Late rally lifts Red Sox to 5-3 victory over Nationals after Tanner Houck tosses 5 scoreless innings

It took nearly four hours to complete, but the Red Sox managed to hold off the Nationals on Saturday afternoon to ensure that their season will extend beyond Sunday one way or the other.

Powered by a four-run outburst in the ninth inning, Boston outlasted Washington by a final score of 5-3 at Nationals Park, marking their second straight win that tightens their grip on one of the two American League Wild Card spots.

The Sox did not announce a starter for Saturday’s contest until a few hours before first pitch, but who they ultimately rolled with — Tanner Houck — turned in quite the outing to put the finishing touches on his rookie season.

Houck, making his first start since September 17, twirled five perfect innings in which he kept the Nationals off the scoreboard while striking out eight and walking none in the process of retiring each of the first 15 batters he faced in order.

The right-hander got through those five flawless frames on just 53 pitches (39 strikes), but given the fact he had just thrown 41 pitches this past Tuesday, the 25-year-old’s day came to an end as soon as he recorded the final out of the fifth.

In the process of witnessing Houck put together a bid at a perfect game, the Red Sox got very little production out of their lineup while matched up against Nationals starter Josiah Gray.

Rafael Devers put Boston on the board by crushing his 36th home run of the season off Gray with two outs in the top of the fourth, but that was all they could push across while Houck was still on the mound.

In relief of Houck, Garrett Richards got the first call from Red Sox manager Alex Cora out of the Boston bullpen, and he saw the combined perfect game bid come to a close when he issued a two-out single to the pinch-hitting Gerardo Parra in an otherwise clean sixth inning.

Ryan Brasier, taking over for Richards in the seventh, got himself in and out of trouble, as he loaded the bases with two outs on a pair of singles and a walk before emphatically punching out Jordy Mercer on five pitches to extinguish the threat.

Brasier, who completed his fourth straight scoreless appearance in as many days, celebrated getting out of the jam by pounding his chest, though the Sox lineup found themselves in a similar situation just a half-inning later.

After Enrique Hernandez, Kyle Schwarber, and Xander Bogaerts had each drawn a walk with two outs in the eighth, Devers had an opportunity to put this one way, but instead struck out against Nationals reliever Tanner Rainey.

With the score remaining at 1-0 in favor of Boston, Adam Ottavino appeared well on his way to recording the first two outs of the bottom of the eighth rather quickly. The veteran righty punched out Carter Kieboom on three straight strikes and proceeded to get Ryan Zimmerman to lift a 288-foot fly ball in the direction of center fielder Hunter Renfroe.

Renfroe, however, lost the ball in the sky, which allowed Zimmernan to reach base safely on a double that allowed the Nats to fill the bases when Ottavino yielded back-to-back walks to Lane Thomas and Alcides Escobar.

At that moment, the dangerous, left-handed hitting Juan Soto was looming in the on-deck circle for Washington, which prompted Cora to turn to the left-handed throwing Austin Davis out of the bullpen.

Davis got Soto to hit a 303-foot sacrifice fly to deep center field that brought in Zimmerman from third to tie things up at 1-1, but followed that up by getting Josh Bell to line out to shortstop to retire the side there.

Potentially down to their final three outs in the ninth, J.D. Martinez led the inning off by drawing a 10-pitch walk that put the go-ahead run on base.

Jose Iglesias took over for Martinez as the runner at first, and he came in to score all the way from first when Christian Vazquez unloaded on a first-pitch fastball from Rainey and laced a run-scoring single to deep right field.

Travis Shaw followed by plating Vazquez on an RBI single of his own, and the Red Sox had themselves a 3-1 lead just like that. Hernandez provided what would turn out to be some much-needed insurance when he greeted new Nationals reliever Mason Thompson by clubbing a 401-foot tow-run shot to left-center field.

