Red Sox manager Alex Cora explained Tuesday how he was hopeful Boston’s defensive struggles could still improve despite having just 20 or so games left in the season.
That was the case Wednesday as the Red Sox defense did everything it could to support starter Nathan Eovaldi, and then ended the game on one of the more thrilling defensive plays of the season from Hunter Renfroe. The Red Sox defense, and Renfroe’s bat, propelled the club to a 2-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.
Renfroe recorded a game-ending assist from deep center field as Joey Wendle tried to stretch a double into a triple with the Rays trailing by one run. Ironically, Wendle must not have received any advice from his teammate Manuel Margot, who was thrown out by Renfroe in the fourth inning when he tried to stretch a single into a double. That throw was absolutely incredible, as well, as it measured more than 90 mph from the right-field line to second base.
Renfroe’s two assists Wednesday helped him extended his Major League-leading assist total to 16. It also makes him the first Red Sox player to record 16 assists in a season since the expansion era (1961), according to Red Sox Notes. Dwight Evans had 15 assists in right field three times.
“It means a lot. Obviously we had a very historic outfield in the past here so it means a lot those guys that came before me were incredible players, incredible outfielders, incredible defensive outfielders, as well. So it means a lot,” Renfroe said after the game. “I take pride in my defense out there. We had little errant stuff the past few games but it’s baseball, it happens. You just got to shake it off and get back on the horse and ride it.”
And while Renfroe was the poster child of defense in the win, he wasn’t the lone Red Sox to make plays all over the diamond.
Bobby Dalbec made three consecutive plays at first base during the seventh inning. And while the first (which required Dalbec to dive to his right and snag a hard-hit ground ball) was the most noteworthy, the ensuing two weren’t anything to sneeze at. Dalbec then moved to third base in the ninth inning and happened to apply the tag on Wendle to end the game.
Kiké Hernández was another bright spot and his addition in center field was felt early on. Hernández made a pair of effort plays on line drives to center field in the first and third innings.
It got to a point where even the plays that did not lead to outs, specifically, a diving play by second baseman Jonathan Araúz in the eighth inning, were notable.
“… Bobby had some great defensive plays over there at first, was able to put the tag on him at third. Kiké had a nice play in center, Renfroe obviously,” Eovaldi said after the game. “We played really good baseball tonight. It was a good game.”
Cora agreed: “We played some great defense behind (Eovaldi), too.”
Hopefully it’s something the Red Sox can build on as they head out for a six-game road trip beginning Friday night against the Chicago White Sox.