Tide turned: Sox cap 1st sweep at Trop since April 2019

May 23rd, 2024

ST. PETERSBURG -- After watching his team put together a couple of crisp wins to open this three-game series at Tropicana Field, Red Sox manager Alex Cora challenged his team to “get greedy and finish the road trip the right way.”

For a while on Wednesday night, it was all going the wrong way. Brayan Bello labored through a three-run second inning and the bats produced just one hit in the first four innings.

And after that, everything changed. Greed came to life in the form of a barrage of timely hits in a five-run fifth inning and an in-game rebound by Bello, enabling the Sox to sweep the Rays with an 8-5 victory that capped the three-game series.

“Sweep, sweep, sweep,” said one Red Sox player as he ran into the clubhouse clapping his hands following the game.

A sweep is sweet for any team over the course of a baseball season. But doing so at Tropicana Field, where the Red Sox had gone 2-15 over the previous two seasons, truly meant something.

It was the first time Boston had swept a series at Tropicana Field since April 19-21, 2019.

“It's very important to come here and sweep this team,” said right fielder Wilyer Abreu. “Even more when we haven't done it in a long time and that keeps us extra confident to go home and win some games.”

The Red Sox will get an off-day on Thursday after playing the previous 13 days. The Brewers visit Fenway on Friday night for the start of a three-game series.

But before getting home, Boston went about making sure it was a happy flight.

Part of being greedy is adding on after a big inning. And the Sox did just that in a three-run sixth that was highlighted by an RBI double from Jarren Duran and a two-run rocket of a homer to center by Abreu.

In that game-turning fifth, Abreu somewhat surprisingly got the chance to hit against Rays lefty Richard Lovelady. Numerous times this season, Cora has pinch-hit for the rookie left-handed hitter against lefties in the mid-to-late innings.

On a 3-2 pitch, Abreu did Cora’s favorite thing -- putting the ball in play. The infield chop was good enough to load the bases and set up one of the team’s hottest hitters in Connor Wong for a two-run single that tied the game.

“It was one of those moments in the game,” Cora said. “Probably with the bases loaded, we [pinch-]hit for [Abreu] in that spot. It’s 3-1, [Rays]. Probably, they only have one lefty available today, so we decided to just be patient. We talked about it, and we’re like, ‘You know what? Let him hit.’ He put together a good at-bat and put the ball in play.”

An inning later, Abreu hammered his two-run shot to right-center, not far from the ray tank, belting it at an exit velocity of 107.1 mph and a Statcast-projected distance of 415 feet.

“He crushed that ball,” Cora said. “He’s a good player and fun to watch.”

Bello (5-2, 4.04 ERA) made the work of the offense stand up, throwing zeros in his final four innings.

What changed? He found his changeup, a pitch that abandoned him during a loss in the first game of this road trip in St. Louis and for the first two innings on Wednesday.

“I was able to get my changeup back and also have a very good feeling for my slider and sinker,” Bello said. “Starting at that point, I was having a good feeling for all of those three pitches.”

For Boston, it was impressive to not only win more games these past three days at Tropicana Field than it had in two seasons, but also to finish with a 4-2 road trip after losing the first two games of the journey in St. Louis.

Cora said numerous times during this series that his young team is much more athletic than in past years, and better equipped to withstand the challenges that Tropicana Field can pose for visiting teams.

“They’ve been better than us,” Cora said. “That's the bottom line. They played better than us [in recent years]. We’ve had some weird games here, walk offs, bunts with the bases loaded, a lot of craziness. It’s cool to come here and win but we expect to pitch with them. We’re different than in the past and I’m just glad we won the series.”