Rafaela saves game for Sox with 'unbelievable' catch

April 3rd, 2024

OAKLAND -- Red Sox manager Alex Cora pulled out all the stops in an effort to win Tuesday night’s game against the Athletics, from giving up the designated hitter in the bottom of the seventh inning to emptying out final reserve Reese McGuire as part of a double switch in extra innings to temporarily playing with a five-man infield.

But when it came right down to it, was still in the game until the satisfying end, and that’s a big reason the Red Sox prevailed in this 5-4 victory in 11 innings.

Rafaela, MLB Pipeline’s No. 73 prospect, is known for his stellar defense in center field. That’s the biggest reason he earned a spot on the team late in Spring Training.

When Josh Winckowski’s 96.5 mph sinker caught too much plate with one out in that bottom of the 11th, the reliever was bracing for the fact the game was about to be tied on the strong swing that Shea Langliers took.

But Rafaela was off with the crack of the bat and roared to the warning track, jumping with his final step, corralling the out a step or two from the wall.

“I think it was a pretty good jump,” said Rafaela. “I think that was the main part of why I made the catch. I mean, in my mind, everything that’s in the park, I have to catch it there.”

Langliers screamed in disgust as he went back to the dugout.

“Having some time to decompress from it now, it’s just baseball,” Langliers said. “He made a hell of a play. It seemed like he just floated to it. In my head, off the bat, I thought I at least tied the game with a double. It just sucks. But that’s just baseball.”

The deflation of Langliers was elation for Winckowski.

“That was unbelievable,” Winckowski said. “I was watching it turn and kind of keep going to right-center even farther and farther away from Rafaela, and the fact that he caught it was unbelievable. Obviously, it 100 percent saved the game and it was a crazy play.”

But not all that crazy for Cora, who sounded from the first day of Spring Training like a manager who was rooting for Rafaela to make the team because he knew the impact the 23-year-old from Curaçao could make on the team’s outfield defense

“From my end, yeah, I knew he had it,” said Cora. “He had it the whole time. That's what we do now. We play better defense and we pitch a lot better.”

Per Statcast, Rafaela chased after the drive at a sprint speed of 29.3 feet per second and covered 92 feet to catch the 391-foot drive.

And perhaps Winckowski deserved the gem of a play from Rafaela, considering the way he avoided defeat in the 10th.

With runners at the corners and one out in a tie game, all Oakland had to do was get a sacrifice fly or a well-placed liner to the outfield, which suddenly only had two Boston players in it.

Rafaela had moved to the middle of the diamond to give the Sox a five-man infield, and Winckowski did exactly what he needed, getting J.D. Davis to hit his sinker on the ground. The ball never made it to Rafaela. Winckowski snared it, catching lead runner Ryan Noda between third and home.

“The call was honestly to turn two, but Noda kind of jumped toward home and I kind of jumped toward him,” said Winckowski.

All’s well that ends well. After Rafaela’s big play for the second out of the 11th, Winckowski pumped his first when he struck out Lawrence Butler to end an eventful game which Trevor Story (3-for-5) tied up on an RBI single to right with two outs in the seventh.

Story’s most impressive hit came in the ninth, when he doubled on a 101.1 mph fastball by Mason Miller.

“When I hit the ball on a line to right field with those fastballs, I think that's a good sign for me,” Story said. “And then, if something’s hung in the zone, maybe I can pull that pitch. But that's always an indicator for me -- how those balls are coming off my bat. If they’re coming off on a line to the right side, it’s good for me.”

Just as good for the Red Sox was the fact the critical fly ball of the game was hit in Rafaela’s direction.