Despite getting out-hit 14-11, the Red Sox were able to hold on to a series-opening, 11-9 victory over the Twins at Fenway Park on Tuesday night.
Tanner Houck, just recalled from Triple-A Worcester earlier in the day, made his eighth start (10th overall appearance) of the season for the Sox, and he was not particularly sharp.
Over 4 2/3 innings of work, Houck allowed three runs — all of which were earned — on eight hits, one walk, and one hit batsman to go along with six strikeouts on the evening.
The Twins got to the right-hander right away on Tuesday, as he served up a leadoff triple to Max Kepler to begin things in the top half of the first that was quickly followed by a one-out RBI single off the bat of Jorge Polanco to put the Sox in an early 1-0 hole.
Houck was, however, able to settle in by keeping Minnesota off the board in the second and third innings, and the Boston bats rewarded him for that in their half of the third.
Matched up against Minnesota starter Griffin Jax, Travis Shaw picked up where he left off on Monday and belted a leadoff home run 413 feet into the bleachers, marking his second straight homer in as many swings of the bat.
Shaw’s solo shot pulled the Sox back even at one run apiece, but the Twins countered by getting to Houck for two more runs in the fourth, with Luis Arraez and Nick Gordon each reaching base and Miguel Sano driving both runners in on a two-run single back up the middle.
That put the Twins back up by two runs at 3-1, though the Red Sox did not let their second deficit last all that long with Rafael Devers drawing a leadoff walk and Alex Verdugo ripping a one-out double to left field to put a pair of runners in scoring position for Hunter Renfroe.
Renfroe got his productive day at the plate started by taking a hanging, 83 mph slider from Jax and depositing it 374 feet over the Green Monster for his first of two home runs on the night.
Even with Renfroe giving the Sox a 4-3 advantage with his three-run blast, Houck ran into a bit more trouble in the fifth when he plunked the first man he faced in Brent Rooker and allowed him to advance up to second base on a wild pitch.
After punching out Polanco and getting Josh Donaldson to pop out to third base, Houck’s outing came to an unceremonious end as he got the hook from Red Sox manager Alex Cora.
Finishing with a final pitch count of 90 (54 strikes), the 25-year-old hurler did not factor into Tuesday’s decision, though he did raise his ERA on the season to 3.43.
In relief of Houck, Cora turned to Josh Taylor out of the Boston bullpen, and the left-hander — who ultimately earned his first win of the year — did his job by getting Arraez to ground out to second base to end the inning.
At the halfway point, the Red Sox were in possession of a 4-3 lead. With Jax still on the mound for the Twins, they made sure to pad said lead in the bottom of the fifth.
Enrique Hernandez, celebrating his 30th birthday on Tuesday, led off with a single and moved up to second base on a Minnesota fielding error.
Jax quickly recorded the first two outs of the frame, but Devers kept the rally alive by lacing a ground-rule, RBI double into the right field seats that brought in Hernandez from third to make it a 5-3 contest.
J.D. Martinez followed by drawing another walk, though he was quickly brought in on yet another double from Verdugo, which brought Renfroe to the plate in a prime run scoring spot.
On the fifth pitch he saw from Jax, another hanging slider, Renfroe took full advantage of that opportunity by crushing his second home run of the night — and 25th of the season — 420 feet over everything in left-center field.
Renfroe’s league-leading 10th homer in the month of August alone gave his side a commanding 9-3 lead, and at that point, it looked like the Sox were going to run away with another lopsided win over a last-place team.
That did not turn out to be the case, however, as Martin Perez struggled mightily in his relief appearance. After allowing one run on one hit and an RBI groundout in the top of the sixth, the lefty got rocked for two more runs in the seventh when he served up a two-run shot to Polanco.
Hirokazu Sawamura, working in relief of Perez, did not fare much better, as he walked one, gave up a single to another, and misdirected a wild pitch that allowed both runners to advance into scoring position with one out.
After fanning Mitch Garver, it appeared as though Sawamura was out of trouble when he got Nick Gordon to swing at a 93 mph splitter in the dirt.
Gordon, however, was able to just barely foul off the pitch to keep his at-bat alive, and he followed by lining a two-out, two-strike, and two-run single back up the middle to pull the Twins back to within one at 9-8.
Adam Ottavino, working in relief of Sawamura in the eighth, worked his way around a Jake Cave leadoff single (with the help of Christian Vazquez gunning Cave down at second base) and a two-out walk of Rooker in an otherwise clean inning.
Looking to add some insurance in their half of the eighth, the Red Sox offense got just that from Hernandez, who truly celebrated his birthday in style by following up a Vazquez leadoff single and clubbing a towering two-run shot over the Monster off Twins reliever Caleb Thielbar.
Hernandez’s 16th home run of the year, which traveled 425 feet and left his bat at 108.6 mph, put the Sox ahead 11-8, which would prove extremely beneficial a half inning later with Matt Barnes on the hill in the ninth.
To put it simply, Barnes’ August woes continued, as the Boston closer served up a leadoff homer to Donaldson before walking two straight to bring the go-ahead run to the plate — all without recording a single out in the inning.
That ugly sequence resulted in Cora turning to Hansel Robles, who promptly saved the day — literally — in the process of punching out two and recording the third and final out when he got Cave to line out to end the game.
By securing the 11-9 victory for his side, Robles was able to notch his 11th save of the year (and first with the Red Sox) while also topping out at 99.4 mph with his high-octane four-seam fastball.
With the win, the Red Sox improve to 72-55 on the season to increase their lead over the Athletics for the second American League Wild Card spot to two full games.
Next up: Pivetta vs. Ober
The Red Sox will go for the series win over the Twins and look to extend their winning streak to three consecutive games on Wednesday night.
Right-hander Nick Pivetta will look to bounce back as he gets the start for Boston, while fellow righty Bailey Ober will do the same for Minnesota.
First pitch Wednesday is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. eastern time on NESN.
(Picture of Hunter Renfroe: Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)