Hernandez’s 20th home run of the year gave Boston a commanding 5-1 lead going into the bottom half of the ninth. And although Davis gave two of those runs back on a two-run homer off the bat of Andrew Stevenson, Hansel Robles took over from there.

Robles worked his way around a two-out walk in relief of Davis and ultimately slammed the door on the Nationals to secure the 5-3 victory for the Sox as well as notch his 14th save of the season.

With the win, not only do the Red Sox improve to 91-70 on the season, they also move into a tie with the Yankees, who lost on Saturday, for the top American League Wild Card spot.

Additionally, Boston remains one game ahead of the Blue Jays, who also won on Saturday, while remaining one game up on the Mariners, who defeated the Angels on Saturday.

That being said, the Sox have ensured that they will be playing beyond Sunday’s series finale regardless of who wins and loses elsewhere. Whether their first action after Sunday comes in the form of a tiebreaker on Monday or the American League Wild Card game on Tuesday has yet to be determined.

Next up: Sale vs. Adon in regular season finale

While their plans could change, the Red Sox — at the moment — are slated to give the ball to ace left-hander Chris Sale in Sunday’s finale against the Nationals.

The Nationals in turn, will have right-handed pitching prospect Joan Adon make his major-league debut and close out their season.

First pitch Sunday is scheduled for 3:05 p.m. eastern time on NESN.

(Picture of Bobby Dalbec and Enrique Hernandez: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Hunter Renfroe and Bobby Dalbec go back-to-back as Red Sox hold on for 4-2 win over Nationals

The Red Sox prioritized offense over defense with their starting lineup for Friday’s series opener against the Nationals, and it paid off in a tremendous way.

Boston came out on top over Washington, 4-1, at Nationals Park to kick off the month of October and their final series of the regular season with a crucial.

Eduardo Rodriguez may have very well made his final start for the Sox on Friday, but the impending free-agent-to-be certainly put together a solid outing.

Over five-plus innings of work, the left-hander kept the Nationals off the scoreboard while scattering five hits and three walks to go along with six strikeouts on the night.

After retiring nine of the first 11 batters he faced, Rodriguez ran into some trouble in the bottom of the fourth when he loaded the bases with no outs for the bottom half of Washington’s lineup. The lefty did escape the jam, however, as he got Jordy Mercer to punch out and Carter Kieboom to fly out into foul territory before Andrew Stevenson dribbled a grounder in the direction of second baseman Enrique Hernandez.

The ball left Stevenson’s bat at 75 mph, which forced Hernandez to charge towards the infield grass, grab the ball with his barehand, and make a side-armed toss to an awaiting Bobby Dalbec while going into a head-first dive.

To Dalbec’s credit, the first baseman himself made an athletic play to record the out and keep the potential go-ahead run from scoring going into the fifth — another frame in which Rodriguez put up a zero.

At that point, the Red Sox lineup had been held in check by Rodriguez’s counterpart in Nationals starter Josh Rogers, though that changed when Xander Bogaerts, who was celebrating his 29th birthday on Friday, led off the top of the sixth with a groundball single.

Another base hit from J.D. Martinez put runners at first and second with one out for Hunter Renfroe, who greeted Rogers after a brief mound visit by crushing a towering three-run blast 423 feet to center field.

Renfroe’s 31st home run of the season gave Boston their first lead of the night at 3-0, but Dalbec quickly added on to that by going deep himself off the very next pitch from Rogers — a hanging 79 mph slider down the heart of the plate — moments later.

Dalbec made it a 4-0 contest on his 25th homer of the year. It also allowed Rodriguez to bat for himself (he hit a 101.2 mph groundout) and come back out for the bottom of the sixth, though he did not remain on the mound for long after issuing a leadoff walk to Josh Bell that was followed by a single off the bat of Keibert Ruiz.

That sequence marked the end of the line for Rodriguez, as he promptly got the hook from Red Sox manager Alex Cora in favor of Ryan Brasier.

