Despite their dismal and bewildering start to this season, chances are the Red Sox will be participating in the meaningful baseball games that October brings.
Their come-from-behind 4-3 victory over the Astros Sunday was their 46th game and 24th win. More than 71 percent of the schedule remains.
Spring weather just got around to showing up in New England this weekend, the whole summer is ahead, and most signs point to it being a satisfying one for a team that has won 18 of its last 27 games.
Even with the lousy start — the Red Sox were 2-8, 6-13, and 11-17 at various points — Fangraphs currently puts their probability of making the playoffs at 76.2 percent.
Save for depth issues in the bullpen and multiple sub-.200 hitters in the lineup, they have cured what ailed them early.
But make no mistake about this: Sunday’s reminder of this was a welcome one, and perhaps as important as a mid-May victory can be.
The Red Sox lost the first two games of the series against the Astros, a full-blown Red Sox rival these days.
The opener slipped away when Rick Porcello was left in to give up an eighth-inning home run to George Springer, ruining what had been a masterful performance to that point.
Saturday’s loss had far less suspense, with starter Hector Velazquez recording one out and allowing five runs in the first inning and the Red Sox hitters faltering time and again to try to make it interesting with runners on base.
With a loss Sunday, the Red Sox would have slipped back to .500. While their challenge of moving back into contention after their lousy start was not Sisyphean, getting swept in this series by a truly excellent Astros team and losing for the fourth time in five games would have been a reminder that they cannot afford to let their momentum stall.
“You don’t want to get swept in the series,’’ said Red Sox starter Chris Sale, who struck out 10 in 5⅓ innings, but allowed three earned runs, walked five, and was bailed out of a jam in the sixth by Marcus Walden, the revelation of the season so far. “Win the last one, end on a good note to start a road trip, have a happy flight.’’
4th straight game of at least 10 Ks for Chris Sale!
(Watching this GIF, it’s not hard to see why.) pic.twitter.com/R86oaqX32R
— Boston Red Sox (@RedSox) May 19, 2019
The Red Sox departed for a seven-game road trip, first to Toronto and then to Houston, after the game. It certainly should have been a happy flight, because they were bringing the fresh memory of one of their most encouraging wins of the season with them.
“It was a good one,’’ said Cora. “We played good defense, we grinded out some at-bats, it was a tough series against them. We had two bad innings and we lose the series, but we played pretty good all weekend.’’
Cora, who took immediate and full blame for leaving in Porcello too long Friday, had a good one himself Sunday. He juggled the lineup, putting Michael Chavis in the leadoff spot, and moving Xander Bogaerts into the three-hole against Astros starter Wade Miley.
In a Nomar Garciaparra-circa-1997 performance, Chavis saw just six pitches in his four at-bats, but he made them count, going 2 for 4, including a 420-foot home run in the fifth inning that cut the Astros’ lead to 3-2.
The wholesome homer content you came here for. ? pic.twitter.com/AexGfhCrNz
— Boston Red Sox (@RedSox) May 19, 2019
Bogaerts, who was frustrated after Saturday’s loss about being called out on three borderline strikes in a crucial bases-loaded at-bat, got some baseball justice Sunday, blooping a single to right that eluded Astros second baseman Yuli Gurriel to tie the score at 3-3 in the sixth. (Gurriel took enough bad routes on pop-ups Sunday that he’s already lost the trust of Tom Brady.)
Bogaerts also drove in the winning run with a rocketed double to left-center in the seventh. Not bad for someone who couldn’t find his swing in batting practice.
“He was so down on his batting practice today,’’ said Cora. “He didn’t like it . . . he was jumpy, he was so down on his swing. I’ve never seen him that way. I was like, ‘Oh God.’ ’’
“You know how bad it was?,’’ said Bogaerts, confirming his manager’s report. “That’s how bad it was.’’
Cora’s decision to pull Sale in the sixth after 106 pitches and bring in Walden worked according to plan, too. Walden, who now leads the staff with six wins and has a 1.37 ERA in 16 appearances, induced Jake Marisnick to ground into a double play with the bases loaded.
Matt Barnes – it’s safe to call him the relief ace now — navigated the eighth, and Brandon Workman finished it off for his first career save, the three Red Sox relievers not allowing a hit in 3⅔ innings.
It was a good one, all right. A needed one, too.