BOSTON -- There was no easing back from the injured list for Michael Wacha, who was sorely missed by the Red Sox in the six weeks he couldn’t post.
If Devers gave Boston some breathing room when he belted his 25th homer in the bottom of the sixth, Wacha was the clear tone-setter for the night in this rubber-game win.
Wacha turned in a marvelous performance that was evident by traditional metrics (seven scoreless innings, two hits, one walk, season high of nine strikeouts) and new-age ones (18 whiffs in 44 swings, average exit velocity of 79.6 mph).
“He was in command the whole night, ahead in the count, right through  pitches,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. “Very efficient. His tempo is great. It makes the defense better. And we made some plays behind him.”
The tempo from Wacha helped turn Red Sox-Yankees, a rivalry that has been notorious for a lack of pace over the years, into a tidy, two-hour and 15-minute game. That tied the shortest time of game between the rivals in the 2000s, equaling Rick Porcello’s one-hitter on Aug. 3, 2018.
When Wacha is pitching swiftly, he is typically the best version of himself. His shutout at Anaheim on June 6 took just two hours and 32 minutes.
“Yeah, I feel like I work better that way,” said Wacha. “I feel like my successful outings are getting back on the mound and on the attack mode. They came out swinging early and I was making quality pitches and they turned into quick outs and I was able to go deeper into the game.”
That was no small factor, given the state of Boston’s bullpen, which has been a troubled spot for most of the season and is currently without Tanner Houck, who is on the injured list with back issues.
Wacha had the Yankees off balance from the start in this one, retiring the first 14 batters he faced. Through four innings, Wacha threw a mere 39 pitches.
At 57-59, Cora’s team is hoping to climb from the periphery of the American League Wild Card race (4 1/2 games back) to firmly in the mix. Perhaps this weekend against the rival Yankees will represent a rebirth of momentum for a Boston team that has been scuffling since the end of June.
That was at the same point Wacha went down with right shoulder inflammation and he proved Sunday that his return to the rotation could make a difference.
“You look up and you see his numbers, he was really good for us early on,” said Cora. “He was one of the reasons we were playing good baseball. To have him back means a lot.”
In his first season with the Red Sox, Wacha is 7-1 with a 2.44 ERA in 14 starts.
“He’s a horse. He came from his rehab start to throw seven innings,” said Devers.
Then there is Devers, the hitting horse the Red Sox must ride down the stretch to have success.
With one big swing, Devers joined elite company. It was his third 25-homer season, tying him with Ted Williams, Tony Conigliaro, Jim Rice and Nomar Garciaparra for tops in Red Sox history through an age-25 season. And it was his 19th career blast against the Yankees, the second most in Sox history prior to turning 26. Devers is just one shy of tying Williams for that club mark.
The star third baseman had four hits in his previous 41 at-bats prior to Sunday, which is why he came in early to work on handling the pitch that had been beating him -- the high and inside fastball.
Sure enough, that’s what Yankees righty Jameson Taillon threw to him on that full count in the sixth. Devers destroyed it and posed as he watched it soar over New York’s bullpen and several rows deep into the bleachers in right field.
“He can get hot,” said Cora. “He can carry the offense for a few days, sometimes weeks. That was a good start.”