OAKLAND -- The Red Sox needed some good fortune, and they got it. They also needed some clutch hits, key bullpen outs and a top defensive play by shortstop Brock Holt, and they got those, too.
Just like that, the defending World Series champions snapped a four-game losing streak (longer than any they had last season) with a clutch, 6-3 win over the A’s on Wednesday night at the Coliseum.
Mookie Betts, the reigning American League Most Valuable Player, got his reeling team off the mat when he hit a two-run double off the third-base bag and into left to snap a tie with two outs in the top of the ninth.
For those who watch the Oakland Athletics, it is a known fact that the only realistic way to reach base on a ball hit down the third-base line is for it to strike the base. Matt Chapman is that good. He makes every play. And he would have made this one.
“It has to hit the bag, if not he makes the play,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. “That kid is amazing at third base. At least we found a way for him not to make a play.”
There will be times this season when Betts will be impossible to stop in situations like these. But that time hasn’t arrived just yet. Betts, hitting .226, needed some help after he tapped a 3-2 Fernando Rodney changeup on the eighth pitch of the at-bat Chapman’s way.
Per Statcast, the 89.4 mph grounder had an expected batting average of .180.
What was Betts thinking at the point of contact?
“Honestly, just hit the base. Pretty much the only way you’re going to get it by Chapman,” said Betts. “He’s one of the best, if not the best, at third.”
Perhaps it is a sign that fortunes are about to change for the 2-5 Sox.
“A break? Yeah,” said Betts, when asked what it felt like. “You know, yesterday was one of those things where we’re a foot away from a home run tying the game up and a couple of reviews that didn’t go our way. Just to get a bounce our way was huge.”
And here is a look at the other elements that made this “huge” win a reality.
Holt in the hole
Before Betts and the Sox got their lucky break in the ninth, the A’s nearly took the lead in the bottom of the eighth. Ramon Laureano, a complete tormentor of the Red Sox in this series, tapped one deep into the hole. With Xander Bogaerts taking a night off, Holt made a jump throw and first baseman Mitch Moreland corralled it. The only problem is that first-base umpire Nic Lentz called Laureano safe and the A’s had a 4-3 lead, or it least it seemed so. Cora couldn’t believe it, so he issued a challenge. The call was overturned and the game remained tied.
“Yeah, I mean, if there’s no replay, I get thrown out of the game,” Cora said. “If it was before replay, I get thrown out of the game. We were pretty sure he was out. By the way, Brock made a great play. That was unreal.”
Blake’s birthday blast gives offense life
The Red Sox trailed, 3-0, when Blake Swihart stepped to the plate with two outs in the top of the fifth. Aside from the deficit, Boston had gone 22 innings without scoring a run.
But Swihart celebrated his 27th birthday by roping a solo shot to right-center.
“Yeah, I think we felt it kind of when Blake hit that home run,” Betts said. “Something to get us going. We needed something to get us going, and seeing one [run] go across the plate was definitely big for our team, for sure.”
“Just a sigh of relief,” said Holt. “We finally got on the board. We were joking in the shower that if Blake doesn’t hit that home run, we probably don’t score tonight either.”
The momentum from the homer by Swihart carried over an inning later when Moreland won his left-on-left matchup against Ryan Buchter with a two-run double to tie it.
Because the Red Sox have trailed in most of their games, there has remained some mystery about Cora’s plan for the bullpen. The first clue came on Friday night when Matt Barnes was entrusted for the save and delivered. But on Wednesday, Cora used Barnes in a huge situation in the bottom of the seventh with the dangerous Khris Davis at the plate. Barnes got the slugger swinging on a nasty curve.
Barnes also got three more outs for the eighth, and this time it was Ryan Brasier who got his first career save in the ninth.
Translation: Cora will not be going with a set closer. He will bring in his most trusted reliever (Barnes) for what he perceives as the biggest situation in the game.
“We just need outs,” said Cora. “We saw the matchup we wanted. We didn’t hesitate.”
And after the eventful night was over, there was finally music playing in the postgame clubhouse again.
“We’ve been struggling this whole road trip so far,” said Betts.
“Like I said, wins are hard to come by, so every win is precious at this point.”