BOSTON — Youth was served Wednesday night at Fenway Park.
The Red Sox started five rookies against the Chicago White Sox after designating veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski for assignment and calling up catching prospect Christian Vazquez. It marked the beginning of a new approach that proved successful, as Boston’s young guns provided a much-needed spark en route to a 5-4, come-from-behind win.
“I think when you get into some roster changes, there’s an unspoken message that is sent — not in a threatening way but indicates that the way we’ve been going isn’t acceptable,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said after the game. “And while it was stated before the game that the investment in young players for the better part of this season comes to the forefront a little bit, that doesn’t change the competitive nature in every guy in uniform. I think that played out tonight, clearly.”
Vazquez, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts and Brock Holt all found their way into Farrell’s starting nine, marking the first time the Red Sox started five rookies (not including September call-ups) since 1987 and the earliest date that Boston started five rookies since 1952. All except Bogaerts found a way to make an impact in the win.
Bradley went 0-for-4 but made an incredible diving catch in the second inning that prevented the White Sox from adding to their 2-0 lead. Conor Gillaspie already had homered in the frame, and Alejandro De Aza stood on second base by virtue of a double when Tyler Flowers threatened to shoot the gap in right-center field. Bradley had none of it, racing over and going full-extension to make a jaw-dropping grab.
“That saved at least a run,” outfielder Daniel Nava said. “We may not even be in this situation if he doesn’t make that catch. One of the best catches of the year, right?”
Vazquez failed to notch his first hit in his major league debut, but that didn’t diminish his work behind the dish. The 23-year-old backstop called an excellent game, framed some pitches on the bottom of the strike zone and showed off his cannon arm as he even threw out a runner at second base in the fourth inning after an error by Mike Napoli opened the door for Chicago’s third run.
“I thought (starter Rubby De La Rosa) and Christian mixed very well,” Farrell said. “They had a good game plan and a good rapport — similar to what we’ve seen. We’d like to see (De La Rosa) go deeper and that’ll be the case as he gets on a regular turn.”
Betts supplied a game-changing boost in the eighth inning after beating out a ground ball at first base. Betts noticed no one was covering second and took off, resulting in a rare infield double. The play sparked a three-run inning, as Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Jonny Gomes all tallied RBIs as Boston pulled to within one against Chicago’s bullpen after being shut down for most of the game by White Sox ace Chris Sale.
“It was a big gamble,” Betts said. ”But Farrell says, ‘Be aggressive’ — the same way I’ve been my whole career. I just saw the second baseman going to back up and I knew the shortstop had to come in on it, so second base had to have been open. I looked and just took a gamble and went.”
Betts scored the tying run in the ninth inning after getting hit by a pitch. Nava, who pinch-hit for Vazquez, lined a double into the left-center field gap and Betts scored all the way from first base.
“I knew they weren’t going to catch it, so I tried to put it in extra gear and make sure I made it,” said Betts, who pointed to his speed as the biggest weapon in his impressive arsenal.
The win was topped off by Holt. He started at shortstop for the first time as a big leaguer and became the second Red Sox player ever to start at first base, third base, shortstop, left field, center field and right field in the same season. He drilled a single into right field that scored Nava from second base to complete the walk-off victory.
“It was contributions by a number of guys,” Farrell said. “But we didn’t roll over by any means and played it right through to the final out.”
The Red Sox already had been reliant on young players, but Wednesday’s youth-infused victory came on a day when the Sox acknowledged there’s now an added emphasis on assessing players who represent the future of the organization. It’s part of a forward-looking approach for the last-place club.
So far, in the wake of the unofficial beginning to Boston’s new youth movement, the young guys are all about winning.
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