Red Sox

The Red Sox are rolling, but their closer problem is still no closer to a solution

Franchy Cordero happily reacts to his triple.
Franchy Cordero was one of many offensive heroes for the Red Sox during their 6-1 homestand. Kathryn Riley/Getty Images

COMMENTARY

Two weeks ago, I was nosing around the Red Sox site and discovered a sponsored video feature, “Homestand Highlights.” It’s simple enough: A little minute snippet of, well, highlights from a homestand.

I didn’t exactly stumble across its ‘Citizen Kane.’ It went so badly against the Angels and White Sox, they needed a run-scoring groundout to fill 59 seconds.

Across six games, two blown saves in the ninth, five losses, and 14 total runs. Heck, it ends with the ceremonial first pitch from WWE star Sasha Banks, who legitimately walked off her job last week. The death tape from ‘The Ring’ delivered more feel-good vibes.

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Today? We can laugh. The vibes are in the stratosphere, even if we understand the Red Sox are still just 19-22, still are far closer to the bottom of the American League than the top, and still finish games like a surgeon wearing oven mitts.

“We’re getting that feeling back,” manager Alex Cora told reporters on Saturday afternoon.

“The Sox are getting hot,” said Jonny Gomes, never once shortchanged a second in the spotlight, after catching Trevor Story’s Friday night grand slam in the Monster seats.

“I think you can kind of feel the energy shifting,” Matt Barnes concurred. “Guys are just having fun playing.”

We’re getting Chaim Bloom fist pumps from the owner’s box. Fun ain’t even the word.

Building on a series win over Houston, which had won 12 of 13 before it, the Sox fell behind Seattle 4-0 on Thursday, 5-0 on Saturday, and blew a ninth-inning save on Sunday. They won all three, and mixed beating reigning AL Cy Young Robbie Ray in there as well.

Seems somewhat unsustainable, but it certainly speaks to the dreams of those who built all-hit, no-pitch Red Sox teams for what felt like my entire childhood.

Admittedly, I’m steering into the critical here. It’s well nigh impossible to not feel euphoric about these past seven days, especially if you spent minutes giving your email to streaming services to watch that five-runs-in-three-days White Sox series. (The rematch starting Tuesday can’t help but be an improvement.)

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The Red Sox have just about battled back to level. Three games behind the Blue Jays for the final AL wild card, and a run differential of plus-1. Winning four of four from a reeling team that’s 6-15 in May feels so much more valuable than just three. Time will tell whether it is.

Amid the wonder, though, remains that closer problem. Forty-one games into the season, they are no closer to a solution than they were at the start.

Barnes on Saturday? Citing his 1-2-3 ninth to finish a 6-5 victory leads to only one question: Did you watch it? His fastball did touch 96 miles per hour, but he threw just three of them against nine curveballs. His 37-percent fastball usage this season is down 10 percent from his 2019 low, when he was still averaging 97 m.p.h. with it and it wasn’t getting slugged at a .600 clip.

Barnes was in the heart of the strike zone for a half-dozen of his 15 pitches, with Ty France — debatably the only Mariners hitter to actually fear — fouling off a meaty 1-and-1 changeup before blasting a 1-and-2 curveball that caught all of the plate 388 feet, the second-longest contact Barnes has given up this year.

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Kiké Hernández ran it down on the warning track. Save. Smiles. Progress.

“You’ve got to trust him,” Cora told reporters. “At one point, he has to get people out at this level and help us win.”

So much of baseball is a confidence game, clearly evident watching these Red Sox feel like they can come back from any deficit days after they couldn’t build on a lead against anyone. Barnes spoke Saturday of having “made some really good strides” and having earned “the opportunity to be put in that position.”

He’s not wrong, and results are often unfair stamps on the details behind them. Hansel Robles is holding hitters to a .197 batting average this season, which is why he keeps getting ninth-inning chances despite nearly all the contact he does give up being missiles toward a bleacher seat. (With Ryan Brasier demoted, he’s got a sleeper case for worst reliever in the majors.)

But it’s also because Barnes was christened the back-end answer by Bloom, given $18.75 million to routinely do what he did Saturday by the thinnest of margins. Garrett Whitlock felt like an alternative for a while; I still think he’s more valuable to this group in the bullpen, but that’s another story for another day.

Now? Is it Matt Strahm? John Schreiber? It does feel so very Rays, which remains a deeply overused slag against Bloom but seems pretty apt when their 10 blown saves are second to Boston’s 11.

For this group, maybe the best closer really is offense, and the background details finally yielding the positive they suggest. A six-homer week for Trevor Story and a grand slam for Franchy Cordero — who just blistered all five balls he put in play Sunday and whose key Friday triple reminded he sure doesn’t run like Wily Mo Peña.

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The Red Sox and those who care about them believe good things will happen, and the schedule is offering more runway. After Chicago comes Baltimore, Cincinnati, and Oakland.

It’s the time for getting, and the getting is finally good for the 2022 Red Sox.

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