BOSTON -- At the conclusion of an in-game interview on NESN, with his team trailing, 6-0, heading into the bottom of the third inning, Red Sox manager Alex Cora said enthusiastically, “Let’s go win this game. Let’s go!”.
Perhaps it’s easy for a manager to have such confidence when the red-hot Rafael Devers is in the lineup.
With Devers in the middle of much of the barrage, the Red Sox came storming back to grant Cora’s wish, completing a three-game sweep of the Orioles with a 13-7 thumping on Sunday afternoon at Fenway Park.
While it has been a difficult season in many ways for the defending World Series champions, Devers has emerged as the clear high point of the summer, emerging into an MVP candidate.
The 22-year-old third baseman capped his monster week with a big day, going 4-for-5 with a homer, two more doubles (46 for the season) and four RBIs to give him 101 on the season. Devers is the first player in MLB to hit the 100-RBI mark this season.
“It’s amazing,” said Cora. “We go back to April, like people were talking about him going to Triple-A and trying to find it down there. But his on-base percentage was way up there and he wasn’t striking out. So we saw a few things that we liked and he wasn’t hitting the ball in the air. When he found it, he just took off. Just quality at-bat after quality at-bat. He’s a joy to watch.”
Orioles' manager Brandon Hyde echoed Cora's praise of Devers.
"I think he's a young superstar, that is a guy that's an absolute major force offensively and going to be an incredible player in this league for a long time," said Hyde.
The production of Devers at such a young age has put him in rare company. The left-handed hitting masher is the first MLB player with 100-plus runs and RBIs in a season before 23 since future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera in 2005. The only other Red Sox player to accomplish the feat? A guy by the name of Ted Williams.
“Yeah, I mean, obviously it feels good to be a part of that group,” said Devers. “But overall I’m just trying to help the team as much as I can whether it’s baserunning, playing defense, that’s what I’m more focused on is just trying to contribute as much as I can to help the team win ballgames.”
And he had a lot to say about the win on Sunday.
It was Devers who put the Sox ahead for good when he lofted an RBI double off the Monster to snap a 6-6 tie during that six-run bottom of the sixth. Boston battered the Orioles for four more in the seventh, including a two-run shot by Devers to right, his 27th this season.
During his eight-game hitting streak, Devers is 20-for-37 with eight doubles, four homers and 14 RBIs. His OPS during that stretch? A ridiculous 1.656.
“I mean, going the other way, pulling the ball, staying in the zone. It’s funny because 10 or 15 days ago we were talking about him chasing pitches, and being in a slump and all that stuff,” Cora said. “And now, it’s like everything in the zone he’s hitting hard. The quality of the at-bats are great with two strikes early in the count. He keeps working. He’s not taking anything for granted. Every day he shows up he takes his routine, studies and goes out and performs the way he’s doing. It’s fun to watch.”
At a point in the season that every game is so crucial, the Sox have won five in a row but still trail the Rays by 6 1/2 games for the second Wild Card spot.
The streak started by taking the final two games in Cleveland, at which point Cora stared maneuvering his pitchers like each game was a playoff game. That continued into the weekend, though the Sox had more margin for error against the 39-85 Orioles.
Did the urgency from the manager trickle down to the team?
“You have to ask them but I think the quality of the at-bats and the way we’ve been able to pitch better [is key],” Cora said. “Obviously today wasn’t great in the beginning but we’ve done a good job as a group, especially the bullpen. They’ve been outstanding the last six or seven games.”
The move of Nathan Eovaldi back to the rotation didn’t go as hoped, as the hard-throwing righty was hammered for five hits over two innings in which he allowed five runs, walked three and uncorked two wild pitches.
Down big early, Cora turned it over to that suddenly-surging bullpen and they took care of business the rest of the afternoon.
That bought time for the offense to hit their way back into the game, and they did that, and then some, with Devers leading the charge.
“He’s unbelievable,” said Red Sox first baseman Mitch Moreland. “He hits everything. He just barrels everything. I’ve never seen a tear like this watching him do that day in and day out, but he’s been huge for us. He comes up in every big situation and gets the job done. He’s having a special year, for sure.”