Is Tanner Houck’s future with the Red Sox as a starter or reliever?

Earlier this month, Bleacher Report’s Joel Reuter identified Tanner Houck as a potential breakout candidate for 2022, citing that the Red Sox right-hander has “proven he has the stuff to miss bats at the MLB level” and it is now “just a matter of doing it over a full season” in Boston’s starting rotation.

After a stellar — albeit brief — three-start debut in 2020, Houck embarked upon his first full big-league season earlier this year. The 25-year-old made the Sox’ Opening Day starting rotation out of spring training and made his impact felt immediately by striking out eight while allowing just three runs (two earned) on six hits and one walk over five innings of work against the Orioles on April 3.

Houck was used out of the bullpen in a game against the Rays two days later and was then optioned to the Red Sox’ alternate training site. He was recalled from the alternate site to serve as the 27th man and start Game 1 of a doubleheader against the White Sox on April 18, but that would mark his last major-league outing for quite some time.

Upon getting sent back down to the alternate site, Houck was lined up to start the first game of the minor-league season for Triple-A Worcester against the Buffalo Bisons on May 4. He did just that, but wound up suffering a sore flexor muscle in his right arm that resulted in him getting shut down.

It took a little more than a month for Houck to return to the mound, and he ultimately found his way back to the Red Sox’ pitching staff on July 16. From that point forward, the 6-foot-5, 230 pound righty was used as a starter 11 times and as a reliever four times across five separate stints with Boston to close out the regular season.

All told, Houck posted a 2.58 ERA and 3.52 FIP to go along with 87 strikeouts to 21 walks over 18 appearances (13 starts) and 69 innings pitched in 2021. He also put up a 5.23 ERA (5.30 FIP) in 10 1/3 innings of relief in the postseason.

Houck’s first full season in the majors may have been a productive one, but it was also one that left us with some lingering questions. For starters, can Houck make it in the big-leagues as a starting pitcher?

This has been a prevalent topic since the Red Sox selected Houck with the 24th overall pick in the 2017 amateur draft out of the University of Missouri, and it is one that remains relevant today.

In the 13 starts Houck made for Boston this past season, he averaged less than five full innings per start and only made it to the sixth inning on two occasions. The primary reason Houck was held back in his starts had to do with his struggles when facing the same lineup multiple times.

When going through a lineup for the first time as a starter in 2021, Houck pitched to the tune of an impressive 1.50 ERA and 2.04 ERA across 30 innings. When going through a lineup for a second time as a starter, he still produced a respectable 3.81 ERA and 2.09 FIP across 26 innings.

Once Houck faced the same lineup a third time through is where things started to get dicey, though. In a small sample size of 2 2/3 innings pitched, the young hurler got lit up for nine runs (eight earned) on seven hits, no walks, and two strikeouts. That’s good for an ERA of 27.00 as well as a FIP of 9.01 and OPS against of 1.489.

What led to the difficulties Houck encountered when going through a lineup multiple times? Well, the answer to that question may lay within Houck’s pitch usage.

Since debuting for Boston last September, Houck has very clearly favored his fastball and slider, but has also been working to incorporate a splitter as a third pitch that he first began throwing last year.

This past season alone, the Missouri native threw 443 four-seam fastballs, 426 sliders, 195 sinking fastballs, and 85 split-finger fastballs, per Baseball Savant. Of those offerings, Houck’s slider was undoubtedly his best pitch as he held opposing hitters to an expected batting average of .144 while producing a 42.4% whiff rate with it.

As far as the splitter is concerned, Houck relied on the pitch in 2021 (7.4%) more than he did in 2020 (3%) and yielded positive results with it by allowing just one hit in 19 attempts while inducing a swing-and-miss 36.8% of the time.

“It’s a pitch that I feel confident in, and I’ve grown very much with it, so I’m excited to see where it takes me in the future,” Houck said of his splitter when speaking with FanGraphs’ David Laurila back in September. “I’ve had success with it as of late, throwing it off my slider, my two-seam, and my four-seam. I’m continuing to develop it, so I imagine that the usage will go up over time.”

Despite the success Houck enjoyed with his splitter and other pitches this year, the question remains as to whether he can stick with the Red Sox as a rotation regular or is rather best suited for a bullpen role.

During last month’s GM meetings, Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom was — as’s Christopher Smith wrote — noncommittal to Houck or fellow righty Garrett Whitlock as members of the team’s 2022 starting rotation.

“I would say possibilities,” Bloom said when asked about Houck and Whitlock starting in 2022. “I have said this before, I think the ceiling (is for them) to be really good major-league starters. There are steps on the way to establishing themselves as that. I think it’s great that they have that upside. They’ve done it. They’ve came up as starters. … It gives us options and flexibility heading into the winter. So we’ll see how it all shakes out. We certainly want to have more depth either way. I have no doubt that if that ends up being their role, they would be very capable. It just might not be the best alignment for our team.”

Since that time, the Red Sox have obviously been busy in free agency when it comes to stockpiling rotation depth. In the wake of Eduardo Rodriguez departing for the Tigers, Bloom and his staff have added veteran pitchers with starting experience such as Michael Wacha, Rich Hill, and James Paxton leading up to Major League Baseball’s lockout taking effect in early December.

Once the lockout eventually ends and MLB’s transaction freeze is lifted, the Sox figure to be active in free agency and the trade market for starting pitchers yet again.

“I think the big thing for us is that we do know we want a number of capable arms, but it didn’t necessarily have to fall the way that it did,” Bloom recently said in regards to the additions of Wacha, Hill, and Paxton. “We love the guys we got, but we were in touch with the whole market. I think the key for us is to use our resources as best we can. We want to make sure we’re making what, in our mind, are good deals. Those can be small deals or they can be big deals.”

If the Red Sox were to sign another free-agent starter such as Carlos Rodon or deal for a controllable arm like Frankie Montas, that would only push Houck further down the club’s rotation depth chart.

