CLEVELAND -- In the first two games of their weekend series against Cleveland, the Red Sox picked up wins behind momentum-shifting home runs.
In the series finale on Sunday, Boston rode timely hitting, solid base running and a couple of well-timed Cleveland misplays to an 8-3 victory to clinch a series sweep.
“This is night and day compared to where we were at early in the season,” manager Alex Cora said. “Early in the season we were swinging at bad pitches, not walking and striking out a lot. Now it’s the total opposite.”
Boston’s half of the fourth inning was a microcosm of the type of afternoon it was for both clubs. After Franchy Cordero opened the inning with a double, the Red Sox followed with doubles to right field from Christian Vázquez and Jarren Duran -- both of which were misread by Cleveland right fielder Oscar Gonzalez.
On Friday, Gonzalez showed off his defensive potential with an electrifying 96.7 mph throw from right to nab Christian Arroyo at the plate. On Sunday, Gonzalez showed he still has some room to improve.
While Vázquez’s double wasn’t a horrible misplay by Gonzalez, -- it didn’t help that he had a jump of -15.7 feet on the play -- Duran’s double had an expected batting average of .080 and a catch probability of 80 percent. Gonzalez tracked the ball well, but he didn’t fully extend his arm when trying to make the catch.
Vázquez scored two batters later after first baseman Owen Miller dropped the relay throw at first on what would have been an inning-ending double play. Miller had to attempt to pick the ball on a short hop after Devers forced a tough relay throw from second baseman Andrés Giménez.
“The hustle play by him to get to second base where he put pressure on the second baseman was a great play,” Cora said. “Forget the hits and everything else; that play was huge for us.”
Two innings later, Trevor Story padded the lead with a two-run single that was just out of the reach of left fielder Ernie Clement. The Guardians entered play on Sunday with a .984 field percentage, just under the league average of .985.
Sunday’s showing concluded a strong series for Duran, who batted .400 with two doubles, an RBI and two stolen bases in three games against Cleveland . While he’ll be unable to play in the team’s upcoming series against Toronto due to Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, he should slot right back into center field when the Red Sox return home from their three-city road trip on July 4 to face the Rays.
“I made some big pitches in some big situations and the double play really saved us,” Hill said. “We played some great defense. Little bit of a rough go of it in the beginning, but navigated and put us in a position to win.”
Monday starts a crucial stretch for the Red Sox, as 20 of their next 23 games will be against American League East opponents. On Friday, they entered Cleveland in third place in the AL East with only a half game lead in the Wild Card race. They’ll head to Toronto in second place with a 1 1/2 game lead for the top Wild Card spot.
“Toronto’s one of the big boys in the division,” Cora said. “They’ve been playing well. It’s going to be a challenge, but we’re ready for it.”