J.D.'s milestone HR (250) in 9th wins it

May 21st, 2021

If you are down by a run and down to your last out, you might as well have your best hitter at the plate.

It came down to that for the Red Sox on Thursday night at TD Park in Dunedin, Fla., and J.D. Martinez did not disappoint.

Instead, he delivered his team perhaps its most thrilling win yet of 2021, and that is saying something in what has been a memorable first few weeks of the season for the American League East-leading Red Sox.

With two outs in the top of the ninth, Martinez unloaded on an 0-1 slider from Rafael Dolis for a go-ahead, two-run homer that led the Red Sox to a hugely-satisfying 8-7 victory over the Blue Jays.

The way the normally low-key Martinez clutched his fist as he ran around the bases showed how satisfying.

“It was just a big at-bat,” said Martinez. “Big situation against that team, a team we’re going to be battling with all year. To kind of steal one like that is big for us. They’re on our heels in the standings. I know it’s early, but any time we play them, these are the games you kind of gain those gaps on. So, it was a big one.”

The homer was No. 250 in Martinez’s career, and No. 226 since the Houston Astros released him seven years ago.

“It’s a blessing,” said Martinez. “Would never have imagined that I would have hit 250 homers. If you had told me that 10 years ago, my career kind of took a roller coaster early on, but God guided me and he got me to here. I give thanks to him.”

With the win, the Red Sox once again managed to hold on to sole possession of first place in the division, extending their stay alone at the top to 41 days. A loss would have ended that run.

“What an amazing win, what a great game,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. “What a big league W.”

This was a game the Sox led 5-2 after a thrilling surge of offense in the top of the second, when, with two outs and nobody on base, they came up with seven consecutive hits.

But with starting pitcher Nick Pivetta having a rare off-night and the defense (three costly errors) melting down in the fifth and sixth, Boston was down, 7-5, entering that final frame.

Bobby Dalbec, who had the big blast (a three-run homer) in the second-inning surge, started the game-tying rally when he singled. Michael Chavis, who made one of those errors by dropping a throw at second base, made up for it with a key single that put two on with none out.

“It was a battle the whole game,” said Martinez. “Chavis and Dalbec did a really good job of getting on base and just starting that whole situation in the ninth.”

When Alex Verdugo hit a fielder’s choice grounder that trimmed the deficit to a run for the second out, it was all up to Martinez.

“Obviously, my job is to hit and to drive in runs,” Martinez said. “Those situations, the team’s depending on me to go up there and put a good at-bat together and hit the ball hard. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. All I can control is my preparation and doing all the work and getting ready for that at-bat, really. The rest is up for chance, really.”

This was the ultimate chance for Martinez to erase the bitter taste of his previous at-bat, when he struck out looking on a low-and-outside pitch that he thought was out of the strike zone.

“He just works so hard at his craft, even on nights when quote-unquote he struggles, he's one at-bat away from changing the game,” said Cora. “He was very upset with the strikeout the last [at-bat]. He thought the pitch was outside, and at the end it was a perfect pitch. After that, he went to the cage and kept working and got a pitch up in the zone, close to him, and he put a great swing.”

After the star slugger took a slider from Dolis for strike one, he mauled the next slider at an exit velocity of 104.4 mph and a projected distance of 402 feet into the jet stream in right-center to put his team ahead for good with the milestone dinger.

For the 27-18 Red Sox, it was sure to be a happy flight to Philadelphia.

“It’s a huge team win. It’s massive,” said Pivetta. “Guys staying in ABs starting off that ninth inning. It’s incredible what these guys can do, but it’s what we’ve been doing. It’s what we’re capable of. It’s what’s going to keep happening.”