Chris Sale, Nathan Eovaldi, Nick Pivetta, and Hill should be penciled in to be Alex Cora’s top four starters next spring. After that, it gets a bit murky since Paxton is coming off Tommy John surgery and Wacha may wind up in the bullpen.

With that, Houck will presumably have an opportunity to compete for a spot in the Sox’ 2022 Opening Day starting rotation once spring training arrives in a few months. Whether he comes out on top in that competition has yet to be determined.

(Picture of Tanner Houck: Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

Red Sox shut out in American League Rookie of the Year voting

The Red Sox were totally shut out in American League Rookie of the Year voting on Monday night.

Rays outfielder Randy Arozarena took home American League Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year honors, while Astros right-hander Luis Garcia and Rays infielder Wander Franco finished second and third, respectively.

This was to be expected, as all three of Arozarena, Garcia, and Franco were the three Rookie of the Year finalists selected by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America last week.

What was not expected by some, though, was the Red Sox not sniffing a single ballot despite receiving key contributions from three different rookies throughout the 2021 season.

Per the Baseball Writers’ Association of America’s website, eight different players received A.L. Rookie of the Year votes from 30 different writers, but none were Red Sox.

Instead, it was Rangers outfielder Adolis Garcia who finished in fourth, Guardians reliever Emmanuel Clase who finished in fifth, Orioles outfielder Ryan Mountcastle who finished in sixth, Rays left-hander Shane McClanahan finishing in seventh, and Blue Jays right-hander Alex Manoah finishing in eighth.

At first glance, one has to wonder how one of Bobby Dalbec, Tanner Houck, or Garrett Whitlock were all unable to crack the list as one of the top eight rookies in the junior circuit this year.

After a slow start to his first full season in the majors, Dalbec wound up slashing .240/.298/.494 on the year to go along with 21 doubles, five triples, 25 home runs, 78 RBIs, 50 runs scored, two stolen bases, 28 walks, and 156 strikeouts over 133 games spanning 453 plate appearances.

Among qualified American League rookie hitters this season, the 26-year-old first baseman ranked third in home runs, third in RBIs, seventh in runs scored, third in isolated power (.254), second in slugging percentage, and 11th in wRC+ (107).

Houck, like Dalbec, debuted for Boston during the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign but exceeded his rookie limits in 2021. Across several stints between Triple-A and the majors this year, the right-hander posted a 3.52 ERA and 2.58 FIP with 87 strikeouts to 21 walks over 18 appearances (13 starts) and 69 innings of work.

Among qualified American League rookie hurlers this season, the 25-year-old ranked fifth in strikeout rate (30.5%), second in FIP, third in xFIP (3.20), and eighth in SIERA (3.28), per FanGraphs.

Whitlock, on the other hand, is perhaps the biggest snub here considering that he underwent Tommy John surgery in July 2019 and came over from the Yankees organization in last December’s Rule 5 Draft.

While expectations were likely low out of the gate for Whitlock, the 25-year-old right-hander proved to be one of — if not the most effective reliever out of Red Sox manager Alex Cora’s bullpen this season.

In 46 outings, Whitlock produced a 1.96 ERA and 2.84 FIP while recording 81 strikeouts and 17 walks across 73 1/3 total innings of relief for Boston. Among qualified A.L. rookie pitchers, he ranked second in ERA, fifth in FIP, fourth in xFIP (3.22), and fourth in SIERA (3.06), per FanGraphs.

Still, despite those three — particularly Whitlock — putting up those kind of numbers in their rookie seasons, none of them received any sort of recognition on Monday, much to the dismay of Red Sox fans.

There is, however, a reason as to why neither Dalbec, Houck, or Whitlock wound up on any ballots. According to the BBWAA’s Voting FAQ page, there are only three spots on members’ ballots when it comes to Rookie of the Year voting as opposed to 10 for Most Valuable Player voting and five for Cy Young voting.

In last year’s American League MVP voting, for instance, 21 different players received votes on account of there being 10 different spots for writers to fill out.

If this were the case in Rookie of the Year voting, it’s likely that someone such as Whitlock would have received some recognition in the form of one or several 4th-10th place votes on Monday.

(Picture of Garrett Whitlock: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox crush 5 homers, collect 20 hits in 14-6 rout of Rays to even ALDS at 1-1

It was a back-and-forth kind of affair, but the Red Sox were once again able to battle their way back for a potentially pivotal win over the Rays in Game 2 of the American League Division Series.

Despite putting themselves in an early hole, Boston bested Tampa Bay by a final score of 14-6 at Tropicana Field on Friday night to even this best-of-five series at one game apiece.

Coming off a Game 1 showing in which they were shut out in a postseason game for the first time in five years, the Red Sox lineup jumped all over Rays rookie starter Shane Baz to begin things in Game 2.

Kyle Schwarber led off the top of the first inning by drawing a four-pitch walk before moving up to third base on a ground-ball double from Enrique Hernandez.

Rafael Devers struck out on five pitches for the first out of the fifth, but Xander Bogaerts and Alex Verdugo each followed by getting their productive nights at the plate started with back-to-back run-scoring singles.

The first instance of the Bogaerts-Verdugo combination at work gave the Red Sox an immediate 2-0 lead as Chris Sale took the mound, though it did not last long.

Sale, like Eduardo Rodriguez before him, was not long for his first postseason start since 2018. That being the case because the veteran left-hander surrendered five runs — all of which were earned — on four hits and one walk to go along with two strikeouts on the night.

On his first two pitches of the first inning, the Rays put runners on first and second on a pair of quick singles. Sale then issued a one-out walk to Nelson Cruz to fill the bases before giving up an RBI single to Yandy Diaz.

