The Red Sox entered the ninth inning of Thursday’s game with the odds stacked against them. For as much success as they’ve enjoyed this season, the Sox were winless when trailing after eight innings.
“There’s a first for everything,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said following his club’s dramatic 4-3 win on Thursday, during which Boston rallied from a 3-1 ninth-inning deficit.
The Red Sox found themselves down 3-1 after the Rays scored two runs in the sixth inning following some control issues by starter Felix Doubront and reliever Clayton Mortensen. Fortunately for Boston, what goes around often comes around, and Rays closer Fernando Rodney had a hard time finding the strike zone himself.
Rodney walked Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz to lead off the ninth inning. Then, after striking out Mike Napoli, Rodney had the Red Sox on the ropes. The hard-throwing righty missed with a 3-2 pitch to Daniel Nava, though, and the Sox found new life. Stephen Drew, who hit a grand slam on Wednesday, failed to provide bases-loaded heroics for the second straight night, but Will Middlebrooks took care of business.
Middlebrooks ripped a 1-2 changeup into the left-center field gap. The ball rolled past Matt Joyce and all the way to the wall, allowing three runs to score and giving Boston a 4-3 edge. The Red Sox eventually held on for the victory when Junichi Tazawa stopped a brief Rays rally in the bottom of the ninth.
It was a gutsy performance for a team that entered the game having lost nine of its last 12 contests. The Sox emerged victorious on Wednesday, but they hadn’t secured back-to-back victories since their two straight wins up in Toronto on May 1 and May 2, and they lost each of their previous three series (against Texas, Minnesota and Toronto). A loss on Thursday would have erased any momentum the Red Sox generated while blowing out the Rays 9-2 on Wednesday, and it would have put them in a much different position mentally going into their three-game weekend series in Minnesota.
“Awesome, man. [It] gives us some momentum. We’re on the road, so it’s obviously good to get that momentum going to the next series and try to get things turned around,” Middlebrooks said after playing hero.
What makes Thursday’s victory truly special is that the Red Sox were previously 0-12 in games in which they trailed after eight innings. In other words, it was a new accomplishment for a tight-knit group that’s still coming together.
“There’s a first for everything, and I think it can have a little carry-over,” Farrell said. “We come to a pretty tough 10-day stretch, but I think what’s most important the past couple of nights is the approach we’ve used for the majority of this season. It showed up again tonight, particularly in the ninth inning against Rodney, and I know even though we’re going up against a guy who’s got tremendous stuff, there was no give-up, there was no letdown.
“We didn’t have a whole lot of opportunities through the middle innings, but still once again I think the ninth inning in tonight’s game is somewhat of a — I don’t want to say a trademark — but a characteristic of the way these guys go about their game.”
The Red Sox have shown consistent effort and a never-say-die attitude the entire season, even during their rough stretch. Now, this club, which has been through so much already, can try to build off yet another unique experience that brought the team even closer together.