There is no bigger surprise in the baseball season so far than the Red Sox. And no better story. It’s not only because of the low expectations for the Sox coming into the season. It is because of what they looked like after the regular season actually began.
The Sox opened at Fenway Park and promptly got swept by the Orioles, and looked like they might finish in sixth place out of five teams in the American League East. They were nothing more than a dreary, unwatchable mess.
Now they have won nine games in a row after 0-3.
Game 1 of their doubleheader against the Twins on Wednesday afternoon ended at 3-2, very much in Boston’s favor, when Alex Verdugo made a sliding/diving catch of a soft liner in short left field with what would have been the tying run about to score if Verdugo didn’t make the play. But ever since that opening series against the Orioles, it has gone like that for Alex Cora’s team. The Red Sox have created new expectations for themselves, and perhaps possibilities, that quickly. They look like they might give their fans a season.
They kept the winning streak going, and strong, against José Berríos, the Twins’ ace, in Game 2. The score was 7-1. Verdugo finished off as big a day as he’d had for the Sox (he came to Boston in the Mookie Betts trade) by getting three hits and hitting a home run. The Dodgers are still the best team in baseball. Still: Since that 0-3 start, no team — not a single one — has played better ball than the Red Sox have played.
“I don’t think we’re getting lucky,” Cora said when Game 1 was over and the Red Sox were still the only team in the AL East with a winning record. “We’re a good team. [Games like this] can happen in April and happen in October.”
They ended up with a big inning in Game 1 because of a sacrifice bunt. They have won games because J.D. Martinez looked like the hottest guy in the world, and then Rafael Devers did, and because Xander Bogaerts, who has been one of the best shortstops in the sport for years, hasn’t stopped hitting since the Orioles series. They have won because of big hits from a kid named Bobby Dalbec and Christian Vazquez and now Verdugo. One night they came from behind three times against the Rays from the ninth inning on, Martinez finally hitting one over Randy Arozarena’s head to win it.
Matt Barnes got another save on Wednesday. Nathan Eovaldi, the hero of that 18-inning World Series game against the Dodgers in 2018 (even in defeat that night), got his second win of the season. The Sox pitched so much better, at least so far, than anybody thought they would. On Tuesday, Martín Pérez had all sorts of traffic on the bases in the bottom of the first, gave up two runs, looked like he would give up a lot more. Then he gave the Twins nothing more through the bottom of the fifth. The Red Sox, even playing through snow flurries, won again.
On Wednesday, Cora was asked about bunting in the second inning of a seven-inning game. He talked about the “sense of urgency” in a shortened game.
Maybe it has been the Red Sox, even in April, playing with a sense of urgency after the way things began for them against the Orioles, and the first weekend of a new season looked as bad as last season was at Fenway Park. Mookie was gone to the Dodgers. Cora had been fired, after being suspended for his part in the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal when he was a coach there. Only the Astros were more fortunate not to be playing in front of fans in 2020 than the Red Sox were. Two years after winning the World Series in ’18, they had managed to make the greatest team in the history of the franchise feel like some sort of distant memory.
You know there have been teams that started out hot in April and then faded, and badly. The year the Red Sox won their last World Series in 2018, the Mets started 11-1. And finished with a record of 77-85. The ’19 Mariners started 13-2 and ended up losing 94 games that year.
The Red Sox aren’t worried about any of that right now. They got up after getting swept by the Orioles and have stayed up. Now comes this doubleheader sweep of the team that won the AL Central last year. In the opener they faced Kenta Maeda, who was the runner-up in 2020 for the AL Cy Young Award. Then they roughed up Berrios, manager Rocco Baldelli’s top guy.
Cora was asked after Verdugo’s catch if it reminded him of the amazing catch Andrew Benintendi made to save Game 4 in the bottom of the ninth of the 2018 ALCS, when the Astros had the bases loaded and were trying to even the series.
“Of course,” Cora said. “That was a great play by Alex.”
Benintendi is in Kansas City. Jackie Bradley Jr. is in Milwaukee. Mookie is in L.A. But it turns out the Red Sox are still here. Nine in a row going into Thursday. Lot of season left. The Sox are still the story of the season so far.