Brasier continued his impressive run since being recalled from Triple-A Worcester on September 21, as he got Mercer to ground into a force out at third base before fanning both Kieboom and Stevenson to strand the runners he inherited and officially close the book on Rodriguez’s night.

Finishing with a final pitch count of 93 (62 strikes), the 28-year-old ultimately earned his 12th winning decision of the year while lowering his ERA on the season down to 4.77.

Matt Barnes took over for Brasier in the seventh and got the first two outs of the inning before serving up a solo shot to Alcides Escobar, resulting in Cora turning to Darwinzon Hernandez to face off against the left-handed hitting Juan Soto.

Hernandez walked Soto on six pitches and proceeded to yield a hard-hit single to Josh Bell that was corralled in right field by Martinez. Soto attempted to test Martinez’s arm strength by heading towards third base, but Martinez — with the help of a swift tag from Rafael Devers — made him pay by gunning him down there for the final out of the inning.

Martinez’s fourth outfield assist of the season kept the score at 4-1 in favor of Boston. Adam Ottavino, however, made things a bit more interesting in the eighth by surrendering another solo blast to Mercer that cut his side’s lead down to two runs.

Ottavino did get through the eighth, though, and Hansel Robles — despite walking two — followed by slamming the door on the Nationals in the ninth to preserve a 4-2 victory for the Sox as well as notch his 13th save of the year in doing so.

With the win, the Red Sox improve to 90-70 on the season. They maintain a one-game lead over the Blue Jays, who won on Friday, for the second American League Wild Card spot and now trail the Yankees, who lost on Friday, by just one game for the top Wild Card spot.

The Mariners lost to the Angels on Friday night, so they, too, remain one game back of the Red Sox.

Next up: TBD vs. Gray

The Red Sox have yet to name a starter for Saturday afternoon’s contest against the Nationals, who will counter with right-hander Josiah Gray — one of four players they acquired from the Dodgers in the blockbuster trade that sent Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to Los Angeles back in July.

First pitch Saturday is scheduled for 4:05 p.m. eastern time on NESN.

(Picture of Hunter Renfroe: Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

Marwin González comes through with clutch go-ahead homer as Red Sox come back to defeat White Sox, 7-4, to kick off homestand

Red Sox manager Alex Cora recently described Marwin Gonzalez as a player who “understands what it takes to win ballgames.”

On Saturday, Gonzalez showed why he was worthy of such praise, as he came through with the biggest hit of of the day — a go-ahead home run in the eighth inning — to to help guide Boston to a 7-4 victory over the White Sox at Fenway Park.

Matched up against right-handed reliever Codi Heuer to lead off the bottom of the eighth, Gonzalez, batting from the left side of the plate, took a 1-1, 96 mph sinker at the top of the strike zone and proceeded to crush it 410 feet deep into the Red Sox bullpen in right-center field.

Gonzalez’s first homer as a member of the Red Sox was a huge one, as it put his side up by a run at 4-3 and would wind up being the springboard for a four-run eighth inning.

Another come-from-behind win

The Red Sox came into the weekend already with six comeback victories under their belt, and after being dealt an early two-run deficit in the first of four against the White Sox, that would once again be the case on Saturday.

A pair of sacrifice flies in the third inning from Alex Verdugo and Rafael Devers off White Sox starter Dylan Cease evened things up at two runs a piece for a quite a while.

Fast forward to the sixth, and the bottom of the lineup served as the catalyst for more offensive production.

With reliever Evan Marshall on the mound for Chicago, Kevin Plawecki laced a two-out double to center field, which put a runner in scoring position as Boston’s lineup flipped over back to Enrique Hernandez.

As part of a four-hit showing on Saturday, Hernandez ripped a line-drive single back up the middle to drive in Plawecki from second and put the Sox up 3-2.

Matt Andriese gave up that lead after serving up a leadoff single to Tim Anderson, who stole second base and advanced to third on a Xander Bogaerts missed catch error, and a sacrifice fly to Yoan Moncada in the seventh, but that stalemate would not last long.

