Trevor Story makes game-saving play as Red Sox hold on for 4-3 win over Rays

The Red Sox kicked off one of their longest road trips of the season with a series-opening win over the Rays in St. Petersburg on Friday night. Boston barely defeated Tampa Bay by a final score 4-3 at Tropicana Field to improve to 7-7.

Matched up against a familiar foe in Corey Kluber to begin things, the Sox wasted no time in attacking the Rays starter. A pair of first-inning singles from leadoff man Trevor Story and Xander Bogaerts put runners at the corners for Alex Verdugo, who drove in Story on an RBI single back up the middle. Bogaerts himself scored on an RBI groundout from Jackie Bradley Jr.

Given an early 2-0 lead to work with out of the gate, Michael Wacha was rudely greeted to begin his third start of the season. With one out in the bottom of the first, the right-hander served up his first of two solo shots to Rays phenom Wander Franco. This one left Franco’s bat at 109.7 mph and traveled 389 feet into the right field seats to make it a 2-1 game.

The Sox were able to respond, though, and that happened when Rafael Devers led off the third inning with his third home run of the season. On a 1-0, 84 mph cutter from Kluber, Devers clubbed a 380-foot solo shot down the right field line to give his side a 3-1 edge. Bogaerts tacked on another by lacing a 107 mph double and scoring on a one-out RBI single off the bat of Enrique Hernandez. Travis Shaw nearly extended the inning with a three-run home run down the right field line like Devers’, but it was instead deemed a foul ball and Shaw struck out.

With a three-run cushion to operate with now, Wacha received some help from his infield in the bottom of the third. After putting runners on first and second with two outs, Bogaerts robbed Yandy Diaz of an extra-base hit by snatching a 110.7 mph line drive in mid-air to extinguish the threat.

An inning later, Story made a sprawling grab up the middle to rob Manuel Margot of a one-out single. Wacha continued to roll on through the fourth and was one out way from getting through a scoreless fifth. Franco prevented that from happening, though, as he took the righty deep once more to cut Tampa Bay’s deficit to two. Randy Arozarena struck out to end the fifth, which would wind up being Wacha’s final inning.

Finishing with a final pitch count of 82 (50 strikes), Wacha surrendered just two runs on three hits and two walks to go along with three strikeouts in his five innings. The 30-year-old hurler turned to his four-seam fastball and changeup a combined 69% of the time he was on the mound Friday.

In relief of Wacha, Austin Davis received the first call from acting manager Will Venable out of the Boston bullpen in the sixth inning. With some help from Verdugo, who recorded his second outfield assist of the year by gunning down Yandy Diaz at second base, the left-hander faced the minimum on 17 pitches — 10 of which went for strikes. Fellow southpaw Matt Strahm was next up for the eighth and immediately gave up a leadoff single to Margot.

Kevin Kiermaier effectively traded places with Margot while grounding into the first out of the inning. Kiermaier then went from first to third on a Mike Zunino single that was accompanied by a Bogaerts throwing error and scored from third on a Brandon Lowe groundout.

With two outs in the seventh inning of a 4-3 game, Venable went back to the bullpen and brought in Hansel Robles to face off against Franco. Forcing the switch-hitter to hit from the left side of the plate, Robles got Franco to fly out to Verdugo in left to strand the potential tying run at second base.

Robles’ job was not yet done, however, as the hard-throwing right-hander came back out for the eighth. He struck out one and induced a pair of groundouts to send things along to the ninth inning.

Jake Diekman was unable to lock things down in the ninth. The left-hander instead walked the bases loaded while recording the first two outs of the frame to leave things in the hands of Matt Barnes.

Branes was brought in to face Franco and had nowhere to put him. Looking to reclaim his role as Boston’s closer, Barnes got Franco to ground out to Story, though it was no easy play.

After sliding to his left to field the 101 mph grounder, Story quickly got back to his feet and made the throw over to Bobby Dalbec at first base to record the final out. Barnes was credited with his first save of the year as he closes out the 4-3 victory.

