Rafaela's instant redemption helps Red Sox to comeback win

Rookie makes up for error by laying down critical sac bunt in Boston's 12-inning victory

May 15th, 2024

BOSTON -- wound up as the walk-off hero on Tuesday night at Fenway Park. But it never happens if not for some impressive rookie resilience by in what wound up a 5-4 win by the Red Sox over the Rays in 12 innings.

A tremendous defender at multiple positions even at this early stage of his career, Rafaela threw away what should have been the third out of the top of the 11th inning on a roller to shortstop, allowing the Rays to score the go-ahead run.

First, the 23-year-old had a hard time gripping the baseball. And then he rushed his throw, when he would have had plenty of time to re-gather himself with a slow runner (Isaac Paredes) going down the line.

But Rafaela had the fortune of leading off the bottom of that 11th. And he somehow laid down a 95.8 mph pitch from Manuel Rodríguez that nearly hit him for a perfect sacrifice bunt, moving automatic runner David Hamilton to third with one out. After a walk, Hamilton scored the tying run on Rob Refsnyder's fielder's choice.

“It wasn't the perfect pitch [to bunt], but it was a good pitch,” said Rafaela. “It was close enough to me to do the job. And I think the only thing I did is put it down.”

But that was plenty. In a game the Red Sox had to scratch and claw to win as they remained in a slump offensively, it was about the little things.

And Rafaela’s ability to turn the page wound up being a big thing.

“The kid makes an error, and he comes back and turns the page right away,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. “He put the bunt down. He made a great play at third base. So he's maturing.”

The Red Sox, who signed Rafaela to an eight-year, $50 million contract extension in April, are leaning into a youth movement this season.

Cora and his staff have shown an enthusiasm to ride the roller coaster with the young players. Perhaps nobody on the club has had more ups and downs this season than Rafaela, who has a slash line of .211/.238/.380 with four homers but has most often made up for his lack of offense with his stellar work in the field.

“I think I have been through a lot the whole year,” Rafaela said. “I think I've learned to pass the page. So I think right there, I already made the error, so I just have to do something to bring that run in. And I feel like I can put the ball down, and I did that.”

While the offensive numbers signify the struggles Rafaela has experienced, the team is pleased by his maturation from week to week.

“Probably a few weeks ago, that error was going to hang in his head for the next at-bat or the next inning, and that's not the case now,” said Cora. “He's doing an amazing job.”

In the fifth inning, Rafaela showed his offensive potential when he hammered a solo homer over the Green Monster that gave the Red Sox a 3-1 lead.

The homer was 344 feet, as projected by Statcast. The bunt traveled 2 feet. Both were equally important to the win.

“It’s nice to hit the homer, but it’s harder to bunt the ball,” said Rafaela.

There was yet more work for Rafaela to do. In the top of the 12th, he was moved to third base, a position he had only played five innings at prior to Tuesday. On a grounder to his left, Rafaela ranged nicely and made the force at second, even as Vaughn Grissom got to the bag an instant before the baserunner did.

“I love everywhere [on defense],” said Rafaela. “If I do my job, I love to play everywhere. It doesn't matter. It’s defense. It doesn't matter where it is, it's the same ground ball.”

In the bottom of the 12th, another ground ball won it for the Red Sox.

This one was off the bat of utility infielder Gonzalez, who slammed it down the right-field line for his first career walk-off hit.

“Oh, man, it’s awesome,” said Gonzalez. “Getting a walk-off hit here in the big leagues is unbelievable. It was up and down, and obviously a great game.”