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Once a weakness, 'pen now source of strength

Winning streak halted at 5; Bogaerts makes baserunning mistake in 9th
@IanMBrowne
August 21, 2019

BOSTON -- The narrative was so glaring for weeks on end that there are probably plenty of people who don't know that it is no longer accurate. The bullpen, once a major weakness for the Red Sox, has turned into a considerable strength. Though Tuesday night's 3-2 loss to the

BOSTON -- The narrative was so glaring for weeks on end that there are probably plenty of people who don't know that it is no longer accurate.

The bullpen, once a major weakness for the Red Sox, has turned into a considerable strength.

Though Tuesday night's 3-2 loss to the Phillies snapped a five-game winning streak for Boston, the shutdown work of five relievers had them within a swing of tying the game for the final six innings.

Box score

In the last 26 games dating back to July 24, Boston's bullpen has a 2.77 ERA, the best in the Majors over that span. And in the last six games, it has allowed two earned runs in 26 2/3 innings.

"Amazing," said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. "They've been pitching great. Good rhythm, attacking guys. It's been good for a while now. That's what we're trying to do."

Brian Johnson stepped into Chris Sale's spot in the rotation on Tuesday and put his team in a tough spot when he gave up three runs in the top of the first, putting his team in a hole before it even took a swing.

Sale focused on healing, helping team win again

But Johnson settled down nicely during his abbreviated stint (3 2/3 innings), and the bullpen -- from Marcus Walden to Josh Taylor to Ryan Brasier to Darwinzon Hernandez to Matt Barnes -- took turns throwing zeros for the rest of the night.

"If you ask me how we're going to do this, every five days in that spot [vacated by Sale], if they score three, I like our chances," Cora said.

It's fair to wonder if the Red Sox are just going to run out of time. With 35 games left in the season, they trail the Rays by six games for the second American League Wild Card spot.

Continued success from the bullpen could at least give them a shot to make it interesting.

When Jackie Bradley Jr. crushed a two-run homer against Phillies ace Aaron Nola into Boston's bullpen in the bottom of the third, trimming the deficit to 3-2, it looked like the winning streak might continue.

Thanks to Nola, who allowed four hits and two runs over seven innings, it did not.

The bullpen did its part however.

"They did amazing," said Bradley. "Tremendous job to keep them at bay. It was a special night for them."

It might have been special enough to lead to a win if not for a curious decision by one of the best baserunners on the Red Sox in the bottom of the ninth.

With the Sox down by a run, Xander Bogaerts positioned his team perfectly for a comeback when he ripped one to the base of the Green Monster in left-center against Phillies closer Héctor Neris to lead off the inning.

J.D. Martinez then stung a grounder to short, and Bogaerts curiously raced for third, where he was tagged out easily.

"Probably not the best way to think, but based on how the game was going, I felt like we were on second base a lot and we kind of got stranded the whole game," said Bogaerts. "It's just a risk I took to try to get to third, because, obviously, we know it's a good pitcher and it was a mistake. Obviously wasn't the right decision."

On a night the Red Sox went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position and three times had a runner on second with nobody out and didn't score, perhaps Bogaerts just tried to force the issue too much.

"That's a no-no, and he knows it," said Cora. "That ball's right in front of him, and that's a big mistake right there."

Cora knew there was little sense in piling on Bogaerts, who has been one of the best players on the Red Sox all season.

"It doesn't matter if you're in first place or last place. You just have to play good baseball," Cora said. "They just made a mistake. Bogey is one of the best baserunners we have, and in that occasion, he just took off with the ball in front of him. He knows it. It's just a mistake."

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.