As previously mentioned, Gonzalez led off the eighth inning with his first big fly of the season for Boston, which was followed up by singles from Christian Arroyo Hernandez.

Verdugo then drew a two-out walk off new White Sox reliever Jose Ruiz, and J.D. Martinez picked up an RBI by drawing yet another free pass to make it a 5-3 contest.

Bogaerts, who like Hernandez collected four hits on Saturday, more than made up for his prior miscue by roping a two-run, ground-rule double down the right field line.

Bogaerts’ third and fourth RBI of the young season provided insurance and gave the Red Sox a commanding 7-3 advantage.

Pivetta shaky, but remains unbeaten with Red Sox

If you were looking for a crisply-pitched game to watch on Saturday, White Sox-Red Sox probably wasn’t between you.

Nick Pivetta, who made his third start of the season for Boston a day later than he was scheduled to due to Friday’s postponement, gave up two early runs, and managed to go just 3 2/3 innings deep in all. The right-hander allowed four hits and four walks while also striking out three in the process of doing so.

Finishing with a final pitch count of 83 (49 strikes), Pivetta was unable to pick up the winning decision on account of how short his outing was. But the Red Sox are now 5-0 in games the 28-year-old pitches in. His next start should come against the Mariners on Thursday.

In relief of Pivetta, left-hander Josh Taylor came on to record the final out of the fourth inning and did just that by fanning Adam Eaton.

Andriese, Ottavino, and Barnes hold it down

From the beginning of the fifth inning on, Andriese surrendered just one unearned run over three solid frames of work.

Adam Ottavino, meanwhile, put together his best performance with the Red Sox to date in the top half of the eighth. The veteran right-hander, fresh off taking the loss in his last time out against the Twins, struck out Chicago’s 5-6-7 hitters in short order and was just a few pitches shy of an immaculate inning.

Andriese’s and Ottavino’s impressive performances — as well as the Red Sox jumping out to a 7-3 lead — set the stage for Matt Barnes to make his seventh appearance of the season in the ninth.

The 30-year-old flamethrower wound up giving up his first run of the year on a pair of hits, but he still managed to hold on and preserve the 7-4 win for his side.

Some notes from this victory:

The Red Sox are now 10-4. They are 1-0 in their Nike City Connect uniforms.

From Red Sox Notes:

Next up: Split doubleheader on Sunday

Next up for the Red Sox, they will be embarking upon their second doubleheader against another American League Central foe in less than a week on Sunday afternoon.

Tanner Houck and Martin Perez will start Games 1 and 2 for Boston. Chicago has only named a starter for Game 1 at this point, and that responsibility will belong to former Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel.

First pitch for the day cap of Sunday’s twin bill is scheduled for 1:10 p.m. eastern time. The night cap is scheduled to begin at 5:10 p.m. ET. Both games will be broadcast on NESN.

(Picture of Marwin Gonzalez: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox officially sign utilityman Kiké Hernández to two-year deal

The Red Sox have officially signed utilityman Enrique Hernandez to a two-year contract, the team announced Tuesday.

Dustin Pedroia officially retiring from the game of baseball on Monday opened up a spot on the Red Sox’ 40-man roster, allowing Boston to sign Hernandez nearly two weeks after he agreed to a multi-year deal with the club.

Hernandez, 29, will earn approximately $14 million with this new contract ($6 million in 2021, $8 million in 2022), though the deal does include deferrals, per The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo.

The native of Puerto Rico had spent six of the first seven years of his big-league career with the Dodgers and is coming off a 2020 campaign in which he slashed .230/.270/.410 to go along with five home runs and 20 RBI over 48 games (148 PAs) for Los Angeles.

In the postseason, Hernandez proved to be a valuable piece of the Dodgers’ puzzle by posting a .755 OPS while clubbing two homers and driving in four runs en route to Los Angeles’ first World Series title in 32 years.

