BOSTON -- The big bats will eventually break out for the Red Sox. It is all but inevitable. But until then, they’ve come up with the solution of jumping on Mitch Moreland’s back.
The veteran first baseman and team leader has emerged into the early home run king this season for Boston, bashing two more on Sunday afternoon, capped by a two-run walk-off shot into the Monster Seats that lifted his team to a 5-3 victory over the Blue Jays.
The fourth walk-off blast of Moreland’s career gave him six homers in 33 plate appearances this season.
As it turns out, the slow-footed Moreland had some great motivation from manager Ron Roenicke before he stepped to the plate for the swing that ended the game.
“Yeah, I got a good pep talk from Rags right before I walked up there,” Moreland said. “He said that if I made the last out, that I had to be the [automatic] baserunner in the [10th inning] at second. I knew I needed to make something happen.”
For the second straight season, Moreland has opened as the hottest hitter on the Red Sox (6-9).
“If you remember, we didn’t play well out of the chute last year, and the wins that we got were because of Mitch,” said Roenicke. “I think he won four of the first five games that we won last year with big hits. He does it. And when he is feeling this way, you want him up there as much as you can.”
Roenicke, it should be noted, made a key tactical decision in the bottom of the seventh, allowing Moreland to hit against Jays lefty Ryan Borucki. In many cases, he would send right-handed-hitting Michael Chavis up as a pinch-hitter in that situation. Moreland struck out against Borucki, but he would be heard from again.
“I know we had a decision to make in his at-bat before of whether we let him face the lefty or not,” Roenicke said. “Actually [hitting coach] Tim Hyers and [bench coach] Jerry [Narron] said, ‘Yes.’ Whether it’s the ninth or 10th inning, we wanted him up there again.”
Moreland smashed a solo shot to center in the second to break a scoreless tie. A couple of hours later, he came through again when it mattered the most.
The Red Sox are used to such heroics from their most veteran leader.
“Obviously, right now, Mitch is the one that’s been carrying us right now, but we have a lot of great players,” said third baseman Rafael Devers. “Like I’ve said before, we all have an equal part, whether it’s making a great defensive play, the starters pitching as well as they can [and] the relievers as well.”
Aside from the joy of Moreland ending the game with one swing, Sunday marked one of the most well-rounded games the Red Sox have played this season.
Nathan Eovaldi turned in a powerful start, equaling a career high with 10 strikeouts over six innings and 91 pitches. The righty allowed six hits, three runs and no walks.
The bullpen, led by Austin Brice (three K’s in 1 and 1/3 innings) and Matt Barnes (retired the side with two strikeouts in the ninth), bought the offense time to win the game.
And don’t discount the role that Devers played in the victory that gave the Red Sox their first series win at home this season.
Down 3-2 in the sixth, the lefty slugger came up with a big swing for the Red Sox, mashing a Statcast-projected 449-foot solo shot to center. It was the second-longest homer in Devers’ career, and perhaps a sign he could soon break out of his slump (.175/.242/.351 with two homers and three RBIs).
In the seventh, Devers carried that momentum into the field, bare-handing a slow roller off the bat of Randal Grichuk and firing to first for the out.
The 23-year-old Devers has been known to stay hot for a long time once he gets hot. So perhaps Sunday will lead into better things on Monday, when the Red Sox open a big four-game series against the Rays.
“There’s no doubt one play [makes a difference], and it can be anything, it can be just a good walk, it can be a base hit, it can be a bloop. It can be a homer like Devers', it can be a great defensive play,” said Roenicke. “I know usually following [is] something good. … You make a great defensive play, and all of a sudden, it seems like you have a great at-bat. Today it was the other way around. The homer and a great defensive play.”
Devers kept the Red Sox in it, and Moreland finished it off.
“We’ve got a lot of great players. If you’re seeing the ball well, obviously that’s going to help the team,” Moreland said. “Everybody’s going to do that, even at some point this year. Guys are going to get on a roll. I’m happy I’m able to kind of step up and help tonight, but I don’t approach it that way and I don’t think they do either. Once they get in that groove, we’ll be fine.”