'He didn't miss': Verdugo demolishes key homer

June 26th, 2022

CLEVELAND -- The sixth inning was an inning of peaks and valleys for the Boston Red Sox on Saturday. The valley came early, when Jarren Duran made the first out of the inning at third base trying to advance on a wild pitch.

The peak ended up being the knockout blow. 

Four batters after Duran recorded the first out of the inning at third, Alex Verdugo staked Boston to a 3-2 lead with a 447-foot home run off Shane Bieber. That was all the offense the Red Sox would need, as Josh Winckowski and four relievers locked in to guide the Sox to a 4-2 win.

In Friday’s opener, Verdugo scalded the ball (four of the five balls he put in play were hit over 90 mph) but only had a double to show for it. He ended up with even more to show for it Saturday.

“I was looking for a heater, and was able to get a curveball that was middle in,” Verdugo said. “I’ve been really locked in over the last couple days, and been using the whole field.”

The home run was the lone blemish allowed by Bieber, who ended up going seven innings. He stifled the Red Sox the first two times through the order (Boston only had one baserunner the second time through), but came undone facing the Red Sox for the third time. After allowing back-to-back two-out singles to J.D. Martinez and , Bieber hung a curveball to Verdugo that ended up in the Progressive Field bleachers.

“He didn’t miss [that pitch],” manager Alex Cora said of Verdugo’s homer. “There’s a reason he’s hitting behind the big boys. He’s a good hitter and understands the strike zone.”

Saturday marked the third straight start that Winckowski went more than five innings, as the rookie right-hander allowed two runs in 5 1/3 innings to pick up the win. Since being recalled from Triple-A Worcester on June 15, Winckowski is 3-0 with a 2.12 ERA in 17 innings.

“I feel pretty good,” Winckowski said. “I finally got to show all my pitches and threw the cutter more. I’m a guy that’s going to roll the ball over a bunch, and I’ve been able to do that lately.”

Despite the baserunning mistake in the sixth, Duran had the best game of his professional career, going 4-for-5 with a double, an RBI and two stolen bases. Since being called up June 15, Duran is batting .324 with three RBIs and four steals.

“He’s having fun running the bases and being an athlete,” Cora said. “He didn’t try to do too much. This is what we want.”

The Guardians’ two runs against Winckowski came in a three-batter span in the third inning. He walked Steven Kwan, then Amed Rosario and José Ramírez manufactured two runs on an RBI triple and a sacrifice fly.

Winckowski’s stable presence has been a boon for a Red Sox squad that’s been without rotational stalwarts Garrett Whitlock and since the beginning of June and ace Chris Sale for all of 2022. Even if Winckowski is the odd man out when that trio returns, he’s proven that he can be a reliable arm when called upon.

With the win, the Red Sox leapfrogged Toronto for second place in the American League East while also reaching their stated goal of being 10 games above .500.

“In this business, you’re watching and looking from Day One,” Cora said. “It was a good day for us.”