Plenty of fight left in Sox for 20-win June

Verdugo's clutch hits, Strahm's gritty relief work foil Blue Jays in finale

June 30th, 2022

TORONTO -- The beauty of baseball is that an agonizing loss one night can be avenged with a thoroughly-satisfying win the next.

And for the Red Sox, a 6-5, nail-biting victory over the Blue Jays in 10 innings on Wednesday was the definition of a grind-it-out performance on the heels of a crushing defeat.

“I think that’s the biggest thing is we showed fight in the game. Bullpen did a tremendous job,” said red-hot righty Nick Pivetta, who fired six-plus strong innings. “We showed fight the entire way through and it was just an all-around, good team win.”

There was a point when it seemed like the series finale was going to be another heartbreaker, especially when Ryan Brasier surrendered the lead for Boston’s 16th blown save of the season in the bottom of the eighth.

But the Red Sox didn’t buckle. And neither did reliever Matt Strahm.

After the lanky lefty issued a leadoff walk to George Springer in the bottom of the ninth, he had to deal with Toronto’s fearsome 2-3-4 combo of Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Alejandro Kirk.

Any one of those dangerous hitters could have given the Blue Jays a walk-off win and sent the Sox to their off-day in Chicago looking back at an unsettling sweep. Instead, Strahm struck out Bichette and Guerrero, and everyone on the Red Sox exhaled when Kirk belted one to the warning track in right and into Rob Refsnyder’s glove.

“Strahmy, he was well-rested,” manager Alex Cora said. “He’s pushing to the limit and he made some pitches.”

Of course, Strahm’s stellar effort in the ninth might not have mattered if not for the hitting heroics of Alex Verdugo. The fiery left fielder mauled a two-run homer against Blue Jays phenom Alek Manoah in the sixth to give Pivetta and the Red Sox the lead.

And in the 10th, after J.D. Martinez was hit in the back with the bases loaded to put Boston on top again, Verdugo added what wound up the biggest hit of the game, a two-out, two-run double to the gap in left-center that gave Strahm some insurance.

“It’s huge,” Verdugo said. “You see how it played out in the [bottom of the] 10th.”

Playing this three-game series in Toronto without Tanner Houck, who was on the restricted list due to not being vaccinated against COVID-19, Boston’s bullpen had one last heart-pounding adventure in the 10th.

The Jays did what they do and kept battling on offense and Strahm -- who threw a season-high of 41 pitches -- looked to be on fumes. He let three straight batters reach after being one out away from the win. Strahm at last got Springer on a popup, leaving the potential tying and go-ahead runs on second and third.

Despite the chaotic scene around him, there was no panic in Strahm.

“Just get that last out. If it would have taken 60 pitches or whatever it is, I was just out there to get that last out,” he said.

Though the Red Sox have mostly been on a roll for the last six weeks, going 33-13 since May 10, the one thing they haven’t done yet is play well against American League East foes.

That trend continued when Boston came to Toronto with a 19-4 record in June, only to lose the first two games of this series. On the strength of their getaway night victory, the Sox improved to 8-16 in divisional play this season.

“It was one of those things where we’re happy to get the ‘W’, avoid the sweep and get one of three,” Verdugo said. “In our minds we should have won two of three. We had a good game yesterday. Didn’t have one of our guys to close it out or whatever it may be. But to pull this one out is huge.”

In a way, this game belonged to Pivetta, who was able to go toe-to-toe against Manoah.

“It was a really big game for me,” Pivetta said. “I wanted to beat these guys. They’re a really good baseball club and they do the right things every single day. They’re really good, [1 through 9]. They have a really good approach, really good hitters. They always go to battle. They battled tonight and we did better.

“What really shows is that last night was last night, but we were able to move on and get a win here tonight which was really important.”