Diaz’s base hit pushed across the Rays’ first run of the night while also re-filling the bases for Jordan Luplow, who was primarily in Tampa Bay’s lineup to face of against left-handed pitching.

Sale, in turn, proceeded to serve up a towering, 387-foot grand slam to the right-handed hitting Luplow that saw Boston’s 2-1 lead turn into a 5-2 defecit.

On the heels of giving up that impactful of a hit, Sale’s day was done as soon as he recorded the final out of the first inning. The 32-year-old hurler finished with a final pitch count of 30 (20 strikes) and induced just three swings-and-misses in total.

Having to turn to his bullpen earlier than anticipated for the second straight day, Red Sox manager Alex Cora handed things over to Tanner Houck in the middle of the second inning, and that decision proved to be quite beneficial.

After Houck retired the side in order in the bottom of the second, the aforementioned Bogaerts-Verdugo combination struck again in the top of the third, as the All-Star shortstop clubbed a one-out solo shot to knock Baz out of the game while the fiery outfielder greeted new reliever Collin McHugh by crushing a home run of his own.

The back-to-back blasts off the bats of Bogaerts and Verdugo cut Tampa Bay’s deficit down to one run at 5-4. Houck, in return, kept the score just like that by putting up two more zeroes in the third and fourth innings.

In the top half of the fifth, Hernandez provided some power, as he led the frame off by taking McHugh 393 feet deep to left field on a hanging slider to pull his side back even with the opposition at 5-5.

Hernandez’s homer was only a precursor of what was to come in the fifth, though, with Devers and Bogaerts each reaching base before J.D. Martinez made his impact felt in his return to the lineup by tattooing a go-ahead, three-run home run over everything in center field.

Martinez’s three-run blast, which came off Matt Wisler and traveled 412 feet off his bat, broke a 5-5 stalemate and gave the Sox their first lead since the first inning at 8-5 going into the halfway point.

Houck, meanwhile, was in the process of stringing together an impressive run of his own. Going back to his final start of the regular season against the Nationals last Saturday, the righty sat down 29 straight hitters before allowing a two-out single to Wander Franco in the bottom of the fifth.

From there, Houck got through the fifth before serving up a solo shot to Ji-Man Choi an inning later, though he wrapped up his evening on a high note and — in the end — gave up just that one run while scattering two hits, zero walks, and five strikeouts in his five innings of relief.

Christian Vazquez, who had been catching Houck, got one of those runs back when he drove in Verdugo on a ground-ball RBI single in the top of the seventh before being behind the plate while Ryan Brasier punched out the side in the bottom half.

Devers, sore right arm and all, added on to Boston’s lead in the eighth inning when he — while matched up against Michael Wacha — scored Hernandez and demolished a 425-foot two-run home run over the center field wall.

The Red Sox went up 11-6 on Devers’ home run. It was also Boston’s fifth homer of the night, which sets a new franchise record for the most hit in a single postseason game.

Hansel Robles took over for Brasier and preserved an 11-6 lead with a scoreless bottom of the eighth, while Vazquez tacked on one more on another RBI single.

Hernandez, meanwhile, capped off his stellar night by putting the finishing touches on his first-ever five-hit game (in the regular and postseas0n). He plated both Hunter Renfroe and Vazquez on a two-run single that made it a 14-6 game.

Given a sizable cushion to work with now, Matt Barnes — who was just added to the ALDS roster in place of Garrett Richards on Friday — slammed the door on the Rays in the bottom half of the ninth to lock up a 14-6 victory.

With the win, the Red Sox pull even with the Rays in this best-of-five series and now have the opportunity to win it back at home.

Red Sox lineup breaks out in a tremendous way

Out of the No. 2 spot on Friday, Enrique Hernandez went 5-for-6 with three doubles, one home run, three RBI, and three runs scored. He becomes the first Red Sox player to ever record four extra-base hits in a postseason game.

Xander Bogaerts, Alex Verdugo, and J.D. Martinez (Boston’s Nos. 4, 5, and 6 hitters) went a combined 10-for-15 with one double, three home runs, seven RBI, and five runs scored.

Verdugo, starting in left field, also made a nice catch in foul territory to prevent Nelson Cruz from extending his at-bat against Tanner Houck in the sixth inning.

Houck earns win

Tanner Houck earned his first career postseason win in Friday’s win. He has essentially been lights out since the calendar flipped to October.

Next up: Eovaldi on tap for Game 3

The Red Sox will board a flight to Boston, enjoy an off day on Saturday, then resume this ALDS with the Rays at Fenway Park on Sunday afternoon.

Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi is slated to get the ball for Boston in Game 3, while fellow righty Drew Rasmussen will do the same for Tampa Bay.

First pitch Sunday is scheduled for 4:07 p.m. eastern time on MLB Network.

(Picture of Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts: Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

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)

Tanner Houck starting, hitting for himself Saturday as Red Sox go for series victory over Nationals

In their penultimate game of the regular season, the Red Sox will turn to Tanner Houck to start Saturday afternoon’s contest against the Nationals at Nationals Park.

The Sox came into the weekend having not named a starter for Saturday’s game, likely under the assumption that Houck could be needed out of the bullpen on Friday if Eduardo Rodriguez was unable to pitch deep into his final start of the year.

Instead, Rodriguez provided Boston with five-plus scoreless innings before five different relievers (Ryan Brasier, Matt Barnes, Darwinzon Hernandez, Adam Ottavino, and Hansel Robles) combined to close out a much-needed 4-2 win over Washington.

Houck, meanwhile, last appeared in a game this past Tuesday, allowing one earned run on three hits and one walk to go along with three strikeouts in a 4-2 loss to the Orioles in Baltimore.

The 25-year-old right-hander needed 41 pitches (27 strikes) to get through those two frames, but Red Sox manager Alex Cora told reporters (including The Eagle-Tribune’s Mac Cerullo) that the club will be treating Saturday as a normal start for Houck even though he will be working on just three days rest.

