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Benny secures series win with 1st career slam

Grand slam, tiebreaking sac fly help Boston clinch first series win
@Sportsgal25
April 20, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG -- It was clear the Red Sox enjoyed the taste of victory enough Friday to want to stretch it out the whole weekend. Enter Andrew Benintendi, who did his part to get the festivities started on Saturday by unloading his first career grand slam in the second inning.

ST. PETERSBURG -- It was clear the Red Sox enjoyed the taste of victory enough Friday to want to stretch it out the whole weekend.

Enter Andrew Benintendi, who did his part to get the festivities started on Saturday by unloading his first career grand slam in the second inning. He then kept the party rolling late by plating the eventual game-winning run with a ninth-inning sacrifice fly.

The Red Sox, who earned their first series victory of 2019 with Saturday’s 6-5 win over the Rays at Tropicana Field, can earn their first sweep of the year on Sunday.

“It was a good one. We’re getting close; we’re getting really close,” Boston manager Alex Cora said. “I know everyone is talking about, ‘It’s early, it’s early, it’s early,’ well, we’ve got a pretty good chance to [make up] a big chunk of three games.”

Tampa Bay starter Charlie Morton was clearly in trouble by the time Benintendi stepped to the plate, having already walked two batters and hit a third in the frame, the latter of which forced home the game’s first run.

Benintendi pounced on the opportunity immediately, driving the first pitch he saw to deep left-center field. The pro-Boston portion of the crowd roared as the left fielder circled the bases and was greeted by a mob of teammates at home plate.

The moment was not without a little drama, as replay appeared to show a fan leaning slightly over the rail in the outfield to catch the ball. After a review of 1 minute, 5 seconds, the call on the field stood, leaving the Red Sox to enjoy a 5-0 lead.

Benintendi now has four extra-base hits in his past five games.

“That was a good swing,” Cora said. “Little by little, we’re feeling better offensively, for how bad we felt in New York. Guys have put in good at-bats and done their jobs.”

The left fielder’s knock not only was the essential piece of Boston’s five-run second inning, it proved the catalyst that powered the beleaguered Red Sox to their fifth win in nine games.

“We knew [the Rays] were not going to give up or roll over,” Benintendi said. “I think the last two days, we’ve grinded out at-bats, and fought them tough, and we were able to come out on top both times. We’ll try to finish this thing off [Sunday].”

On Thursday, Boston sent its star second baseman, Dustin Pedroia, to the 10-day injured list with left knee discomfort. Brock Holt (scratched cornea, right eye) has been out since the season-opening series.

On Saturday, Nathan Eovaldi joined Pedroia on the IL after an MRI revealed loose bodies in his elbow, and later in the day, Mitch Moreland left in the third inning with back spasms and is now day to day.

Benintendi even narrowly escaped time off after sustaining a right foot contusion during an at-bat Sunday against Orioles. With the rash of recent injuries, the remaining Red Sox are cobbling the offense together as best they can.

“It was tough for a week, as far as our health,” Cora said. “That’s why we have to reset. We need to get healthy and, at least for the last two days, we feel that we can use the whole team. It feels good that way.

“The guys are going to grind it and going to try, but sometimes you’re playing shorthanded, and that’s tough to do.”

Michael Chavis is one of the few positive products of Boston’s injury bug. The Red Sox’s No. 1 prospect per MLB Pipeline earned his first Major League callup following Pedroia’s move to the IL. After travel difficulties surrounded Chavis’ journey from Triple-A on Friday, the 23-year-old made his MLB debut as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning and doubled to deep center field to push Jackie Bradley Jr. to third and set up Benintendi’s sacrifice fly.

Chavis’ knock had an exit velocity of 108.1 mph per Statcast, the hardest-hit Boston ball of the evening.

“I knew [Rays closer Jose Alvarado] threw hard, I knew he’s got a hard slider and everything’s pretty much firm from him, so I was just ready for velocity, looking for a heater and didn’t try to do too much with it,” Chavis said.

Tampa Bay threatened in the ninth inning, with runners at first and second and two outs and Willy Adames at the plate, but catcher Christian Vazquez caught Tommy Pham taking too big a lead off first base for the game’s final out.

“I saw on the pitch before and gave the sign to [first baseman] Steve Pearce, and we got it,” Vazquez said. “We had a chance there, why not? If Adames got a hit, it’s a tie game.

“It was fun to win the game like that.”

Dawn Klemish is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Tampa. Follow her on Twitter @Sportsgal25.