ST. PETERSBURG -- On Friday, the Red Sox limped into Tampa Bay under a cloud of frustration and uncertainty. They’ll head back north toting a three-game win streak and their first series sweep of the season after a 4-3, 11-inning win on Sunday against the Rays at Tropicana Field.
Gaining three games on the American League East-leading Rays on their home turf could be just the confidence-builder Boston needs to overcome an early-season funk and get back to their winning ways.
“We’ll figure some things out,” left fielder Andrew Benintendi said. “Once we hit our stride, it’ll be a lot more fun, and I’m sure everybody else will be happy, too.
“If we keep playing the way we know we’re capable of playing, we’ll be OK.”
With that in mind, here are four things we learned during the Red Sox’s trip to St. Petersburg:
Hard-fought wins are an extra feather in the cap
It goes without saying that any wins are good wins, but the Rays really made Boston earn their W's this weekend, forcing a tie in the seventh inning or later in all three games despite the Red Sox leading early in two of them.
“[The Rays] are feeling good right now,” starter David Price said. “They are playing good baseball, and that was a big three wins for us.”
Price said showing late-game moxie is a great early measuring stick for how a team responds to pressure: In Boston’s case, by elevating its game.
“We aren’t worried about outside of this clubhouse,” Price added. “We know the type of team we have inside of this clubhouse, and I think we showed that these last three days.”
The starters have turned a corner
Price fanned a season-high 10 batters over five innings Sunday and held the Rays to a pair of runs on five hits. The left-hander owns a 1.32 ERA over his last six games at Tropicana Field and has allowed two runs or fewer in eight of his last nine starts against his former team.
Eduardo Rodriguez (Friday’s starter) and Rick Porcello (Saturday's) similarly limited Tampa Bay’s damage and put their team in the best position to take late control of the game. It’s great news for the Red Sox, who were plagued by rotation issues early on, but appear to be settling in despite losing Nathan Eovaldi to the 10-day injured list on Saturday.
The difference is remarkable: The starting corps are 2-3 with a 3.21 ERA over the past nine games compared to an 8.79 ERA in their first 13.
The kid can hold his own
It’s not likely Chavis will be with the Major League club for an extended period, but Boston’s No. 1 prospect according to MLB Pipeline sure gave the Red Sox reason to remember his name.
In his Major League debut Saturday, Chavis provided the ninth-inning spark that put the winning run at third, crushing a pinch-hit double to the wall in center field. With the knock, Chavis became the first Red Sox player to record an extra-base hit in his first Major League plate appearance since Bryce Brentz (2014).
The fact that it came against the Rays’ José Alvarado, widely recognized as one of the league’s top closers, wasn’t lost on the 23-year-old.
“[Alvarado] has good stuff; I think everybody knows that,” said Chavis, who started at second base in Sunday’s finale and helped turn a slick double play. “I guess, personally, it’s kind of a reassurance I belong. … It’s my first hit, it’s obviously a big deal in a very big moment but being in that situation and off of that quality of a pitcher was very special.”
Mitch Moreland left Saturday’s game early with back spasms but returned Sunday to club his team-leading seventh home run in the fourth inning. He finished the series 3-for-8 with a pair of RBIs on two homers. J.D. Martinez is heading back to Boston with an 11-game hitting streak. Other series standouts include Mookie Betts (6-for-12, RBI, HR, 2 BB) and Benintendi (grand slam, five RBIs).
“We did a good job over the weekend,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “But now we’ve got to go home and keep getting better. If we keep doing that, we’re going to be in good shape.”