BOSTON -- By doing what they needed to do and sweeping the Orioles in a mostly stress-free weekend at Fenway Park, capped by Sunday’s 8-6 victory, the Red Sox have put themselves in strong position in the American League Wild Card standings with two weeks and 11 games left in their season.
Heading into Monday’s off-day, the Sox remain in possession of the first Wild Card slot by one game over the Blue Jays, who held serve by beating the Twins, and by 2 1/2 over the Yankees, who were routed by the Indians for the second straight game.
Winners of five straight, the Sox are 21 games above .500 (86-65) for the first time since July 30.
“When it’s coming down to the end and you don’t have a big lead or anything and you get to the end and every game matters, it starts getting a lot of fun,” said leadoff man Kiké Hernández, who went 2-for-3, scored twice and had two RBIs. “When games matter [like this], every game becomes a playoff game, every pitch matters, every inning matters. It’s a lot of fun, and hopefully we can keep playing good baseball and winning some games.”
Granted, there was some stress in Sunday’s series finale when key reliever Garrett Whitlock was taken out after 25 pitches due to right pectoral tightness.
“We’ll know more tomorrow, obviously, on the off-day,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. “It’s too soon to know what’s going on.”
There was yet more stress when Hirokazu Sawamura tried to pick Whitlock up after his abrupt exit in the top of the seventh and didn’t, walking two straight batters and allowing a three-run double that turned a 5-3 lead into a 6-5 deficit.
But it was back to business for the playoff-driven Sox in the bottom of the seventh, as Boston's bats jumped all over the 47-102 Birds to get back the three runs they allowed in the top half.
First, it was José Iglesias with a double high off the Green Monster. Then it was Hernández with a nice knock and some good fortune, a single up the middle that ticked off the second-base bag and rolled wildly into right-center, allowing Iglesias to easily score the tying run.
“That’s exactly what I was trying to do. Not surprised at all,” quipped Hernández. “Yeah, I was a little bit happy that the ball hit the bag and went the other way and allowed me to get a hit and drive in that run to tie the game.”
Given how big every game is from here on out, the Red Sox weren’t up for any mishaps against the Orioles. And they didn’t have any, setting themselves up nicely for the final stretch.
“We feel better than yesterday, but it doesn’t guarantee you anything,” said Cora. “Tomorrow is a good day to reset. Just get your rest. If you gotta come in, you do that and be ready against the Mets. We’re facing two great pitchers, [Marcus] Stroman and [Taijuan] Walker. They’re really tough. It’s a team that, obviously, they haven’t played up to expectations, but they’re still very talented, so we gotta be ready for that.”
After the two-game set against the Mets comes the biggest series left -- the three-game weekend tilt against the Yankees, who will try to break out of their skid by the time they get to Boston on Friday.
And for the final week of the season, the Red Sox face two non-contenders on the road in the Orioles and Nationals.
“I like our odds,” said All-Star righty Nathan Eovaldi, who took a no-decision for a sixth straight start, all Boston victories. “I like our chances. I like our schedule coming up. We just have to keep doing the small things right, going out there and competing and keep winning.”