Things were looking good for the Red Sox through most of Saturday afternoon.
Nick Pivetta had a strong start, going 5 1/3 innings, and Boston’s offense managed to edge past the New York Yankees and take a 2-0 lead in the fifth inning. Even when the visitors got one back in the sixth, it was easy to feel confident that the Red Sox would come away with the win at home.
Boston had even survived a near collapse when Tanner Houck got the ball in the seventh inning. After two straight four-pitch walks, the defense came through with a double play and Houck got the final out on strikes. He came back out for the eighth inning, and that was where everything got dicey — eventually leading to a 5-3 loss at Fenway Park.
Houck logged two strikeouts then walked two consecutive batters.
The Red Sox proceeded to turn to lefthander Darwinzon Hernandez — a decision manager Alex Cora later said was necessary because reliever Josh Taylor is scheduled for an MRI on his back Sunday. Losing a body for any significant amount of time would be a tough blow to a bullpen that is also missing anchor Garrett Whitlock due to a pectoral injury.
Despite it all, Cora had faith in Hernandez stepping into a big spot Saturday.
“The fact that his stuff plays, he’s been throwing the ball well,” Cora said of Hernandez. “He always has to be prepared for the next hitter. It’s not like you’re thinking something negative is going to happen with the lefty, but we do believe he can get the righty out in that spot too, so we went with it.”
But it didn’t work out as planned. Hernandez hit Anthony Rizzo with a pitch to load the bases, then gave up a game-winning grand slam to Giancarlo Stanton.
Cora didn’t want to place all the blame for the implosion on Hernandez. After all, the Red Sox needed just one more out after Houck’s strong start to the frame, but the starter-turned-bullpen arm couldn’t get it done.
Houck was credited with the loss, his fifth of the season. He finished the night without allowing a hit but had two earned runs, four walks and three strikeouts, throwing 15 of 34 pitches for strikes. Hernandez finished with two earned runs, one hit and a strikeout, finding the strike zone on five of 11 pitches.
“We didn’t throw enough strikes in that inning,” Cora said. “We had two outs, 1-2 count. We were unable to put (Brett Gardner) away, then 2-2 count against (Aaron Judge), we didn’t put him away. Obviously the walk to (Anthony Rizzo) … We made some good pitches, but not in the strike zone.”
Here are more notes from Saturday’s Red Sox-Yankees game:
— Following the loss, the Red Sox are tied with the Yankees for the top American League Wild Card spot. But the team’s mindset isn’t affected by the adjustment in the standing.
“You come tomorrow and you play good baseball and you see where you take us,” Cora said.
— Kevin Plawecki, who was an offensive superstar for the Red Sox on Saturday, was hit on the foot by a fastball in his ninth-inning at-bat. He was helped off the field to the clubhouse, but Cora said after the game that X-rays were negative.
— The series concludes Sunday at 7:08 p.m. ET. with coverage airing nationally on ESPN. The Red Sox will return to NESN on Tuesday when they travel to the Baltimore Orioles at 7:05 p.m. ET.