Capable of playing multiple defensive positions around the infield and outfield, Hernandez’s versatility, as well as his lifetime .820 OPS against left-handed pitching, should come in handy for the Sox in 2021.

Hernandez’s new manager, Alex Cora, selected the 5-foot-11, 190 lb. right-handed hitter to play for Team Puerto Rico during the 2017 World Baseball Classic, when he served as the team’s general manager. But, their relationship goes back much further than that.

“I know a lot of people are talking about Enrique,” Cora said on the TC & Jerry Podcast last week, before the signing was made official. “I call him Enrique because he was my batboy when I played winter ball when he was eight years old. He’s a good player, he’s a solid player… Looking from afar, he’s a guy that is versatile. I think he’s a better hitter than what people think, he has a lot of pop. But at the same time, what he brings to the equation outside the clubhouse is amazing. He’s a very humble kid from a great family. His dad actually is a cancer survivor. They’ve been amazing. A family that we really respect here in Puerto Rico.”

Hernandez will speak to reporters via Zoom at 5 p.m. eastern time Tuesday evening. He will also wear the No. 5 for the Red Sox, becoming the 38th player in team history to do so.

(Picture of Enrique Hernandez: Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Red Sox, utilityman Kiké Hernández agree to multi-year deal, per report

The Red Sox and free-agent utilityman Enrique Hernandez have reached agreement on a multi-year deal, according to MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand.

The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal adds that Hernandez’s new contract with Boston is good for $14 million over two years. It also includes deferrals and is pending a physical.

Hernandez, 29, had spent the previous six seasons with the Dodgers, most recently slashing a modest .230/.270/.410 to go along with five home runs and 20 RBI over 48 games played in 2020.

He also put together a decent postseason for Los Angeles en route to their first World Series title since 1988 by posting a .755 OPS across 15 games and 31 plate appearances this past October.

A right-handed hitter and right-handed thrower, Hernandez has proven to be quite the versatile player in his tenure with the Dodgers, seeing playing time all around the infield, outfield, and even the pitcher’s mound (one appearance in 2018).

Going back to last season, Los Angeles deployed the Puerto Rican at second base 27 times, in right field seven times, in left field four times, in center field three times, and at first base and shortstop two times each.

Based off these totals, one might assume Hernandez’s best position defensively is second base, which in this case is true.

Per FanGraphs, the 5-foot-11, 190 lb. infielder/outfielder played 220 1/3 innings at second base in 2020. In those 220 1/3 innings, he was worth positive-8 defensive runs saved despite posting a negative-2.6 ultimate zone rating.

Going into the offseason, the Red Sox sought out to address their second base issues coming off a 2020 season in which that particular position group  put up an American League-worst .586 OPS and league-worst wRC+ of 55.

The addition of Hernandez, who by no means is an offensive superstar, might not be too appealing on the surface, but this is really a solid pickup for the Sox.

That being the case because when they don’t need him to play second base, the club could start him at a bevy of other positions, including all three spots in the outfield if necessary.

As an added bonus, which the Red Sox likely took into consideration here, Hernandez owns a lifetime wRC+ of 120 in 893 career plate appearances against left-handed pitching.

That attribute could very well come in handy if Hernandez was to be used a platoon option with Andrew Benintendi in left field, assuming Benintendi is still on the team by Opening Day.

Of course, given his connections to Puerto Rico, Hernandez should be familiar with Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who, as Team Puerto Rico’s general manager for the 2017 World Baseball Classic, picked the former sixth-round draft pick to play for his home island’s team.

In signing Hernandez to a two-year deal, Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. have now added four free-agents (Hernandez, Martin Perez, Matt Andriese, Hunter Renfroe) on major-league contracts so far this winter.

Of that group, Hernandez is the first to get a deal with a guaranteed second year as opposed to a club option.

(Picture of Enrique Hernandez: Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Red Sox ‘are in’ on free-agent utilityman Marwin Gonzalez, per report

In their pursuit to upgrade their depth at second base, the Red Sox are reportedly “in” on free-agent utilityman Marwin Gonzalez, according to MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo.

