Duran's first HR ignites Sox's slumbering bats

July 20th, 2021

In the middle of Sunday night's loss to the Yankees, Alex Cora made a note for himself: It was time to make some lineup changes.

"We haven't been great offensively since we went to Oakland," the Red Sox manager explained. "And I just felt like moving people around would probably relax a few guys."

The relaxed, reshuffled Red Sox performed about as well as they possibly could on Monday, blitzing the Blue Jays for 11 early runs in a 13-4 win at Sahlen Field in Buffalo, N.Y. Boston posted an eight-run first inning for the first time since July 2, 2015 (at Toronto), washing away two-plus weeks of offensive futility.

In their previous dozen games, the Red Sox had scraped and scrounged for offense, averaging just 3.8 runs per game and falling well short of the lofty expectations placed on a lineup featuring three All-Stars.

Among Cora's maneuvers Monday was the promotion of to the two-hole, and the rookie justified it instantly. His first MLB homer -- a two-run blast to left -- jump-started the Sox in the opening frame. Boston's No. 3 prospect had a quiet debut in the Bronx this past weekend, going 1-for-6 with three strikeouts, but Cora was encouraged by the 24-year-old's "competitive" at-bats.

"Duran, with a 2-0 pitch, he doesn't try to pull it," Cora said. "He goes the opposite way, and that's what's so impressive about him."

"I didn't think I got it," Duran said. "I thought maybe over [the outfielder's] head for a double or something, but it felt good trotting the bases, feeling like I did something to help the team get some runs on the board early."

followed five batters later with a grand slam, and Kiké Hernández added a two-run homer, giving the Red Sox a three-homer first inning -- their first as a road team in franchise history. Hernández would add a solo dinger in the sixth.

Consider that eight-run inning in the context of how the Red Sox fared over the three-game series against the Yankees this past weekend: Boston had just six runs on 15 hits (.172 batting average), with two home runs.

The Sox tacked on three more in Monday's second inning with a solo homer and a two-run double by , who's fresh off the injured list (left quad strain). By game's end, six starters had reached base at least twice, and the team worked nearly as many walks (seven) as strikeouts (eight).

"The at-bats were really professional today," Cora said. "We stayed in the zone, we did a lot of good things and hopefully we can continue tomorrow."

Cora didn't reveal whether he'll keep the lineup the same for Tuesday's game, but it's difficult to argue with the results of the new formula. In addition to helping some of his players relax, the skipper was hoping to "get some traffic" in front of . The All-Star designated hitter, who's batted third in all but one start this year, was dropped to No. 5 so fellow All-Stars Devers and could hit ahead of him.

Martinez responded with a 4-for-4 night, including two doubles and a walk. That performance was somewhat muted, though, given Boston's six home runs (tying a season high).

A trademark of this Red Sox season is that home runs are celebrated with a laundry cart joyride in the dugout. In Buffalo, however, the players had to improvise by dragging a cooler along the ground.

"There's some places that there's no cart," Cora said. "I guess that's what they [used] today. We'll get back to it when we get home."

They'll head home Thursday, but first comes the goal of earning a series win against the Blue Jays. The Red Sox have now won each of their past four series openers, but they lost the previous three series.

Of course, if the offense uses this 14-hit, 13-run outburst to get back on track, series wins should become the norm again for the American League East leaders. One day after called out his team, saying they needed to "act more like we're in first place," that's exactly what they did.

"I read the quote and we talked a little bit about that," Cora said. "We have to show up every day. Every single day. And we've done a great job throughout the season, but it felt like there was an 'it factor' today."