Next up: Whitlock set to make first career start

As the Red Sox go for their second straight win over the Rays on Saturday, right-hander Garrett Whitlock will be making his first career big-league start for Boston. Tampa Bay has yet to announce who will be starting for them.

Regardless, first pitch is scheduled for 6:10 p.m. eastern time on NESN.

(Picture of Enrique Hernandez and Trevor Story: Mike Carlson/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 spoil Wander Franco’s debut, battle back to defeat Rays, 9-5, in 11 innings; Hunter Renfroe homers, collects 3 RBI against former team

The Red Sox kicked off one of the most crucial stretches of their season with an action-packed, drama-filled 9-5 victory in 11 innings over the Rays at Tropicana Field on Tuesday night.

Eduardo Rodriguez made his 14th start of the year for Boston and was immediately the recipient of some poor defense behind him.

Rafael Devers misplayed a groundball that allowed leadoff man Yandy Diaz to reach base on a fielding error to begin things in the first inning, while a Xander Bogaerts fielding error with the bases loaded resulted in two more Rays runs crossing the plate on what was originally a Francisco Mejia RBI single.

Rodriguez was able to settle in for a bit, however, and the Red Sox lineup backed him up by putting together a five-run rally in their half of the third.

Matched up against reliever Ryan Yarbrough, J.D. Martinez cleared the bases on a two-run double that was followed by a Bogaerts single, a Devers sacrifice fly, and a two-run home run off the bat off ex-Rays outfielder Hunter Renfroe — his ninth homer of the season.

With a brand new 5-2 lead to work with, Rodriguez strung together two more scoreless frames before running into more trouble in the fifth. There, the left-hander set the tone in a negative way by plunking the first batter he faced in Kevin Kiermaier.

A groundball single from Diaz advanced Kiermaier into scoring position and brought the tying run to the plate in the form of Wander Franco, the consensus top prospect in all of baseball who was making his big-league debut for Tampa Bay on Tuesday.

After drawing a walk in the first inning and flying out in the third inning, Franco certainly made this third at-bat of the night count, as he deposited a game-tying three-run home run to deep left field off a slider at his knees from Rodriguez.

Having his seen his side’s three-run lead disappear, Rodriguez did escape the fifth with some help from Christian Vazquez nabbing a runner at second and wrapped up his night by retiring the final three hitters he faced in the sixth to end things on a more positive note.

Finishing with a final pitch count of 90 (57 strikes), the 28-year-old hurler winds up allowing six runs — three of which were earned — on seven hits, one walk, one hit batsman, and seven strikeouts in the process of picking up the no-decision. His next start should come against the Yankees back at Fenway Park on Sunday.

By the time Rodriguez retired the final out of the sixth to send this contest to the seventh inning, the Red Sox offense had gone completely silent after putting up five runs in the third and remained that way for quite a while.

In the meantime, the Red Sox bullpen went to work with Josh Taylor tossing yet another scoreless inning of relief in the seventh, Adam Ottavino dancing his way around trouble in the eighth, and Matt Barnes preserving a 5-5 stalemate in the ninth, but not before issuing a leadoff walk to the potential winning run in Kiermaier and getting out of it on a force out at second base that Kiermaier interfered with since he intentionally knocked the ball out of Enrique Hernandez’s glove while advancing towards second.

Hirokazu Sawamura took over in the 10th, got the first two outs thanks to a bizarre base running decision from Brett Phillips, and made way for Darwinzon Hernandez, who got Brandon Lowe to ground out to second to retire the side.

After an eight-inning hiatus, the Boston bats came to life in the 11th, with catching prospect Connor Wong making his major-league debut pinch-running for Martinez at second base to begin the inning.

Wong would wind up playing a key role in the Sox’ comeback, as he advanced to third on a Bogaerts single and came into score the go-ahead run on another two-run double courtesy of Devers off Rays righty Pete Fairbanks.

Renfroe tacked on a much-needed insurance run by plating Devers on a hard-hit single to pick up his third RBI of the night, while Enrique Hernandez put his side up 9-5 with a sacrifice fly that scored Renfroe from third.

