A pair of former Rays helped the Red Sox snap a three-game losing streak and avoid a sweep at the hands of their division rivals at Fenway Park on Wednesday night.
Powered by yet another strong outing from Nathan Eovaldi and Hunter Renfroe showing out on both sides of the ball, Boston was able to hold on to a 2-1 victory over Tampa Bay to close out the season series — which the Rays won 11-8 –between the two clubs.
Eovaldi, making his 28th start of the season for Boston, was stellar, as he kept the Rays off the board while scattering just three hits and two walks to go along with eight strikeouts over seven scoreless innings of work.
The veteran right-hander seemed to struggle with his command early on considering that both of his walks came in the top of the third, but he was able to settle in.
Former Red Sox prospect Manuel Margot had made things a bit interesting by ripping a two-out single off Eovaldi in the fourth, but was ultimately gunned down by Renfroe at second base while trying to extend his single into a double — marking the right fielder’s first of two outfield assists on the evening.
From there, Eovaldi sat down nine of the final 10 batters he faced, and his night came to a close once he recorded the last out of the seventh with a pitch count of 98 (65 strikes).
Though the 31-year-old hurler did not factor into the decision on Wednesday, he did lower his ERA on the season to 3.57 while also inducing 20 total swings-and-misses.
In relief of Eovaldi, left-hander Josh Taylor got the first call out of the Boston bullpen from Red Sox manager Alex Cora, but he was only able to get the first two outs of the eighth before issuing a two-out single to Brandon Lowe.
That prompted Cora to turn to Garrett Richards, who walked Wander Franco on five pitches to advance Lowe into scoring position, then surrendered a go-ahead RBI single to Nelson Cruz to put the Sox in a 1-0 hole.
Boston headed into their half of the eighth trailing by one, but that deficit may have seemed more insurmountable at the time on account of the fact that they had been held to just four hits by Rays starter Shane McClanahan and two relievers (Andrew Kittredge and Pete Fairbanks) out of the Tampa Bay bullpen.
Cora, in turn, relied heavily on his bench in the eighth inning, as he had Alex Verdugo hit for Jose Iglesias and Kyle Schwarber hit for Jonathan Arauz at the bottom of the lineup.
Verdugo, matched up against Matt Wisler, ripped a leadoff single to right field. Schwarber, matched up against J.T. Chargois after Wisler left with an apparent injury, reached first base himself on a force out, and thus represented the tying run.
Enrique Hernandez was unable to come through as he lined out to center field, but Renfroe certainly made the most of his opportunity in the spotlight.
On the very first pitch he saw from Chargois, a hanging, 90 mph slider down the heart of the plate, Renfroe clobbered a go-ahead, two-run home run a whopping 415 feet over the Green Monster.
Renfroe’s 27th homer of the year gave his side their first lead of the night at 2-1, and it was one in which Hansel Robles was tasked with protecting in the ninth inning.
Robles swiftly fanned Ji-Man Choi and Margot for the first two outs of the frame, but then gave up a 311-foot fly ball to Joey Wendle that was headed for the gap in right-center field.
Danny Santana, who had shifted from left field to center field, made a diving attempt at the ball but came up short, leaving things in the hands of Renfroe.
Renfroe, backing up Santana on the play, quickly chased down the ball, gathered himself and threw out Wendle at third base on one hop as he attempted to extend a double into a triple.
Having notched his 16th outfield assist of the season at just the right time, Renfroe locked down the 2-1 victory for the Sox, while Robles picked up his 12th save of the year as well.
With the win, not only do the Red Sox break out of a three-game skid and improve to 80-62 on the season, but they also leapfrog the Yankees for the first American League Wild Card spot.
Next up: Six-game road trip on deck
The Red Sox will enjoy an off day on Thursday as they depart for Chicago for the start of a six-game road trip and the start of a three-game weekend series against the American League Central-leading White Sox that begins on Friday night.
Right-hander Tanner Houck is slated to get the ball for Boston in Friday’s series opener, while Chicago has yet to name a starter for the contest.
First pitch from Guaranteed Rate Field on Friday is scheduled for 8:10 p.m. eastern time on NESN.
(Picture of Kyle Schwarber and Hunter Renfroe: Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)