HOUSTON — The Red Sox were three outs away from losing two of three games against the worst team in baseball. That’s a bad way to start a stretch of 16 of 19 games on the road in two countries and three time zones.
So desperate were the Red Sox to make something happen in the ninth inning against the Houston Astros that they used rookie pitcher Drake Britton to pinch run for David Ortiz after a leadoff single.
When Britton was told to loosen up in case he was needed to run the bases, he thought it was a joke at first.
“I said, ‘Excuse me?’ But they told me to get ready.”
Britton had last run the bases when he played for Tomball High in 2007. His high school is about 45 minutes from Minute Maid Park.
There was no time to teach Britton any signals. The coaches told him to trust his instincts and run hard.
It turned out to be easy duty. After Mike Carp lined out to left field, Jonny Gomes drew a walk. Stephen Drew then blistered a curveball thown by Josh Fields into the seats in right field.
“I was looking for something over the plate,” Drew said. “I got a hanging breaking ball and put a good swing on it. It’s great what this team is doing.”
Britton waited to see the ball clear the fence then jogged around the bases and got to wait at the plate for Drew to cross.
“Pretty cool,” he said. “I scored a run in the big leagues.”
Drew is 13 of 28 with three extra-base hits and seven RBIs in eight games since Jose Iglesias was traded. Drew is hitting a modest .249 and Gomes .239. But both players have come up with a series of important hits this season.
“You look at the overall performance on the year; you look at the numbers. In key moments they’ve been big for us,” manager John Farrell said.
A deeper look at the numbers reveal plenty about Drew. He has a .778 OPS, good for third among American League shortstops with at least 325 plate appearances. Drew also is third in RBIs among AL shortstops, fifth in extra-base hits and first in pitches per plate appearance. His UZR of 4.7 puts him in the upper echelon for fielding, too.
Drew isn’t the best shortstop in the league. But he’s in the first tier and seems to be getting better.
“He was starting to get in the flow of things once he got back and got some at-bats under his belt after the DL stint after the All-Star break,” Farrell said. “To have that kind of bat at shortstop down the bottom of the third of the order, not only does it lengthen things out but he’s swinging with a lot of confidence right now against lefties and righties.”
Drew started the season on the disabled list with a concussion suffered in spring training. A poor April (.154/.267/.250) put him a hole that only now he has emerged from. Since May 1, Drew is hitting .270 with an OPS of .836.
“I think personally over my first 80-bats it was like spring training. But now this is more like what I can do and I think who I am as a player,” he said.
• With the Rays losing at Arizona, the Sox have a 2.5-game lead in the division. That is their largest since July 19. The Sox have won seven of nine and nine of their last 12 games.
• Ortiz was 4 for 5. Before making an out in the seventh inning, he had reached base 10 consecutive times, going 8 for 8 with two walks. He is hitting .332 with a .412 on-base percentage. Ortiz was 17 of 27 (.630) in seven games against the Astros this season.
• Junichi Tazawa (5-3) threw two perfect innings in relief of Ryan Dempster before Koji Uehara picked up his 11th save. He allowed a single but otherwise struck out the side. Uehara has 15 scoreless innings in a row and has allowed one earned run over 28 innings in his last 26 appearances.
• The Sox have come from behind to win six of their last seven games.
• The Sox left for Kansas City and a four-game series that starts on Thursday. The Royals have won 13 of 15 to get in the wild card race.