ATLANTA -- On this zany Wednesday afternoon, when the Red Sox rested their three best position players and still roared back from a six-run deficit going into the eighth inning, it was fitting that the player who came up with the biggest hit of the day was a 16-year veteran and three-time All-Star playing his first game in the Major Leagues this season.
With the Red Sox down by a run and down to their last out in the top of the ninth, Brandon Phillips unloaded for a two-run homer against Braves closer A.J. Minter that led his new team to an exhilarating 9-8 victory to complete a three-game sweep of the Braves.
The 37-year-old Phillips had a hard time finding work this season, despite a solid 2017 split between the Braves and Angels. But the Red Sox signed him to a Minor League deal in late June, and he finally made his way back to the Majors on Tuesday. A day later, the Stone Mountain native celebrated his return by smashing a game-winner in his hometown against his former team.
• Phillips evokes Willie Mays Hayes with leaning-back home run
"I like how it happened," Phillips said. "I'm just out here playing baseball, happy that the Red Sox gave me an opportunity to do this. It was a team effort; the guys played great for us to come back the way we did. That was amazing."
Where does it rank in terms of career highlights?
"I don't want to say it's No. 1, because I hope nobody goes through what I did during the offseason, but for me to get here to do what I did today, it was quite amazing," said Phillips. "Especially for me to do it in Atlanta in front of my family and friends. That was pretty awesome."
The magical moments continue for the 97-44 Sox, who pulled off their biggest comeback of the season against the team that leads the National League East.
Across MLB this season, teams were 0-487 when down by six or more runs entering the eighth. On three previous occasions, Boston rallied from a five-run deficit to win. But this was the first time it roared back from six down to win. And the Red Sox used 15 position players and six pitchers to do it.
"Thank God for September baseball," said manager Alex Cora. "We used almost every position player. They could have folded and said, 'You know what, let's go home,' it's been a productive road trip. Everybody was pulling for each other. We pinch-hit for a lot of guys and nobody was upset; they knew it was the right thing to do, that we were all in. But it was fun. I think honestly that was the most fun I had all season just watching the last few innings."
Even with that wild comeback in the eighth, the Sox still almost lost. Freddie Freeman put the momentum back on Atlanta's side when he walloped a two-out solo shot in the eighth against Brandon Workman to put the Braves back up, 8-7.
"We scored, then they hit a home run -- whatever," said Cora. "We were in the top of the order and [Andrew Benintendi] put a good at-bat against a lefty [for a one-out single in the ninth], and then that happened."
Phillips went after the first pitch from Minter -- a 95.2-mph heater -- and destroyed it at an exit velocity of 108.2 mph and a projected distance of 432 feet, according to Statcast™. As he rounded the bases, Phillips couldn't contain his smile. Meanwhile, the Red Sox had the last laugh in a wild game.
The dugout erupted with joy when Phillips returned.
"Ah, them boys, [they're] crazy," Phillips said. "I loved it a lot. Those guys, they're saying, 'Welcome back to the league.' They said all kinds of stuff like that. It was funny, man, they really made me smile and made me feel like I've been here, and I really thank those guys for that."
Craig Kimbrel, another former Brave, came on for his 38th save in the bottom of the ninth.
With the satisfying victory, the Red Sox reduced their magic number for clinching a postseason berth to four games. The magic number to win the American League East is 14.
For the Red Sox, that furious rally in the eighth started with singles by Christian Vazquez, Tzu-Wei Lin and Jackie Bradley Jr. to load the bases with nobody out. Blake Swihart laced a two-run double to draw Boston within four. Benintendi stepped up with an RBI single to left against lefty Jonny Venters to put the Sox right back in it at 7-4. Steve Pearce's sacrifice fly to left sliced the deficit to two.
Boston got a big break when Phillips hit a routine grounder that third baseman Johan Camargo first bobbled, and then threw away, loading the bases and setting up pinch-hitter Ian Kinsler for his big two-run single that tied the game against righty reliever Brad Brach.
"It was awesome," said Pearce. "It was like, 'Uh-oh, we're starting to do it.' Then, boom, the hits started to happen. We scored on the error, took advantage of it. We all felt the momentum starting to shift. We all felt it. Everybody felt it. Then we started delivering."
Meanwhile, the Red Sox flew home equal parts rested and joyous.
"In an 'off-day,' they were able to come in and play and play hard and we stole the game," said Cora.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Benintendi comes up big twice: While hitting lefties isn't a specialty for Benintendi, he got the job done twice in the eighth and ninth to make the win possible. His single to left in the eighth was off an 0-2 sinker by Venters. And in the ninth, Benintendi again fell behind 0-2 and got enough of Minter's 97.5-mph heat to put it into center for the hit that set up Phillips. For the season, Benintendi is slashing .242/.300/.406 against lefties, compared to a glittering .310/.397/.511 mark against righties.
Coming up clutch is nothing new for Phillips. This is the fifth time in his career that he's homered to give his team the lead in the ninth inning or later.
HE SAID IT
"My favorite part about the whole thing was the lean-back that he had. He hit that ball, and instantly, we knew it was gone. That's a big hit right there. He's been doing it for a lot of years in the big leagues. We're lucky to have him here. He won this game for us." -- Brock Holt, on the homer by Phillips
In what could be a preview of a showdown in October for a second straight year, the Red Sox host the Astros on Friday night for the opener of a three-game series at Fenway Park. The teams split a four-game series in Houston from May 31-June 3. David Price (14-6, 3.60 ERA) makes his return to action in this one. The lefty was struck on his pitching wrist by a line drive, knocking him out of his last start on Aug. 29. The Astros counter with righty Gerrit Cole (13-5, 2.86 ERA). First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. ET.