Rookie Bobby Dalbec was in a funk to start the season, but the Red Sox needed him to do something when it mattered most on Saturday night at Camden Yards.
There were runners at the corners with one out in the top of the ninth and his team down by a run and Dalbec needed to figure out a way to get that tying run home.
It started as simply as this: Dalbec reminded himself not to try to do too much.
“Which is what I’ve been doing and why I’m scuffling,” Dalbec said after his pivotal yet subtle contribution to a wild, 6-4 victory in 10 innings by the Red Sox over the Orioles.
The powerful corner infielder didn’t do what he is likely to do many times in his career and hit one into the cheap seats. He didn’t even hit one to the warning track for a sacrifice fly.
Instead, Dalbec managed to get bat to ball with an 85.9-mph grounder to shortstop. And then the man listed as 6-foot-4 and 227 pounds put in motion his legs with a sprint speed of 28.8 feet per second and got to first in 4.5 seconds, per Statcast. It was just fast enough to avoid a game-ending double play and, instead, tied the game.
Shortstop Freddy Galvis actually made a nice play to get to the ball and swiftly flipped to second. But Dalbec didn’t see any of that. He put his head down and ran for survival.
Did he think he could beat it out?
“Yeah, I did. As soon as I hit it, I was just flying,” Dalbec said. “[Well], flying for me. But yeah, I knew that’s a big-time run there, obviously, and I was trying to leg it out.”
As far as stat lines go, fielder’s choice groundouts are never going to enhance them. But Dalbec, Boston’s No. 3 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, did muster his first RBI of the season.
Though his season-opening slash line is .095/.174/.095, Dalbec could walk away from Saturday’s game knowing he did something to help his team extend its winning streak to five games after an 0-3 start.
“Yeah, I mean the hits will come,” Dalbec said. “I’m happy to get an RBI there and put the team in position to win the game, so that’s what I’m thinking about. I’m not worried about if I’m gonna get a hit on it. I’m just trying to help the team win whether it’s defensively, hustling or anything like that.”
For a manager in Alex Cora, who preaches situational hitting as much as or more than any of his counterparts, he was appreciative of his first baseman finding a way to keep the team in the game.
“It’s big,” Cora said. “Those are the situations we talk about, right? Making contact. We felt it was a good matchup for him down in the zone. He hit that ball hard. Galvis, that was a nice play out of the shift, and for him to put the ball in play and hustle and get to first, that was huge. He’s a little bit down, obviously. He’s not swinging the bat the way he’s capable of, but he took some tough changeups and then put one in play and good things happened.”
After that ignominious start to the season in which they were swept by these same Orioles at Fenway, the Red Sox will try to return the favor on Sunday and run their winning streak to six games.
Meanwhile, a feeling is developing that was never present in the 24-36 disaster that was 2020.
“It’s a good vibe,” Cora said. “We’ve got a bunch of good baseball players. That’s the way I see it. I know a lot of people don’t feel like we’ve got superstars, but I like my bunch. It’s a good baseball team. They did everything right. We played that extra-inning rule the way we wanted to, and we got the W.”
Aside from Adam Ottavino turning a 3-2 Boston lead into a 4-3 deficit in the bottom of the eighth, this was a satisfying night for the Red Sox.
Matt Barnes was electric again in the ninth and Matt Andriese worked the 10th for his eighth career save.
Starter Garrett Richards, who was rocked over two-plus innings in his Boston debut on Easter, rebounded nicely after giving up back-to-back homers in the bottom of the first on Saturday.
The righty didn’t give up any other runs over five innings. It was Richards who said after the loss that dropped the Sox to 0-3 that it was “kind of an early panic button.”
The Red Sox are 5-0 since he said that and there is no sense of panic now.
“I don’t feel like I was wrong,” Richards said. “We’re trying to win every single game. I don’t think anybody denies that. The games we lost early on weren’t for a lack of effort. But now we’re simply playing clean baseball, from pitching to hitting to being in the field. We’re vibing with each other right now.”