Per Cotillo, Gonzalez is “one of a few versatile options” the Sox are looking at to address the apparent hole at second base.

Gonzalez, who turns 32 in March, has spent the last two seasons with the Twins, most recently posting a slash line of .211/.286/.320 to go along with five home runs and 22 RBI across 53 games and 199 plate appearances for Minnesota in 2020.

If you’re not a fan of evaluating players based off a shortened season, then going back to 2019, Gonzalez was okay in his debut season in the Twin Cities.

Per FanGraphs, the Venezuelan put up an OPS of .736 as well as a 93 wRC+ while clubbing 15 homers and driving in 55 runs over 114 games played.

Prior to signing with the Twins in February 2019, Gonzalez had established himself as a legitimate utility player as a member of the Astros from 2012 until 2018, even finishing 19th in American League MVP voting the same year Houston won the World Series (2017).

Given his past with the Astros, Gonzalez obviously established a relationship with Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who served as the ‘Stros’ bench coach under A.J. Hinch in 2017.

That being said, it’s extremely likely that the switch-hitting veteran used the Astros’ illegal sign-stealing system to his full advantage when he was with the club.

In the two seasons leading up to his free agency during the winter of 2018/2019, Gonzalez collected 39 home runs and 59 doubles over 279 total games and 1,067 plate appearances with Houston.

Since that time, all of which was spent with the Twins, Gonzalez has hit just 20 home runs and 23 doubles over 167 games and 662 plate appearances dating back to the start of the 2019 campaign.

Even with that disparity in mind, it’s unlikely that the Sox would shy away from signing a former Astro — like Gonzalez — if they believe he provides what they are in search for. That being, someone who can play second base on an everyday basis while also being more than capable of playing all around the infield and even both corner outfield spots if necessary.

If chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. were to lock down Gonzalez to what would likely be a short-term deal, it would be somewhat of a homecoming for the former international free agent.

That being the case because going back to 2011, Boston selected Gonzalez from the Cubs in the major-league portion of the Rule 5 Draft, though they dealt him to Houston in exchange for minor-league right-hander Marco Duarte that same day.

With Gonzalez now added to the mix, here is a full list of free-agent second base options the Red Sox “have been in touch with,” according to Cotillo.

As Cotillo notes in the above tweet, D.J LeMahieu signing with the Yankees on Friday could get this particular market moving relatively soon. We will have to wait and see on that.

(Photo of Marwin Gonzalez: Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images)

Red Sox showing ‘strong interest’ in free-agent utilityman Kiké Hernandez, per report

The Red Sox reportedly have strong interest in free-agent utilityman Kike Hernandez, according to MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo.

Per Cotillo, “a deal is not believed to be imminent between the sides but Boston is one of the teams in pursuit of the former Dodger.”

Hernandez, 29, has spent the last six seasons with the Dodgers after beginning his major-league career with the Astros and Marlins in 2014.

Most recently, the right-handed hitting Puerto Rico native put together a 2020 campaign in which he slashed .230/.270/410 with five home runs and 20 RBI across 48 regular season games for Los Angeles, though he did post a .755 OPS in the postseason before being declared a free agent in late October.

Over the course of his tenure with the Dodgers, Hernandez has proven to be quite versatile defensively, as he has logged time at every position besides catcher since 2015.

This past season, the former sixth-round draft pick saw the majority of his playing time come at second base (220 1/3 innings). According to FanGraphs, he was worth positive-8 defensive runs saved at that position despite posting a negative-2.6 ultimate zone rating.

Given their struggles at second base in 2020, the Red Sox, as noted by Cotillo, “would likely view Hernandez as an option there with the added ability to play all three outfield spots.”

In addition to his versatility, Hernandez should also be familiar with Red Sox manager and fellow Puerto Rican Alex Cora, who served as Hernandez’s and Team Puerto Rico’s general manager during the 2017 World Baseball Classic.