Darwinzon Hernandez remained in the game to close things out, and he did just that by tossing a 1-2-3 11th inning to notch his second win of the season as well as a 9-5 victory for the Sox.

With the win, their fourth of this current eight-game road trip, the Red Sox improve to 44-29 on the year while increasing their lead over the Rays, who have now dropped seven straight, for first place in the American League East to 1 1/2 games.

Some notes from the Red Sox’ 25th come-from-behind win of the season:

From NESN’s Tom Caron:

From Stats by STATS:

From Red Sox Notes:

Next up: Richards vs. Hill

The Red Sox will send right-hander Garrett Richards as they go for the series win over the Rays on Wednesday night.

The Rays will counter with veteran left-hander, former Sox hurler, and Milton, Mass. native Rich Hill as they look to avoid their eighth straight defeat.

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

(Picture of Xander Bogaerts and Hunter Renfroe: Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

Wander Franco, baseball’s top prospect, to be called up by Rays ahead of this week’s series against Red Sox

The top prospect in baseball will most likely be making his major-league debut against the Red Sox this week.

That’s right, the Tampa Bay Rays will be calling up infield prospect Wander Franco ahead of Tuesday’s series opener against the Sox at Tropicana Field, according to the Tampa Bay Times’ Marc Topkin.

Franco, 20, is regarded by Baseball America as the No. 1 prospect in Major League Baseball and has been for the last two seasons.

Originally signing with the Rays out of the Dominican Republic for $3.85 million in the early stages of the 2017 international signing period, the switch-hitting infielder has since emerged as one of the game’s top young talents while being compared to the likes of the Indians’ Jose Ramirez and Blue Jays’ Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

This season alone, Franco has lit it up with Triple-A Durham, slashing .315/.367/.586 with 11 doubles, six triples, seven home runs, 35 RBI, 30 runs scored, 12 walks, 21 strikeouts, and five stolen bases over 39 games played (177 plate appearances).

Listed at 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, Franco is a natural shortstop, but has also seen time at both second and third base with Durham this year and is likely to move around the infield when he joins the Rays as well.

Per his Baseball America scouting report, Franco “is an exceptionally advanced hitter for his age. The switch-hitter’s compact, level stroke and above-average bat speed from both sides of the plate grant him a controlled aggression most young hitters can’t match. His bat control allows him to make consistent hard contact while rarely striking out. He also has an innate ability to adjust his swing, leaving few holes for pitchers to attack. Franco stings the ball and has plus power potential, but his level swing leads to more line drives and ground balls than fly balls. He has shown in team competitions that he can put on a show in a home run derby. Franco’s body has already filled out. He is an average runner who will have to work to keep his speed with a thick, muscular lower half.

“Defensively, Franco’s soft hands, above-average arm and solid understanding of the game give him a shot to stay at shortstop, where he’s a potentially average defender. The Rays played him at second base and third base at the alternate site [last year] to help prepare for the possibility he could break into the majors at another spot. He has the tools to be an above-average or even plus defender at second or third.”

Assuming Franco, whose father and two older brothers played in the minors while two of his uncles — Erick and Willy Aybar — played in the majors, does make his big-league debut at the Trop this week, this will be the second time in four seasons the Rays have debuted one of their top prospects when going up against the Red Sox.

Back on May 22, 2018, shortstop Willy Adames, then Tampa Bay’s No. 2 overall prospect according to Baseball America, also made his major-league debut when the Sox were in town in St. Petersburg.

Adames, who is still just 25 years old, has since been dealt to the Milwaukee Brewers. That trade took place as recently as last month, with the Rays presumably making the move with the future of Franco in mind.

The Rays themselves have been on a bit of a tailspin of late, as they have dropped six straight to fall a half game back of the Red Sox for first place in the American League East.

Boston and Tampa Bay open up a three-game series in St. Pete on Tuesday night, and the likelihood of such a highly-touted prospect such as Franco making his long-awaited debut just adds more value to what should be a riveting week of baseball for both clubs.

(Picture of Wander Franco: Michael Reaves/Getty Images)