Since making his major-league debut last September, Houck has only pitched in a National League ballpark on two separate occasions — both of which came against the Marlins and Braves during last year’s COVID-shortened campaign.

Major League Baseball adopted the universal designated hitter rule for the 2020 season on account of the pandemic, meaning pitchers in National League ballparks did not have to hit for themselves.

That is no longer the case this year, though, as Houck will step up to the plate for the first time in his big-league career and bat out of the nine-hole for Boston on Saturday.

Here is how the rest of the Red Sox will line up behind Houck as they go up against fellow rookie right-hander Josiah Gray for the Nationals.

First pitch from Nationals Park Saturday is scheduled for 4:05 p.m. eastern time on NESN. As noted by’s Chris Cotillo, “a Red Sox win would mean Boston is guaranteed to play past Sunday, either in a tiebreaker game or the American League Wild Card Game on Tuesday night. If the Sox win their last two games, they are guaranteed a spot in the Wild Card Game.”

(Picture of Tanner Houck: Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

Red Sox injuries: Josh Taylor to have MRI on back; X-rays on Kevin Plawecki’s foot come back negative

In the process of blowing a late one-run lead and dropping a heartbreaker to the Yankees by a final score of 5-3 at Fenway Park on Saturday, the Red Sox were also dealt two blows on the injury front, though one may be considered more significant than the other.

For starters, Josh Taylor was not available out of the bullpen because of a back issue, Sox manager Alex Cora relayed following Saturday night’s defeat at the hands of the Yankees.

“Taylor is down,” Cora said. “He’s actually going to have an MRI tomorrow. His back has been bothering him, so we’ll see where we’re at with that, but he was down.”

With Taylor unavailable, Boston was left without an additional left-handed relief option in its bullpen, leaving Austin Davis and Darwinzon Hernandez as the two primary lefties who could be called upon.

After Tanner Houck issued a pair of two-out walks to New York’s No. 1 and No. 2 hitters in the top of the eighth inning, Cora was put into a spot where his side had a 2-1 lead to protect with a left-handed hitter in Anthony Rizzo due to hit next for the opposition.

That led Cora to turn to Hernandez for the left-on-left matchup with one out to get in the eighth. Hernandez, however, plunked Rizzo on a 3-1, 96 mph fastball to load the bases as the ever-dangerous, right-handed hitting Giancarlo Stanton loomed in the on-deck circle.

While Cora could not make another pitching change since Hernandez had yet to face the minimum of three batters, he did pay the 24-year-old a visit on the pitcher’s mound to have a brief conversation with him — as well as the rest of the Red Sox infield.

Cora’s pep talk did not pay off, though, as Hernandez proceeded to groove a first-pitch fastball down the heart of the plate to Stanton that the Yankees slugger crushed 452 feet over the Green Monster for what would turn out to be the game-winning grand slam.

In choosing Hernandez over Davis to face Rizzo, Cora was left to defend his decision during his postgame media availability, and he did just that.

“I mean, the fact that his stuff plays, right? He’s been throwing the ball well, and you always have to be prepared for the next hitter, right?” Cora said in regards to having Hernandez pitch in that spot. “It’s not that you’re thinking something negative is going to happen with the lefty (Rizzo), but we do believe that he can get the righty out, too, in that spot so we went with him.”

Coming into play on Saturday, Hernandez had actually fared better against right-handed hitters (.615 OPS) than left-handed hitters (.736 OPS against).

Davis, on the other hand, has given up just four hits to the 31 left-handed hitters he faced since joining the Red Sox as a trade deadline acquisition.

On the flip side of that, however, Davis has struggled against right-handed hitters (.886 OPS against) dating back to July 31, so Cora truly did have a difficult decision to make when taking the three-batter minimum rule into consideration.

“There’s two outs. We’ve got to get him (Rizzo) out there,” said Cora. “That’s why we went with Darwinzon. Because we do believe he can get the lefty and the righty out. It just didn’t happen. But the rules are the rules. We’ve been playing with them all season. It’s not the first time we had a situation like this. Just like he wasn’t able to pound the strike zone with the lefty.”

Regardless of which reliever was tasked with getting out of the eighth inning, Boston’s late-game collapse stems from Houck’s inability to throw strikes consistently.

The right-hander was dispatched in the seventh inning and walked the first two batters he faced on eight straight balls before escaping the jam on a double play off the bat of Gleyber Torres and a three-pitch strikeout of Gary Sanchez.

Houck proceeded to fan the first two Yankees he faced in the eighth as well and appeared to be on the verge of punching out the side when he had leadoff man Brett Gardner in a 1-2 count. He instead walked Gardner on six pitches before getting in another two-strike count against Aaron Judge that ultimately resulted in a six-pitch walk to bring Rizzo to the plate.

“We didn’t throw enough strikes in that inning,” Cora said. “We had two outs, 1-2 count, we weren’t able to put [Gardner] away. Then 2-2 count against Judge, we didn’t put him away. Obviously the walk to Rizzo [by Hernandez], but I think it goes back to the leadoff hitter. We had two outs and we made some good pitches, but not in the strike zone.”

In other injury-related news, Red Sox catcher Kevin Plawecki, who went 2-for-2 with a walk and a home run in Saturday’s loss, was struck in the right foot by a 98.5 mph fastball from Aroldis Chapman during final plate appearance of the night in the ninth inning.

A hobbled Plawecki was removed from the contest and replaced at first base by the pinch-running Christian Vazquez, but Cora later revealed that X-Rays on the veteran backstop’s foot came back negative.

“It’s feeling better now. X-rays are negative, so that’s good,” Plawecki said. “Obviously sore, but we’ll get some treatment on it tomorrow and it shouldn’t be anything for me to really worry about. So, I dodged a bullet, I guess you could say.”

