From 0-3 to 3-3: How Sox flipped the switch

April 7th, 2021

BOSTON -- It's amazing how much things can change in a span of three days.

The Red Sox -- who were swept by the Orioles of all teams the first three games of the season -- turned the tables on the defending American League champion Rays by doing the sweeping themselves this time.

The Boston broom job was completed with dominance in a 9-2 victory in Wednesday’s getaway game, as manager Alex Cora’s squad outplayed Tampa Bay in every facet of the game.

While all of the individual developments were nice, perhaps the most important thing that happened was the Red Sox demonstrated that they aren’t going to be pushed around on their home field by the Rays any longer. Tampa Bay had taken it to Boston at Fenway, going 12-1 in the previous two seasons.

“I mean, it’s important,” said Cora. “We won one game [at home against them] in ’19, [none] last year. They’ve been really good here. We’re 3-3 against the division, 3-3 at Fenway, we need to do better, but this is a good start. On Sunday, going home, it was a tough one. But now, hopping on this plane, it’s going to be a different feeling, but nothing changes. We do believe we have a good team, but we have to keep working to get better.”

There are indications that the Red Sox, are, in fact, better, and here are some takeaways from an impressive end to the first homestand.

J.D. is, well, J.D. again
When you have a bad season, even if it’s in a consolidated 60-game season, people can overreact to it. Just ask J.D. Martinez, who was asked time after time in Spring Training about hitting .213 last season without much power.

Those questions are no longer being asked, because Martinez is looking like a beast in the No. 3 spot in Boston's batting order. By belting a double in Wednesday’s win, Martinez extended his extra-base streak to start the season to six games. The last Red Sox player to start a season like that was David Ortiz in 2005. Faye Throneberry (1955) is the only other player in team history to achieve the feat, so Martinez can set a club record if he has an extra-base hit in Thursday’s game in Baltimore.

Through six games, Martinez is slashing .440/.481/.920 with six doubles, two homers and 11 RBIs. Yes, he is back, and back big.

Pitching better than expected
Coming into the season, many people questioned a Red Sox rotation that will be without Chris Sale until at least midseason and didn’t have Eduardo Rodriguez the first turn through the rotation.

But a funny thing has happened. The starting rotation is turning in strong performances. Aside from a clunker by Garrett Richards on Sunday, the starters have been spot on. In fact, they’ve allowed three runs or fewer while going five-plus innings in five of the first six games. This is the first time since 1992 Boston’s pitching staff didn’t allow a homer in any of the first six games of the season.

Nathan Eovaldi, who pitched seven impressive innings (three hits, one run, seven strikeouts) on Wednesday, has a 1.46 ERA through his first two starts. And Rodriguez comes back to make his debut -- and first start for the Sox since 2019 -- on Thursday.

“I feel like once the rotation starts rolling, everyone else follows suit,” said Eovaldi. “I'm very pleased. We're a completely different team than we were last year, pitching-wise. Our bullpen, they've been coming in, doing a great job. And then starters, we've been able to go out there and limit the walks. We're attacking the zone and that's what we've got to do.”

Vázquez becoming Mr. Clutch
When you think of the Boston offense, the names that come to mind first are Martinez, Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers and Alex Verdugo. But Christian Vázquez is providing another reminder this season not to sleep on him.

The cannon-armed catcher was behind the plate for 12 innings in Tuesday’s thrilling win, and came up with the game-tying homer in the bottom of the ninth. With the day game after a night game, Cora wisely found a way to keep Vázquez involved and had him in the lineup as the designated hitter. The move paid early dividends when Vázquez again mauled one over the Green Monster in the bottom of the fourth to snap a 1-1 tie. Vázquez later added an RBI single as part of his team’s game-breaking, six-run barrage in the fifth.

“I'm feeling good. I'm feeling sexy at the plate,” said Vázquez. “This feels good to be helping the team win. It feels good to sweep the Rays, it feels good to win. It’s a good feeling all around.”

If it seems like Vázquez has a habit of timing his home runs well, it’s because he does. Of his 42 career homers, 22 have either tied the game or put the Red Sox ahead.

“I think any homer feels good, when you crush that ball,” said Vázquez. “And when you put your team ahead and we go ahead, it feels better.”