I apologize in advance for my extreme optimism. I’m writing this piece less than a day after the Red Sox’s 6-5 win over the Yankees on Saturday. That, of course, was the Sox’s third straight as they look to put a dagger in New York’s postseason hopes. The win, coupled with Baltimore and Toronto losses, also put the Red Sox up three games in the AL East with two weeks left in the regular season. Regardless of what happened on Sunday [Editor’s Note: Sunday was good], they’re in a good spot heading into their four-game series with the Orioles.
The Red Sox have been considered a front-running team throughout the season. Their major league-leading offense has propelled them to a number of blowout wins, but they’re also 17-22 in one-run games entering Sunday’s action. Pitchers’ duels, meanwhile, still leave me uneasy. The Sox have recently shown a flair for the dramatic, and it’s coming at the most appropriate time. One of the beautiful things about baseball is its lack of a clock. The game is truly never over until the final out is made. And Boston is making the most of those outs.
Comeback wins have been the norm of late. That was most evident in the team’s matchups with the Blue Jays and Yankees. The Sox rallied multiple times on Sunday, Sept. 11, to take the rubber match of their three-game set in Toronto, highlighted by David Ortiz’s go-ahead three-run blast in the sixth inning.
Thursday’s win was impossible to forget. The Red Sox trailed the Yankees 5-1 in the eighth, then 5-2 with two outs in the ninth before collecting three straight hits and winning on Hanley Ramirez’s mammoth walk-off home run off a fastball from Dellin Betances. It was arguably the biggest win of the season.
Saturday’s win was a little less dramatic, but equally exciting and certainly important. The Red Sox overcame a pair of three-run deficits thanks to a three-run, three-hit, three-RBI day from Xander Bogaerts, three hits from Ramirez and another RBI from Ortiz.
The Red Sox’s offense, one might say, has been clutch. They’re hitting a major-league best .289 with runners in scoring position this season, and also lead the way with a .264 average with runners in scoring position with two outs. That success has been on display in their recent comebacks. The Sox, however, haven’t necessarily looked clutch throughout many points of the season. There were stretches throughout July and August when the offense was sputtering, not the starting pitching or even the bullpen. Some of that was chalked up to a hot team going cold, or the late-season schedule catching up to them.
You also can’t forget the Red Sox’s youth and inexperience. Sure, Mookie Betts is having an MVP-caliber season, but Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. have struggled since August, Travis Shaw might be the team’s worst hitter and Andrew Benintendi still only has 23 major-league games under his belt. Some of those deficiencies are still apparent. But fortunately for the Red Sox, there’s still firepower left in the bats of Ortiz, Ramirez and Dustin Pedroia. Those veterans are the guys leading the comeback victories. Their September runs have Boston in this position.
Let’s start with Ortiz. He’s slashing .364/.434/.682 in September, bringing his true average up to a team-high .328 for the year. He’s homered three times and driven in 14 runs. No two blasts were bigger than the one in Toronto eight days ago, and Thursday’s solo homer in the eighth before the ninth-inning rally.
Ramirez, meanwhile, is playing the best he has since signing with the Sox last season. His two home runs Sunday night give him nine for the month and owns a .356/.415/.746 slash line. Many of those hits this month have come in key situations.
Then there’s Pedroia. His season has been MVP-caliber as well and he’s been by far Boston’s best hitter over the past two months, slashing .406/.440/.475 in August and .359/.391/.453 thus far in September. The latter two have been especially easy to forget this season thanks to Ortiz’s retirement tour and the continued progression of the Red Sox’s young players, but they’ve made their presence felt at the most pivotal time of year.
If we’re going to discuss clutch, I’d be foolish be leave out the bullpen. On Sept. 2, Matt Kory reminded us all of just how terrible the bullpen has been for most of the season, especially in high-leverage situations. The Sox’s pen has since turned a corner, and it’s what has made these dramatic wins possible. Koji Uehara has yet to allow a run since his return from the disabled list, looking more like his former self. Matt Barnes has surrendered just four hits since Aug. 30, and is starting to be leaned on in later innings. Brad Ziegler has given up a single unearned run in his last 11.1 innings. And as I wrote last week, Joe Kelly’s stuff out of the bullpen has been, well, great. I never thought I’d say this a month ago, but this bullpen is becoming reliable.
These are good times for the Red Sox. The drama of the tight division race and the comeback victories have only amped up the excitement. The Sox look like a clutch team. Their offense with runners in scoring position, veteran leadership and bullpen performances make it easy to believe. A couple weeks ago I told a friend I would be happy with the Sox simply making the playoffs. Their recent play has me wanting even more out of this team. If all goes the way it has been lately, that won’t be too much to ask.
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