(Picture of Josh Taylor: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Darwinzon Hernandez gives up game-winning grand slam to Giancarlo Stanton as Red Sox squander late lead in 5-3 loss to Yankees

No longer donning their yellow City Connect threads, the Red Sox squandered a late lead and dropped their second straight to the Yankees in dramatic fashion at Fenway Park on Saturday.

Despite a strong performance from Nick Pivetta, Boston fell to New York by a final score of 5-3, marking their second consecutive defeat coming on the heels of a seven-game winning streak.

Pivetta, making his 29th start of the season for the Sox, rebounded from a rather short outing against the Orioles in his last time out by providing more length in Saturday’s contest against another American League East foe.

Over 5 1/3 frames of work, the right-hander surrendered just one run on three hits and zero walks to go along with seven strikeouts on the night.

One of the three hits Pivetta gave up came on a leadoff single off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to begin things in the top of the second, but he kept Stanton at first base by punching out the next three batters he faced.

Pivetta nearly ran into more leadoff trouble in the third when Rougned Odor lifted a 385-foot fly to ball to the deepest part of right field, but it was one that stayed in the park for Hunter Renfroe, as the right fielder took a potential home run away while up against the wall for the first out of the inning.

While the Yankees had a home run taken away from them in their half of the third, the Red Sox made sure the same did not happen to them in their half of the third.

To that point, Yankees starter Nestor Cortes Jr. had held the Sox hitless by retiring each of the first seven batters he faced, but Kevin Plawecki quickly changed things in that regard.

Plawecki, catching Pivetta in place of Christian Vazquez, took the second pitch he saw from Cortes Jr. — a 1-0, 86 mph cutter on the inner half of the plate — and crushed it 408 feet off the leftmost light tower over the Green Monster.

Plawecki’s third homer of the season left his bat at a sizzling 106.9 mph, and it also gave the Red Sox their first lead of the day at 1-0.

Kyle Schwarber doubled that lead in the bottom of the fifth, as he led off against Cortes by drilling a single to right field. Bobby Dalbec, like Odor, nearly clubbed a two-run homer that was instead robbed by Aaron Judge in right field. Schwarber then advanced up to second on a base hit from Plawecki and an infield single from Jose Iglesias that loaded the bases with one out.

With right-handed reliever Michael King deployed to face off against Enrique Hernandez, Schwarber easily scored from third when a wild pitch from King that eluded Sanchez wound up rolling all the way towards the visitor’s dugout.

Though Schwarber was the only one to score in the inning, Pivetta was now given a 2-0 advantage to operate with. Unfortunately for him, he was unable to get through the sixth inning, as he issued back-to-back one-out hits to Gio Urshela and Brett Gardner that put the tying run in scoring position.

That sequence resulted in Pivetta getting the hook from Red Sox manager Alex Cora, with the 28-year-old finishing with a final pitch count of 90 (60 strikes). Of those 90 pitches, 55 were four-seam fastballs — seven of which led to swings-and-misses from Yankees batters.

Cora, in a tough spot, turned to Hansel Robles, who promptly uncorked a wild pitch past Plawecki that allowed Urshela to score from third while Judge was at the plate.

Gardner also moved up an additional 90 feet on the play, but he was gunned down at home plate by Devers when he attempted to score on a soft grounder from Judge, thus keeping the 2-1 lead intact for Boston.

From there, Tanner Houck took over for Robles in the seventh, walked the first two Yankees he faced on eight straight balls, but escaped the jam by inducing a 4-6-3 double play before getting Sanchez to whiff on an 0-2 slider in emphatic fashion for the final out of the inning.

In the eighth, after recording the first two outs, Houck issued another walk to Gardner, who — while representing the tying run — successfully stole second base. The righty then issued another free pass to Judge to put runners at first and second, and that prompted Cora to roll with Darwinzon Hernandez with the left-handed hitting Anthony Rizzo looming for New York.

Hernandez, however, plunked Rizzo to load the bases, meaning he was now tasked with facing the ever-dangerous Stanton, who wasted no time in taking advantage of the opportunity in front of him even after Cora took the time to talk things over with the lefty on the mound beforehand.

On a first-pitch, 94 mph fastball that was grooved down the heart of the plate by Hernandez, Stanton absolutely demolished a 452-foot grand slam well over everything in left field.

Stanton’s go-ahead, bases-clearing grand slam, which had an exit velocity of 114.1 mph, put the Yankees up for the first time all day, as it gave them a commanding 5-2 lead.

Luis Severino took that brand-new three-run advantage and ran with it, tossing two scoreless frames in the seventh and eighth before making way for Aroldis Chapman in the ninth.

Chapman, New York’s closer, got the first out of the inning before serving up a solo shot to Dalbec (his 24th) and plunking Plawecki on the right foot, which brought the tying run to the plate as Vazquez replaced his fellow backstop as the runner at first base.

Iglesias, representing that ever-important tying run, fanned on three straight strikes, leaving things in the hand of Hernandez.

Having gone 0-for-4 with two strikeouts to that point, Hernandez was unable to come through in the clutch — as he worked a full count before ultimately grounding out to seal the 5-3 defeat for the Sox.

With the loss, their second straight coming off a seven-game winning streak, the Red Sox fall to 88-67 on the season. They are now locked in a tie with the Yankees (also 88-67) for the top American League Wild Card spot.

Next up: Rodriguez vs. Montgomery in rubber match

The Red Sox will wrap up the home portion of their regular season schedule by looking to salvage this series against the Yankees on Sunday night.

Left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez will get the ball for Boston in the finale of this three-game set, and he will be opposed by fellow southpaw Jordan Montgomery for New York.

First pitch from Fenway Park on Sunday is scheduled for 7:08 p.m. eastern time on ESPN.

