 28 days — and that’s with the All-Star break in there. That’s quite a thing, as is three of the four best teams in baseball since May 17 being in the same division.

Red Sox — 18-7 (.720) since May 17, 32-29 overall
Yankees — 17-7 (.708) since May 17, 44-16 overall

Braves — 17-7 (.708) since May 17, 34-27 overall
Blue Jays — 15-7 (.682) since May 17, 35-24 overall

Atlanta and the Red Sox, those old subway neighbors, trying to be the ones to slow the mushrooming buzz about another modern-day Subway Series.

We can wait until a return to the division to make grand pronouncements about these Red Sox, who have played their way into an 85-win, fourth-place pace that is probably the low end of our reasonable expectations. Even the pessimists have to note they’re finally closer to the Blue Jays than the Orioles, who released a “we’re definitely not moving the team, no sir” statement at 6:30 a.m. Monday like all normal teams do.

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In the meantime, this can continue to serve as a stress test for their piece parts, many of whom have already risen to the challenge. Franchy Cordero’s three-run shot in Oakland off Frankie Montas further solidified the place he’s earned in the lineup, but as he enters a skid, Bobby Dalbec got hot on the trip — two homers in Seattle. He even looked reasonably disciplined in his 0-for-4 Sunday.

Christian Vázquez is a free agent to be, and sits higher relatively among catchers than you probably think. (Making a case he’s the game most underrated behind the plate isn’t hard.) In 27 high-leverage spots this season, as defined by Baseball Reference, he’s batting .455 with a .519 on-base.

The pitching needs reinforcements, but as we also covered Friday, it has those available. At a time when racking up wins in winnable games is a relatively low bar to clear, the Red Sox are finding ways — the exact opposite of how it felt when games like Saturday’s walk-off crusher were routine.

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