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Devers does it all as Red Sox stop Astros

May 26, 2019

HOUSTON -- As Red Sox manager Alex Cora hopped off the bench after his late-morning session with the media, he beamed, “Man, you guys made my morning. I got to talk about Raffy.” And once Sunday’s big 4-1 victory over the Astros began taking shape, it was Rafael Devers who

HOUSTON -- As Red Sox manager Alex Cora hopped off the bench after his late-morning session with the media, he beamed, “Man, you guys made my morning. I got to talk about Raffy.”

And once Sunday’s big 4-1 victory over the Astros began taking shape, it was Rafael Devers who made Cora’s day all over again.

Box score

Whether it was the slow roller that Devers fielded perfectly and then fired a strike to first to retire Carlos Correa in the third or the towering homer he hit against Justin Verlander in the fourth to put the Red Sox in front, the 22-year-old was in the middle of the action.

“It’s pretty funny, every time you see him in the batter’s box over there, he’s moving his legs, shaking his head and everything,” said Red Sox lefty Eduardo Rodriguez, who earned the win. “But he has it under control every time he does that, and he’s been hitting the ball really well right now."

In the heart of a lineup that includes Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez and Xander Bogaerts, Devers has been as impactful as any player for the defending World Series champs this season.

Devers batted third for the first time since early April, and while he made it clear he’ll bat wherever he’s asked to bat, third is not his favorite place in the order.

“I don’t love it, but I’ll hit anywhere they put me -- eighth, seventh, first, doesn’t matter," said Devers, who went 2-for-4 on Sunday. "I’ll hit anywhere to go get my job done. It doesn’t matter where they put me.”

Added Cora: “The cool thing about it right now is he’s taking ownership and he’s understanding what he means to our lineup, and he’s going to keep getting better."

After losing the first two games in Houston, the Red Sox badly wanted to salvage the Sunday game for the second straight weekend against the team they could face in the postseason for the third consecutive year.

Rodriguez (6 innings, 4 H, 1 ER, 5 K) certainly had a lot to do with the Sox achieving that goal, holding his own in a matchup with Astros ace Verlander.

And Devers aided the cause when he tore into Verlander’s 94.3 mph heater on the upper and outer portion of the plate and smashed a no-doubter over the wall in center to snap a 1-1 tie. According to Statcast, Devers belted the ball at an exit velocity of 108.9 mph and a projected distance of 423 feet. If you recall, it was Devers who came up with the big hit against Verlander in clinching Game 5 of last year’s American League Championship Series when he roped a three-run homer to left.

“I was just trying to get on top of his fastball,” Devers said about Sunday's knock. “He’s got a good fastball. Try to get a good pitch to drive. He’s tough.”

On Saturday, Devers smashed a baseball with such authority that he was punished for his effort. The ball smacked off the top of the roof of Minute Maid Park and back into play for a ground-rule double instead of a homer. That drive had a launch angle of 43 degrees and an exit velocity of 105.8 mph.

In case you haven’t noticed, the left-handed hitter has been bruising the baseball this season. His 89 hard-hit batted balls lead the Major Leagues.

Perhaps more noteworthy has been his improvement at third base. Though Devers is tied for fourth in the Majors with nine errors, he hasn’t made a miscue since May 2.

“Just trying to eliminate mistakes,” Devers said. “The key has been work. Extra work has paid off.”

And it’s hard not to take notice of the confidence Devers is fielding with. The play he made against Correa was a do-or-die situation. With a runner on third and one out, Devers fielded the roller on the barehand and had to fire across his body to get the key out. If anything had gone wrong on the play, Alex Bregman likely would have scored.

“That was a really big play,” Rodriguez said. “I threw the backdoor slider right there and got a ground ball and thought, 'I don’t have a chance to make that play.' He grabbed the ball and as soon as I saw the throw, that was perfect. That was a really good throw, a really good play by him, and I think he saved me there, too.”

Devers made a couple of plays so impressive on Saturday that Cora mentioned them unprompted a day later.

“Wow, that was fun to watch yesterday,” Cora said.

What has led to Devers taking his game up a few notches?

“We don’t have time to talk about it. We need hours to talk about this, but I think it’s just confidence, structure. I don’t know, man,” Cora said. “Honestly, and I know it sounds weird, but when we cut his hair, I was like, ‘He cleaned it up.’”

While Devers has clearly matured, Cora still sees the fun-loving demeanor that makes the third baseman a favorite in the clubhouse.

“He’s 22, he’s into the game,” Cora said. “At one point in the game yesterday, I don’t know if it was the last inning, there’s a lot of stuff going on, and he comes here and he asks for gum. He’s having a blast.”

Devers and the Red Sox hope that Sunday’s game wasn’t their last at Minute Maid Park in 2019.

“We’re very even. We know that,” Cora said of the two clubs. “Hopefully, I’ll be back to see some friends in October here. It seems like obviously that’s the goal. Everybody talks about all the teams, but there are a lot of good teams and good baseball right now. We just have to concentrate on Cleveland right now, and we’ve got a three-game series and we’ll do our job.”

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.