A strike from defeat, Yoshida has one of 'biggest highlights' of Sox career

July 6th, 2024

NEW YORK -- With the Red Sox one strike away from defeat, Masataka Yoshida completely changed the narrative on Friday night at Yankee Stadium when he belted a game-tying two-run homer in the top of the ninth inning that propelled Boston to an eventual 5-3 victory in 10 innings.

Instead of Tanner Houck’s dramatic loss of command after the rain delay and Enmanuel Valdez’s costly error being the main storylines, they were reduced to footnotes.

Yoshida stole the night by ending his 75 at-bat homerless streak at the most opportune time, mauling a 3-2 sinker by Yankees closer Clay Holmes at an exit velocity of 103.3 mph and a Statcast-projected distance of 405 feet.

“Masa, he’s finding his rhythm,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. “We know he's a good hitter. He hasn't hit for power [this season], but the short porch in right, and he got a good pitch to hit and drove it.”

No Yankee Stadium cheapie was this. Per Statcast, Yoshida’s missile would have been a homer in all 30 MLB parks.

“Situation-wise, and the stadium, here at Yankee Stadium, I think that’s one of the biggest highlights of my career with the Red Sox,” said Yoshida.

And Yoshida’s teammates let him know how clutch the equalizer was when he got back to the dugout.

“Oh yeah, it's huge,” said Yoshida. “Obviously, to be able to hit a home run in that clutch situation and just share the happiness with the teammates, that’s big. The dugout here is a little bit small. So we're really tight and just shared that happiness.”

It wasn’t just the players who celebrated in the moment. Perhaps nobody showed more emotion than Yutaro Yamaguchi, Yoshida’s interpreter.

“Yeah, I mean, he's a part of the team,” Yoshida said of Yamaguchi. “It’s great that we were able to share that moment.”

“I was fired up,” confirmed Yamaguchi with a wide smile.

These are exciting times for the Red Sox, who came into the season with little fanfare and have now won five in a row and 15 out of 20. Friday’s dramatic surge in the late innings pushed Boston to a season-high nine games above .500 at 48-39.

Cora’s team is currently in possession of the third American League Wild Card spot by 1 1/2 games over the Royals. The Yankees, who lead the Wild Card standings, are suddenly just 4 1/2 games ahead of the Red Sox and three ahead in the loss column.

“It's always special to come here and win games,” said Cora. “We know where we’re at in the standings, and like I said last week, let's not settle. Let’s keep pushing and see where it takes us.“

Rookie Ceddanne Rafaela, playing his first career game at Yankee Stadium, made sure that Yoshida’s heroics stood up when he hit a two-run homer that just cleared the wall in right-center in the top of the 10th.

“He’s been doing a good job,” Cora said. “Hunting pitches in the zone, hitting the ball hard. We just want him to do the job in that situation. Just hit the ball to right-center, or hit a ground ball to second, stay on the pitch, and he crushed it.”

So, too, did Yoshida, who fell behind 0-2 before working the count full and drilling a 96.1 mph sinker for his third homer of the season and first since April 20. Interestingly, Holmes threw all sinkers in the eight-pitch at-bat.

"In hindsight, sure, you might say it's time to throw a slider,” said Holmes. “But I think I'll stick with my sinker any day there. If I throw a good one that's down, I know I can get the result I wanted. It probably wasn't my best sinker. It was kind of close to him, so he's able to just get the barrel to it just enough, especially after fouling a couple off."

It was Dom Smith who gave Yoshida a chance when he came up as a pinch-hitter with two outs and nobody on in the ninth and hit a 2-1 slider into right for a single.

A big win, sure. But one Cora was confident his team would keep in the right perspective.

“One thing about this team since Day 1, they don't get caught up on stuff like this,” Cora said. “We will show up [Saturday] and prepare for Gerrit Cole, who is one of the best in the business, and try to win a ballgame.”