Red Sox

With two stirring comebacks, Red Sox philosophy keeps showing its worth

“We feel like we can play with anybody.”"

Red Sox celebrate in a line after Sunday's victory over New York.
The Red Sox split their four-game set with the Yankees, twice coming back on a team that has simply not surrendered many leads this season. Carlin Stiehl for The Boston Globe

COMMENTARY

Momentum really might be the most overrated thing in baseball not named Derek Jeter.

Hey, how can you not feel a little feisty after two games like that?

After losing the first two to the Yankees at Fenway Park — the first feeling like a blowout, the second the genuine article — the 2022 Red Sox made their clearest statement of purpose to date. They came back twice late on a New York juggernaut that had been 48-0 when leading after seven innings, then came from four runs down Sunday against a team that, at 61-25, has no issue grinding teams to dust.

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It’s some real “Harvard Beats Yale, 29-29” energy. The Red Sox still have not won a series within the American League East this season, but playing these Yankees to a draw with 10 pitchers on the injured list and Rafael Devers absent two games? That’s certainly something.

“I think that’s extraordinary,” Nick Pivetta told reporters Sunday, after he was pounded for the second straight start, then picked up by the motley collection of Kaleb Ort, Hirokazu Sawamura, Matt Strahm, and Ryan Brasier.

“That’s the game we play,” said Christian Vázquez, who cracked a homer and two doubles for four RBIs the final three games. “We never quit.”

“I’ve been saying all along we have a good team, but it has to keep working to get better,” manager Alex Cora told reporters. “We feel like we can play with anybody.”

He’s not hyperbolizing. The numbers might say different after next weekend in the Bronx, but no one in the division has played the Yankees better than Boston. They’ve won two of three with Houston, split four with Minnesota, split two with Atlanta, dominated Seattle . . . these Red Sox are absolutely a second-tier contender, at worst.

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“We have a shot at going to the postseason and winning a championship,” Sox architect Chaim Bloom told MassLive last week, speaking generally on the Aug. 2 trade deadline. “When you are in that position, I think you want to do whatever you can to help the club.”

That went on to feature the usual Bloom qualifiers about sustainability. (“Good baseball moves” makes multiple appearances.) And if we’re being fair, the weekend turnaround should be similarly contextualized.

The Red Sox certainly needed these games more than the Yankees did, and played them as such, with Cora admitting both days he chased wins in ways he otherwise wouldn’t. Those chases got a major assist from, say, defensive stalwart Josh Donaldson mishandling a potential game-ending double play Saturday, or DJ LeMahieu clanging two over-the-shoulder catches on Sunday.

But why not go for them? And why parse too much? Fenway Park rocked this weekend. Sawamura was attacking the strike zone with 97 mile-per-hour fastballs and on-the-money splitters Sunday night. Fourteen games out never felt so good, or less significant given all New York will get for its 100-odd victories is a pass through a three-game first round.

I can’t say it enough: If these Yankees suffer the same fate as the 2001 Mariners, failing to even make the World Series, George Steinbrenner might exhume himself to demand restitution.

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The Sox are two more victories closer to 90, and they’re on to both St. Petersburg and impending health. Chris Sale is scheduled to pitch Tuesday. Nate Eovaldi, off a strong Sunday rehab in Worcester, could go Friday against the Yankees. Garrett Whitlock could be in the bullpen over the weekend as well.

The momentum knife cuts both ways, as we know. Kutter Crawford’s coming-out party last week against Tampa was immediately followed by Pivetta’s first shelling of the week and the momentarily deflating Brayan Bello debut.

But the question of whether this team, so deeply maligned as noncompetitive against real competition as recently as Saturday morning, is worth your attention is increasingly settled science. They are not the high-payroll achievers of 2007, nor the juggernaut of 2018.

When the Yankees inevitably acquire Andrew Benintendi from the Royals in the coming weeks, we will collectively lament again about how the Red Sox let him go no matter what Franchy Cordero is doing. How they could have afforded them all. How what’s coming this winter will be a disgrace.

It’s largely a fair criticism. And if that’s your jam, go for it.

These Red Sox are committed to doing it differently. And weekends like this one remind that they just might be smart enough, and good enough, to make it work.

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