(Picture of Kevin Plawecki: Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Red Sox break out for 6 runs in 10th inning to run away with 9-4 victory over Mariners in extras

It took nearly four hours to see it through, but the Red Sox were able to cap off their road trip in style with a hard-fought victory over the Mariners in extra innings on Wednesday (Roberto Clemente Day) afternoon.

Boston broke out for six runs in the 10th inning to top Seattle by a final score of 9-4, marking their second straight win and their third in their last five games.

Matched up against Mariners starter Marco Gonzales to begin things on Wednesday, the Sox struck early and often to jump out to an early 3-0 lead.

Right out of the gate, Hunter Renfroe crushed a 414-foot solo shot — his 28th home run of the season — off Gonzales in the top half of the first inning. In the second, Kyle Schwarber drew a one-out walk and Bobby Dalbec followed by drilling a ground-rule double to left-center field, paving the way for Kevin Plawecki to drive in a run on an RBI groundout.

Having moved up to third on that play, Dalbec scored on an RBI double off the bat of a seemingly red-hot Jose Iglesias to put Boston up by three.

To that point, Tanner Houck — making his 12th start of the year — had been cruising along for the Red Sox, taking a no-hitter into the third inning before giving up a one-out single to fellow rookie Jarred Kelenic.

Houck proceeded to yield another single to Tom Murphy that should have put runners at the corners, but instead scored a run and put a runner at second base when Hunter Renfroe attempted to gun down Kelenic at third, though his throw eluded Rafael Devers and wound up going out of play.

Kelenic was able to score as a result of Renfroe’s miscue, while Houck walked J.P. Crawford on four pitches, spiked a wild pitch into the dirt that put runners at second and third. The right-hander did get the second out of the third, but could not end it before serving up a two-run double down the left field line to Kyle Seager.

The momentum had shifted going into the fourth with the Mariners battling back to knot things up at three runs apiece. Houck, however, rebounded by punching out the side in the bottom half of the fourth before falling victim to Kelenic once again in the fifth.

The Mariners outfielder led off the fifth inning with a single back up the middle and proceeded to steal second base to put the potential go-ahead run in scoring position. Houck then fanned Tom Murphy for the first out of the frame, and that is when his day came to a close with the Seattle lineup turning back over.

Finishing with a final pitch count of 71 (45 strikes), the 25-year-old wrapped up his outing having allowed three runs — all earned — on four hits, one walk, and seven strikeouts over 4 1/3 innings of work.

Josh Taylor got the first call out of the bullpen from Red Sox manager Alex Cora, and the left-hander officially closed the book on Houck’s start by stranding the lone runner he inherited while recording the last two outs of the fifth.

Garrett Richards took over for Taylor in the sixth and worked his way around a leadoff single by inducing a 6-5-3 double play and getting a strikeout. The veteran righty was nearly rewarded for his effort a half inning later when a walk from Dalbec and two-out single from Iglesias put runners at the corners.

Alex Verdugo came off the bench to pinch-hit for Enrique Hernandez in that spot against right-handed Mariners reliever Paul Sewald and proceeded to lace a 102 mph line drive to left field.

Verdugo’s screamer, which had an expected batting average of .850, was caught by M’s left fielder Luke Fraley, however, and that kept things tied up at 3-3.

Richards, again, faced the minimum three batters in the seventh with the help of a smooth, inning-ending double play started by Iglesias.

After both Devers and J.D. Martinez reached base with two outs off Sewald in the eighth, Schwarber had an opportunity to replicate his late-game heroics from the night before, but flew out to center field to strand the pair of runners.

In the bottom half of the inning, Austin Davis got the first two outs despite Mitch Haniger reaching base on a throwing error committed by Devers, but Adam Ottavino was able work around that by fanning Ty France on three straight strikes.

With former Rays reliever Diego Castillo entering this game for the Mariners in the ninth, neither Dalbec, Christian Vazquez (pinch-hitting for Plawecki), nor Travis Shaw (pinch-hitting for Iglesias) mounted anything resembling a rally, as they were sat down in order.

Ottavino, having needed just three pitches to finish off the eighth, came back out for the ninth. He got the first two outs of the inning rather easily before plunking the pinch-hitting Jake Bauers in the leg. Bauers then stole second base while Kelenic was at the plate, but Ottavino left him there by fanning the top prospect to send this one to extras.

Before Ottavino came through when it mattered most, Jack Lopez had taken over for Shaw at second base. And since Shaw recorded the final out of the ninth, that meant Lopez started the 10th inning as the runner at second base.

With Erik Swanson now on the mound for Seattle, Boston got an immediate boost when Verdugo sliced a single to shallow left field. Lopez, who advanced up to third on Verdugo’s base hit, proceeded to score from there on a passed ball — giving the Red Sox their first lead since the second inning at 4-3.

A walk drawn by Renfroe and bloop single from Bogaerts filled the bases with one out for Martinez, who greeted new Mariners reliever Justus Sheffield by ripping a 107 mph RBI single to the left side of the infield that deflected off Crawford’s glove and brought in Renfroe from third.

That made it a 5-3 contest, but the Sox were not done there, as Schwarber provided some much-needed insurance by lining a two-run single to right field that plated both Bogaerts and Devers and opened up a 7-3 lead for his side.

Vazquez pushed across two more on a two-run, bases-loaded double down the right field line, thus capping off a six-run inning in which Boston sent 10 batters to the plate to give themselves a commanding 9-3 advantage.

Martin Perez was dispatched in the bottom half of the 10th. The left-hander, making his first appearance since being activated from the COVID-19 related injured list on Tuesday, did just that.

Perez did allow one unearned run, but ultimately slammed the door on the Mariners to preserve a 9-4 victory for the Sox.

With the win, the Red Sox secure their first series victory in Seattle since 2013 to finish off a 3-3 road trip and improve to 83-65 on the season. They also remain tied with the Blue Jays for the top American League Wild Card spot.

