Devers doubles down on the Nationals' dare as Sox even series

May 12th, 2024

BOSTON -- Rafael Devers had been struggling with runners in scoring position of late, like nearly everyone in the Boston batting order.

But he is still Rafael Devers, which made it surprising that Nationals manager Davey Martinez ordered up an intentional walk of Tyler O’Neill and dared the most impactful player on the Red Sox to beat his team.

Beat the Nationals is just what Devers did, as he hammered a 2-2 pitch by lefty Robert Garcia with two outs in the bottom of the eighth and slammed it into left field for a go-ahead, two-run double that led the slumping Red Sox to a 4-2 victory on Saturday at Fenway Park.

After getting behind in the count 2-0, Garcia threw four straight fastballs that Devers fouled off. Then he went fastball again, on the lower inner half, and Devers lined it at an exit velocity of 108.5 mph and over the head of Nats left fielder Eddie Rosario.

“For me, my fastball’s my best pitch,” said Garcia. “It has a lot of deception, a lot of life, it gets on guys quick. It’s hard for them to adjust. I’ve thrown multiple past some great lefties in this game. In that situation, yeah, you could think maybe slider. But if I threw that right by him, we wouldn’t have this conversation.”

Following the game, Devers said he couldn’t recall a situation in which a manager intentionally walked the previous batter to face him. But it has happened, most recently on Sept. 6, 2021, when J.D. Martinez was given the free pass to face Devers, who singled, albeit in an 11-10 loss to the Rays.

“Yes, I was a little bit surprised,” Devers said. “But he’s the manager and makes the decisions. But in the moment, I was very surprised.”

Why did the Nationals' skipper make that decision?

“It’s a tie ball game,” said Martinez. “I thought that was the right matchup. It’s a good battle up there. He fouled a couple of good, tough pitches off and Raffy just got the best of him today. But Garcia’s throwing the ball good. He’s our left-handed guy, so we decided to go that route.”

Devers said he didn’t take offense to Martinez’s decision.

“Not really, those are baseball decisions,” Devers said. “Tyler is a right-handed batter, I’m lefty, so if I’m a manager some day I might make the same decision.”

Red Sox manager Alex Cora understood why Martinez did it.

“Yeah, I mean, as a manager, you’ve got to kind of pick your poison,” Cora said. “They had the righty ready. They’re watching too, and at that point, they made the decision to go against Raffy. He had him with two strikes, he’s one pitch away from getting out of the inning. You’re managing that inning, you’re managing the whole game, you’re managing the series.”

But Cora got extra satisfaction from the way things worked out because he made a lineup adjustment earlier in the week aimed at being ready for a situation like the one that unfolded. Devers, who has most often batted second for the Red Sox during his career, was moved to the cleanup spot. The reason was so leadoff man Jarren Duran (also a left-handed hitter) could be separated from Devers. Wilyer Abreu moved to the two-hole, but he’s a left-handed hitter Cora will pinch-hit for against a tough lefty, unlike Devers.

The way this rally unfolded, Rob Refsnyder batted for Duran and reached on a singing bunt. Romy Gonzalez grounded out. So up stepped O’Neill, with runners on second and third. But he didn’t get a chance to end his recent slump with runners in scoring position, as Martinez put out the four fingers.

“That’s what we were talking about with the lineup construction,” said Cora. “Kind of like, make them make a decision and we’ve got three good matchups to our advantage and Raffy against anybody, we’ll take that. So it feels good, that one. You think about it during the week and you see what’s going on [Saturday], and you’re like, this might work, and it happened.”

Given the recent struggles the Red Sox have had at the plate, the timing couldn’t have been better for their best hitter to come up clutch with the game on the line.

Over the previous seven games, the Boston bats had slumped mightily, scoring two runs or fewer in six of those games -- all losses.

The elusive big hit allowed the 20-19 Red Sox to breathe a little easier going into Sunday’s rubber match against the Nats.