BOSTON -- Red Sox manager Alex Cora has been careful not to divulge his postseason strategies -- be they roster formations or in-game alignments -- until his team officially clinches the American League East.But as his 102-47 team inched closer to that goal (the magic number is four) on Saturday
BOSTON -- Red Sox manager Alex Cora has been careful not to divulge his postseason strategies -- be they roster formations or in-game alignments -- until his team officially clinches the American League East.
But as his 102-47 team inched closer to that goal (the magic number is four) on Saturday with a 5-3 victory over the Mets at Fenway Park, Cora offered hints of the way he will deploy his personnel in October.
When Mets manager Mickey Callaway seemed to back the Red Sox into a corner by issuing an intentional walk to Rafael Devers that sent the light-hitting Sandy Leon (.182 average) to the plate with two outs during the game-turning rally in the fifth, Cora didn't flinch.
He called on pinch-hitter Brock Holt, who snapped a tie with a two-run double high off the Green Monster in left-center on a first-pitch fastball (96.9 mph) by Drew Smith.
"The way we've been playing the game, we're going to be aggressive early in the game, regardless," said Cora. "We felt, they had one more lefty in the bullpen, Jerry Blevins, although he's kind of a reverse split guy. It was a good matchup for us, and Brock has been swinging the bat well off the bench, plus we had Mitch Moreland for later so we took a chance."
It was the latest clutch hit off the bench for Holt, who is 5-for-13 as a pinch-hitter. Overall as a sub this season, Holt is 10-for-21 with a 1.500 OPS. Cora has talked about the possibility of going with three catchers in the playoffs, which would allow him to use Leon's strong defense and game-calling in the early-to-mid innings and then be aggressive with pinch-hitting opportunities for Holt and others.
"Just stay ready," said Holt. "They do a good job of letting us know when we're hitting. It's just a matter of staying ready and looking for a good pitch to hit."
After winning pitcher Rick Porcello (17-7) departed following his five innings, Cora gave some possible previews of how he could deploy his much-maligned bullpen. Bobby Poyner made a strong case to be the lefty specialist, firing a shutdown sixth inning that required just 12 pitches.
Knuckleballer Steven Wright is another emerging candidate to pitch in big situations, and he once again got out of his own jam. After walking the first two batters in the seventh, Wright got the next three.
Ryan Brasier, an under-the-radar find who pitched in Japan last year, was again a force in the eighth, setting down all three batters he faced.
Craig Kimbrel -- seemingly Boston's one reliever who has a completely defined role -- shut down the Mets in the ninth for save No. 41.
"We've been talking a lot about the bullpen, but I'm comfortable," said Cora. "I know where we're going. I know where we're at. When we get healthy, hopefully we can finish the job and we can have options. I'm good with it."
Porcello had a pretty good day. He made one costly pitch in the top of the fourth, a 1-2 sinker that Brandon Nimmo hammered to right-center for a three-run homer to give the Mets a 3-1 lead.
The Red Sox answered with a four-run surge in the bottom of the fifth that started with two outs and nobody on base. After singles by Steve Pearce and Ian Kinsler, Jackie Bradley Jr. lifted one to deep left that looked like it just cleared the Green Monster for a three-run homer. As Bradley ran around the bases, Boston thought it had a 4-3 lead.
But after a crew chief review, it was overturned, and Bradley had a two-run double for a tie game.
"What's the old saying? Everything happens for a reason? I didn't hit the homer, got a double," said Bradley. "They probably wouldn't have intentionally walked Raffy, and Brock Holt wouldn't have pinch-hit and hit a double, scored two runs. We got an extra run out of it, so we won."
These days, the Red Sox always seem to win when they go to Holt.
He now has three go-ahead RBIs as a pinch-hitter, tying him for the single-season club record with Rick Miller (1984) and Mike Stanley (1997).
"He's our secret weapon," said Porcello. "Pinch-hitter, he goes up there and is aggressive, and he's done a great job. He's made a huge impact coming off the bench. There have been a handful of games that we wouldn't have won without him coming off the bench so it's been awesome."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
While the doubles by Bradley and Holt got most of the attention, those opportunities were created by Pearce and Kinsler, who belted back-to-back, two-out singles to start the rally. The two in-season additions by president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski have given the Red Sox more depth offensively.
This game could serve as a momentum-builder for the bullpen. The four scoreless innings marked just the third game in the last four seasons the Red Sox have had four-plus scoreless relief innings in a game.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
The sixth inning featured highlight-reel plays by both second basemen. In the top of the inning, Kinsler made a brilliant play from the outfield grass, ranging toward the line and making a strong throw to nail Michael Conforto.
And in the bottom of the sixth, when J.D. Martinez flared one to the right side, he seemed sure to have a hit. But Jeff McNeil made a sensational dive and snared the soft liner.
In a marquee pitching matchup of top Cy Young Award candidates, Chris Sale (12-4, 1.96 ERA) goes against Jacob deGrom (8-9, 1.71 ERA) in the finale of this three-game series at Fenway Park. For Sale, who is making his second start since coming back from the disabled list, this will be more of an "opener." He should pitch three to four innings. deGrom has allowed three runs or less in his last 26 starts, which is an MLB record. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. ET.
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and **Facebook**.