Next up: Welcoming in the Orioles to kick off the final homestand of 2021

The Red Sox will board a flight to Boston and enjoy a well-deserved off day on Thursday before opening up a three-game weekend series against the lowly Orioles at Fenway Park on Friday night.

Neither team has yet to name a starter for Friday’s series opener, but Boston is expected to activate ace left-hander Chris Sale from the COVID-19 related injured list — meaning that responsibility would fall to him.

Friday’s contest against the O’s will mark the beginning of the Sox’ final (eight-game) homestand of the season. First pitch from Fenway Park is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. eastern time on NESN.

(Picture of Kyle Schwarber: Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

Bobby Dalbec homers once again, but Red Sox fall short, 4-3, in series opener against White Sox

On a night where the two teams directly behind them in the American League Wild Card race both lost, the Red Sox were unable to take advantage of the opportunity in front of them and instead dropped their series opener to the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field.

Boston fell to Chicago by a final score of 4-3 on Friday night, marking their fourth loss in their five games.

Tanner Houck, making his 11th start and 13th overall appearance of the season for the Sox, was quite simply not as sharp as he was in his last time out.

Coming off an outing in which he tossed five scoreless innings where he walked none and struck out seven against the Indians last Saturday, Houck’s command of the strike zone was not as sharp on Friday.

Over just 3 2/3 innings of work, the right-hander surrendered four runs — three of which were earned — on four hits, three walks, and one hit batsman to go along with one strikeout on the night.

After maneuvering his way around a walk in the first and putting up a 1-2-3 second, Houck ran into some trouble in the bottom of the third, where he was just one out — and one pitch — away from escaping a jam with runners at first and second base.

Rather than getting out of the jam, though, Houck served up a 378-foot three-run home run to the vaunted Jose Abreu off a hanging, 0-2 slider on the outer half of the plate.

Houck’s struggles did not end there, as he issued a two-out single to Eloy Jimenez before plunking Yasmani Grandal to put runners at first and second once more, but got out of the inning when Christian Vazquez gunned down Jimenez at second base for the final out.

Still, even after running into an out, the White Sox added on to their three-run lead in the fourth, with Gavin Sheets leading off by reaching first base on a Jose Iglesias fielding error while playing in the shift, moving up to second on a six-pitch walk of Brian Goodwin, and up to third on a Cesar Hernandez groundout.

Once again, Houck was just one out from getting through four full frames, but instead allowed that runner from third to score on an RBI single off the bat of Luis Robert that gave Chicago a 4-0 lead and marked the end of the line for the rookie righty as he got the hook from Red Sox manager Alex Cora.

Finishing with a final pitch count of 70 (39 strikes), the 25-year-old hurler was ultimately hit with his fourth loss of the year while raising his ERA on the season to 3.54.

In relief of Houck, left-hander Darwinzon Hernandez got the first call from Cora out of the Boston bullpen in order to face the switch-hitting Yoan Moncada from the right side of the plate.

Hernandez, in his first appearance since late July after being reinstated from the 10-day injured list on Friday, beaned Moncada to load the bases, but rebounded by getting Abreu to ground out to retire the side.

To that point in the contest, a J.D. Martinez-less Red Sox lineup had been held in check by White Sox All-Star starter Carlos Rodon. Bobby Dalbec, though, had other plans to lead off the top half of the fifth, as he stayed hot by crushing a 414-foot solo shot to deep left field.

Dalbec’s 21st home run of 2021 got the Sox on the board to make it a 3-1 game, but Rodon rallied by sitting down the final three batters he faced while former Red Sox prospect Michael Kopech got the first two outs of the sixth before running into some trouble himself.

Having seen Enrique Hernandez and Kyle Schwarber both punch out ahead of him, Hunter Renfroe changed the tone by drawing a five-pitch walk off Kopech and promptly moved up to second on a hard-hit single off the bat of Xander Bogaerts.

That brought Rafael Devers to the plate representing the tying run, and he — now matched up against left-handed reliever Aaron Bummer — could only manage a sharply-hit, inning-ending groundout that stranded yet another runner in scoring position.

Following scoreless innings of relief from Hernandez (in the fifth) and Michael Feliz (in the sixth), Dalbec again proved to be an offensive catalyst in his side’s half of the seventh.

With Ryan Tepera on the mound for Chicago, Dalbec lifted a leadoff triple just out of the reach of Goodwin in right field and quickly scored on an RBI groundout courtesy of Vazquez.

Danny Santana followed by ripping a single to right field and advanced into scoring position on a wild pitch from Tepera.

Alex Verdugo, coming off the bench to pinch-hit for Jose Iglesias in that spot, brought in Santana from second by lifting a 196-foot run-scoring single to left field.

That cut Boston’s deficit down to one run at 4-3, but they were unable to push across another runner in that particular inning.

After Adam Ottavino danced his way around a leadoff walk in the bottom of the seventh, former Red Sox closer and current White Sox reliever Craig Kimbrel countered by stranding a runner of his own in the top of the eighth.

Ryan Brasier, who took over for Ottavino, put two of the four batters he faced on base, while Josh Taylor came in and plunked Moncada to load the bases with two outs.

Taylor did manage to strand the bases loaded by fanning Abreu to keep it at a one-run game going into the ninth, where the bottom of the Boston lineup would be squaring up against another All-Star in Liam Hendriks.

Vazquez led off the ninth with an infield single and moved up to second on a groundout from Santana.

With the potential tying run in scoring position, Verdugo grounded out sharply to shortstop for the second out of the inning, while Travis Shaw — pinch-hitting for Hernandez — flew out to center field for the third out, meaning 4-3 would go on to be Friday’s final score.

With the loss, the Red Sox fall to 80-63 on the season as their lead over the Yankees for the first American League Wild Card spot remains at one full game.

