BALTIMORE -- With a World Series in the not-so-distant past, it’s become difficult for smaller goals to remain in focus, the Red Sox will admit. The grand one has already been accomplished by a team that’s experienced relatively little roster turnover, potentially jading the importance of a detail-oriented drive night-in
BALTIMORE -- With a World Series in the not-so-distant past, it’s become difficult for smaller goals to remain in focus, the Red Sox will admit. The grand one has already been accomplished by a team that’s experienced relatively little roster turnover, potentially jading the importance of a detail-oriented drive night-in and night-out.
Especially for as trying the 2019 season has been, there’s no path back to prominence for these Red Sox without taking it step by step. Manager Alex Cora made sure that was acknowledged by the team before they headed into an important road trip to Baltimore and Minnesota.
Step one Cora laid out was getting to five games over .500 for the first time this season. A relatively innocuous goal, sure, but one Boston has finally reached after a wild 10-inning, 4-hour, 44-minute, 8-6 win over Baltimore Sunday.
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“It’s very important, I’m not going to lie,” Cora admitted. “It seemed like we were searching for a lot of stuff.”
“Obviously, I always say I don’t look,” Cora added of the standings. “But in Fenway, in front of your dugout is the standings and you see it. We have a pretty good idea where we are at and what we are doing as a team, and we know we have to get better.”
The Red Sox, now winners of five consecutive games and owners of that elusive five-over record at 39-34, needed some theatrics to achieve the humbling milestone.
On the back of Brian Johnson’s first appearance since April -- a three-inning (plus two batters), one-run effort -- Boston seized a 2-1 lead in the fourth, lost it the eighth, tied it up in the ninth and took it back once and for all in the 10th.
The Red Sox tallied five runs in the 10th after Marco Hernandez saved the day in the ninth with a solo homer. Rafael Devers, meanwhile, kicked off the gut-punch of an extra-inning rally with a 458-foot opposite-field shot that had a Statcast-projected 111.1 mph exit velocity.
Mookie Betts and Christian Vázquez added a pair of two-run singles, which were imperative, given Baltimore’s three-run desperation effort off Josh A. Smith in the bottom of the inning.
“That’s probably the hardest I have ever seen since 2004, when Barry [Bonds] was hitting homers against the Dodgers all the time,” Cora said of Devers’ long ball, which was the second longest home run for Boston in ‘19.
But it only came after a comeback each way.
Down a run in the eighth, the Orioles’ speedy Jonathan Villar was walked by Travis Lakins, stole two bags -- one thanks to a lackadaisical throw-back by Christian Vazquez -- and tied the game on a wild pitch. A pinch-hit triple and single later, the Orioles were up 3-2.
Enter Hernandez, who was a late addition to the lineup after Andrew Benintendi was scratched with left quad soreness. Enter that same Hernandez who did not make the team out of Spring Training, but made a promise he would be back soon to help contribute.
The 26-year-old, who Cora labeled as pull-happy as of late, muscled a down-and-in changeup from Mychal Givens a Statcast-projected 395 feet to the opposite field, tying the game at three aside.
It was the second career home run for Hernandez, whose career has been marred and stunted by shoulder injuries. His first came 1,112 days ago … at Camden Yards … off Givens.
“My first one was here, so why not the second one?” he said.
Heroics were needed after Johnson’s brief outing, which ended after allowing back-to-back singles to open the fourth. Cora still liked what he saw from the lefty in his first big league action -- “He did a good job and we feel like his next one, he’s going to be OK,” Cora said -- but it forced him to go to a bullpen finally recovered from pitching 7 2/3 innings last Thursday against Texas.
The brief outing forced Cora to employ steadfast Brandon Workman in the ninth, who he admitted he was hoping to avoid having to use.
“But at that point I thought, ‘Let’s give the offense the chance to score runs,’” Cora said.
And it did.
“It was one of those where it was going to be an ugly loss, and now it’s a great win,” he added, as the Red Sox prepare for three against Minnesota, the league’s current paragon.