BOSTON -- Sandy Leon stepped to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning in a big spot with a .100 batting average as he dug in. It would have surprised no one if Red Sox manager Alex Cora had pinch-hit for the catcher.But Cora decided
BOSTON -- Sandy Leon stepped to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning in a big spot with a .100 batting average as he dug in. It would have surprised no one if Red Sox manager Alex Cora had pinch-hit for the catcher.
But Cora decided to stick with Leon, who rewarded his manager's show of confidence by slapping an RBI single down the third-base line against Rays closer Alex Colome to put the Red Sox ahead for the first time in Sunday's 4-3 victory at Fenway Park over a red-hot Tampa Bay squad that had won eight in a row.
Leon's hit scored J.D. Martinez, who went 4-for-4 -- all singles that had an exit velocity of 104.1 mph or harder.
"That made me feel good. I saw nobody coming [to hit for me], and it gave me the confidence to go out there and win the game," said Leon. "I tried to keep something simple, just put the ball in play and make something happen. I hit the ball, and it found a hole."
Why did Cora decide not to hit Xander Bogaerts, who was out of the lineup for maintenance reasons in his third day back from the disabled list?
"We had Xander ready but if we hit Xander, I had a feeling they were going to pitch around him," said Cora. "I didn't want [Bogaerts] to play the field [so] we're not going to hit for [Tzu-Wei] Lin, so I decided to go with Sandy there knowing that we have another shot with [Craig] Kimbrel in the ninth so we rolled the dice and hit the ball over third base and got the game-winning hit."
It was an important win for the Red Sox, who came in with five losses in their last seven games, but rebounded in this one to become the first team in the Majors to win 20 games. Boston rallied back from a 3-0 deficit to win.
"What do we have 20 wins right now? It's the best in baseball I think. We can't ask for anything more right now," Martinez said. "We're playing good ball. We had a rough spell in Oakland and here, but hopefully we can use the momentum to continue to go forward."
The Leon decision wasn't the only interesting one Cora made. The rookie manager brought on closer Kimbrel before the ninth for the first time this season, and the righty got the final out of the eighth and escaped a sticky jam in the ninth to earn the victory.
With Joe Kelly in the middle of a six-game suspension and taking the game in from the stands, and Cora trying to stay away from other relievers due to recent usage, Kimbrel was up to the task. So was Rick Porcello, who allowed everyone but Kimbrel to rest by going a season-high 7 2/3 innings .The righty scattered seven hits and three runs while walking none and striking out six. He has a 2.23 ERA and has pitched well in all six of his starts.
The ninth inning started with singles by Daniel Robertson and Mallex Smith, and then a sacrifice bunt that put runners on second and third with one out. But Kimbrel struck out Jesus Sucre for the big second out, and punched out pinch-hitter Carlos Gomez on three pitches -- the capper a 97.4 mph heater.
"Yeah, it definitely got tight there at the end, but I was able to get out of it," Kimbrel said. "It was exciting and it was fun. It was a great win."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
J.D.'s knock key to comeback: Martinez was in the middle of everything in this one. The Red Sox actually trailed 3-0 after four. But that deficit was erased with a big three-run rally in the sixth. Martinez had the biggest hit of the inning, a two-run single into left that helped set up the game-tying sacrifice fly by Jackie Bradley Jr.
"We needed it," Martinez said. "It always feels good to comes through with the bases loaded."
J.D's knock key to go-ahead rally: Martinez was the leadoff man in the eighth. And after the seventh pitch of the at-bat -- a 97.4 mph high-and-tight pitch from Colome that put him in the dirt -- Martinez belted an RBI single that got the winning rally started.
"I keep going to Manny and I'm not saying he's Manny Ramirez but this guy can hit for average," said Cora. "He hits for power, but he hits for average and he was able to stay on pitches. I think the 2-2 pitch was right at his head, 97, 98, and for him to be able to stay on that pitch and hit a line drive the other way, that's good hitting."
The homer Porcello allowed to Denard Span was the first he has allowed this season. Entering the day, there were 98 pitchers who qualified for the ERA title and Porcello was the only one who hadn't allowed a home run.
"Just a bad changeup, stayed up, didn't turn it over enough," Porcello said. "He's seeing the ball real good right now, so a good swing, a bad pitch."
HE SAID IT
"Can't say enough good things about him. He's dominant. He's the best closer in the game, hands down." -- Porcello on Kimbrel
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
In the top of the fourth, after the Rays had just taken a 3-0 lead on an RBI single to right by Smith, Porcello made a strong pickoff move to first. Smith was ruled safe, but the Red Sox challenged the call and it was overturned.
Left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez (3-0, 3.63 ERA) goes after his fourth straight win on Monday when the Royals come to town for the opener of a three-game series at 7:10 p.m. ET. Rodriguez is holding opponents to a .224 average so far this season. He'll be opposed by Jason Hammel.
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.