Next up: Seabold(?) vs. Cease

The Red Sox have yet to officially name a starter for the middle game of this three-game set on Saturday, though it seems likely that that responsibility will fall to right-handed pitching prospect Connor Seabold, who traveled with the club to Chicago as part of their taxi squad.

The White Sox, meanwhile, will turn to fellow right-hander Dylan Cease as they look to secure a series win.

First pitch Saturday is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. eastern time on NESN.

(Picture of Bobby Dalbec: Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Alex Verdugo delivers with walk-off single as Red Sox extend winning streak to four straight with 4-3 victory over Indians

In the midst of a COVID-19 outbreak that could ravage other teams’ postseason aspirations, the Red Sox are proving that they should still be taken seriously despite having placed nine players on the COVID-related injured list.

Saturday was just the latest instance of this resilience, as the Sox fought their way to a 4-3 walk-off victory over the Indians at Fenway Park to push their winning streak to four consecutive games.

Tanner Houck, making his 10th start and 12th overall appearance of the season for Boston, laid out the groundwork for his team’s fourth straight win by keeping Cleveland off the scoreboard while scattering just three hits, zero walks, and seven strikeouts over five strong innings of work.

Having just faced off the Indians on the road last weekend, Houck proved to be much more in control this time around by demonstrating better command on the mound.

The right-hander dealt with some traffic on the base paths, such as a leadoff single in the first inning or leadoff double in the third inning, but was otherwise solid as he retired the final nine batters he faced in order through the end of the fifth.

At that moment in time, Houck’s pitch count was relatively low, but Red Sox manager Alex Cora did not want him to go up against the Indians lineup for a third time, so his night promptly came to an end there.

Finishing with a final pitch count of 68 (47 strikes), the 25-year-old hurler did not factor into Saturday’s decision, though he did lower his ERA on the season to 3.26.

In relief of Houck, left-hander Austin Davis got the first call out of the bullpen in the sixth inning of a scoreless contest and immediately surrendered a leadoff double to Andres Gimenez to put the potential go-ahead run in scoring position.

Davis did manage to get the next two outs, but did so while allowing Gimenez to steal third before intentionally walking the dangerous Jose Ramirez and issuing another free pass to Bobby Bradley.

That sequence led to the Indians loading the bases with two outs in the sixth, and it led to Cora turning to Hansel Robles to get out of the jam.

Robles, in turn, got Harold Ramirez to rip a 97.2 mph grounder back up the middle that deflected off his foot and rolled over to Bobby Dalbec at first base in time to get the final out.

Phillips Valdez followed in Robles’ footsteps by tossing a scoreless top of the seventh, granting the Red Sox lineup to put something together in their half of the frame.

To that point, the Boston bats had been stymied by Indians starter Eli Morgan, but were able to get it going once the Cleveland bullpen took over.

Christian Vazquez led off against Nick Wittgren by lacing a hard-hit single to center field. Jack Lopez followed by moving Vazquez up to second on a successful sacrifice bunt, while Jonathan Arauz followed suit by advancing to Vazquez to third on a groundout.

Those two productive outs put the Sox in a promising position as the lineup flipped back over for Kyle Schwarber, who greeted new Indians reliever Blake Parker by drawing a five-pitch walk to put runners at the corners for Rafael Devers.

After working a full count on the first five pitches he saw from Parker, Devers took the sixth pitch — a juicy 92 mph fastball on the outer half of the plate — and came through with the clutchest hit of the ballgame to that point by clubbing a 419-foot three-run homer well over the Green Monster.

Not only did Devers’ 33rd home run of the season set a new career-high for the young All-Star and bring him up to 100 RBI on the year, it also gave the Red Sox their first lead of the night at 3-0.

Valdez, after retiring the side in order in the seventh, did the very same in the eighth, meaning the Sox were just three outs away from securing a series win over the Indians.

Adam Ottavino, however, had different plans, as he gave up a leadoff single to Ramirez to begin things in the ninth before yielding an RBI double to Bradley, making it a 3-1 game in favor of Boston.

The veteran reliever did get the first two outs of the ninth and was one strike away from retiring the pinch-hitting Franmil Reyes, but instead served up a game-tying, two-run home run to Reyes, thus knotting things up at three runs apiece.

To their credit, the Red Sox did not waver even after seeing their three-run lead come off the board. Travis Shaw, pinch-hitting for Lopez, led off the bottom of the ninth off Indians reliever Bryan Shaw by reaching base via an infield single.

Shaw was then replaced by the pinch-running Taylor Motter, who moved up to second on yet another sacrifice bunt from Arauz.

Schwarber then flew out to center field against Alex Young, while Devers drew a five-pitch walk off the newly-inserted Cleveland reliever.

J.D. Martinez got ahead in the count at 2-0, and was promptly intentionally walked to fill the bases with two outs for Alex Verdugo.

Verdugo, motivated by the Indians intentionally walking to get to Martinez since they had a left-hander in Young on the mound, made Cleveland pay for their decision by drilling a walk-off, run-scoring single over the head of Daniel Johnson in right field.

Motter was able to easily score from third on Verdugo’s late-game heroics, and the Sox came away with a 4-3 victory as a result.

By extending their winning streak to four straight games on Saturday, the Red Sox improved to 79-59 on the season and are once again 20 games over .500 for the first time since July 31.

With the Yankees and Athletics both losing on Saturday, Boston now has a four-game lead over Oakland for the second American League Wild Card spot and only trail New York by 1/2 a game for the first American League Wild Card spot.

Next up: Pivetta vs. Plesac

The Red Sox will send right-hander Nick Pivetta to the mound as they look to complete the three-game sweep of the Indians on Sunday afternoon.

Pivetta will be going up against fellow righty Zach Plesac, who will be making his 21st start of the season for the Indians.

First pitch Sunday is scheduled for 1:10 p.m. eastern time on NESN and TBS.

(Picture of Alex Verdugo: Jim Rogash/Getty Images)