Mr. Walk-off! Verdugo homers for third game-ending hit of the season

May 2nd, 2023

BOSTON -- A few minutes before it actually happened, had a sort of vision that he was going to barrel up the baseball and end Monday night’s game at Fenway Park with a leadoff homer to open the bottom of the ninth inning.

Then again, given Verdugo’s habitual clutch heroics this season, perhaps it’s not that surprising that he expected to come through again.

Verdugo has turned into Mr. Walk-off for Boston. And this time, he went the distance, belting a game-ending homer to lead the Red Sox to a thrilling 6-5 victory over the Blue Jays.

It was Verdugo’s third walk-off hit of the four the Red Sox (16-14) have had this season, but this was his first to clear the fence.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Verdugo joined the Braves’ Andruw Jones (1999) and the Giants’ Bobby Bonds ('73) as the only three players since 1920 to have three walk-off hits in the first 30 games of a team’s season.

Now, back to that vision Verdugo had. He said it started as he stood in right field in the top of the ninth inning.

“I knew I was going to hit in the ninth and I was like, ‘I want to end this,’” said Verdugo. “But, you know, that was all in the outfield, when I'm out there just talking to myself. Then I got up to the plate and told myself I just needed to take that first pitch to just get into that at-bat. I could have gotten in there and automatically swung and rolled over to first [base]. So I was like, ‘Man, I want to see what his heater looks like -- how it's coming out of his hand.’

“And I’m glad that I did.”

The pitch that Verdugo took for strike one was almost directly down the middle. The next pitch, an 0-1 slider, was way outside. Then Verdugo mauled 93.8 mph fastball that was as middle-middle as it gets from Blue Jays closer Jordan Romano, sending it into Boston’s bullpen and setting off a big celebration at home plate.

Why does Verdugo, who now has eight career walk-off hits, keep coming through in these situations?

“I live for it,” he said. “I live for that moment. I'm blessed with that opportunity to do it. You don't go up there thinking about failure. You go up there and think, ‘I have a chance to help the team win a ballgame.’ And I thrive for that moment.” 

Adding to the satisfaction of the night is that the Red Sox opened their 14-game season slate against the Blue Jays with a win. Boston went 3-16 against Toronto last season, and the Blue Jays had a ridiculous run differential of plus-70 (125-55) in those 19 games.

“Obviously, it feels good to win this one,” Verdugo said. “Last year, they had our number. I think it's one of those things, man, we want to play competitive games against these guys. Last year, there were a lot of blowouts, a lot of uncompetitive games. 

“So for us, it's just that constant grind. I think our hitters are doing a good job from leadoff to the nine-hole, putting good at-bats on people. I think we're in a [much] better space than we were last year.”

For a while, it looked like the biggest home run of the night would be the one from , a two-run bullet to center in the bottom of the sixth that snapped a 3-3 tie. It was the first career homer for Valdez, Boston’s No. 17 prospect, and he didn’t low-key it.

His wide smile didn’t go away for minutes. And as Valdez toured the bases, he pumped his arms with pure joy.

“Loved it,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora of the hit and the joy. “Just enjoy it. I mean, it’s a bomb. Your first one and what it means, it was fun to watch him run the bases.”

But there were some more twists and turns.  made two throwing errors from shortstop in the top of the eighth, helping the Blue Jays to a pair of runs that tied the game.

It stayed tied until Verdugo got his latest chance to put his team in the winner’s circle.

“He’s on fire,” said Valdez. “I hope he stays hot the whole year. I hope he keeps hitting and keeps winning us games the whole year.”