ST. LOUIS — A start from a broken pitcher that went way better than anyone might have guessed. A three-run homer from the most unlikely of men. On a night when the smart money was lining up against the Boston Red Sox, the storylines didn’t go the way they were supposed to go, resulting in a 4-2 Red Sox win and a series that is now tied at two games a piece.
About those pesky storylines:
- Clay Buchholz’s arm was supposed to be 87% Nutella and jelly swirl — and maybe it was given his decreased velocity — but he somehow made it through four innings allowing only a single unearned run. The over/under on columns describing his performance as “gutsy” tomorrow morning is approximately six gabillion. And I’m taking the over.
- The ground ball specialist Seth Maness was called in to bail out Lance Lynn with two out and runners on in the sixth inning, on a night when home plate umpire Paul Emmel was calling low, low strikes. He’s supposed to induce a worm burner but he left a sinker high. Oops.
- That high sinker was delivered to The Totally Ineffective Jonny Gomes, who was supposed to be pumping one of the handles on the two-man handcar bound for oblivion with Jarrod Saltalamacchia as Game 4 commenced. But thanks to back tightness Shane Victorino was pulled, forcing Gomes into the game. Naturally, he hit a three-run homer.
But more than anything, The Red Sox, who walked off the field with their heads hanging low after Saturday night’s crazy loss, were supposed to be demoralized and broken. So much for that storyline too. And make that strike 937 against the idea that momentum is a thing in baseball.
What is a thing? David Ortiz knocking three hits and a walk, putting him at 8 for 11 this World Series and at .430+ in World Series play over his career. He didn’t knock in any runs tonight but he scored two and, Jonny Gomes’ heroics notwithstanding, is carrying this Red Sox team offensively.
Also a thing: John Farrell learning from his mistakes from Saturday night and not sticking with guys too long. Pulling Buchholz when he did. Pinch running for Ortiz when he got on base for the fourth time and using Mike Napoli as his defensive replacement. Not that he went fully conventional. He brought John Lackey in to pitch relief in the eighth. It was his first work from the pen in nine years. The performance was a bit shaky thanks to some bad defense behind him, but it ended up not killing him.
Those were just details, though. The important thing is that, on a night when a loss would have likely killed the Sox’ hope at winning this World Series, they gathered themselves together in businesslike fashion and delivered the sort of win that teams who aren’t upset, rattled or demoralized deliver. “We haven’t lost four games in a row all year,” their actions seemed to say tonight, “so we certainly weren’t going to lose four straight in the World Series.” A World Series that is now tied 2-2. And that is now guaranteed to head back to Fenway Park for a Game 6 on Wednesday night.
But first a Game 5 in St. Louis on Monday. In a series that refuses to follow a script.
There’s certainly never a bad time to hit a home run, but when you get the opportunity to crush a triple-deck, 493-foot shot off of Tyler Duffey, you should take it. With the Mariners down 2-0 to the Twins in the fourth inning, Cruz hammered a fastball to deep left field for his 39th long ball of the season — and the second-longest home run hit in 2016, to boot.
It doesn’t hurt that the Mariners are 1.5 games back of a playoff spot, although they’ll have to oust the Blue Jays, Orioles, or Tigers to get a wild card. They’ve gone 3-3 in the last week, dropping two consecutive series to the Astros and Blue Jays and taking their series opener against Minnesota 10-1 on Friday night.
Cruz, for his part, entered Saturday’s game with a .299/.337/.610 batting line and six home runs in September. According to ESPN.com’s Home Run Tracker, Cruz sits behind Edwin Encarnacion and Mike Napoli with 13 “no-doubt” home runs in 2016, third-most among major league sluggers. It’s safe to say he can add Saturday’s moonshot to that list.
Marlins’ outfielder and undisputed home run king Giancarlo Stanton remains untouched at the top of the Statcast leaderboard with a 504-ft. home run, and it’s difficult to envision any slugger reaching beyond that before the end of the season. Even so, Cruz won’t need to clear 500 feet to extend an impressive hitting record. One more home run will put the 36-year-old at 40 on the year, making 2016 his third consecutive season with at least 40 homers, and his second such season doing so in Seattle.
It’s been a strange season for Red Sox’ third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who lost his starting role in spring training, went 0-for-6 in three regular season appearances, and underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in May. That was the last the Red Sox were supposed to hear about Sandoval until spring 2017, when he was expected to rejoin the team after a lengthy rehab stint in Florida.
On Saturday, manager John Farrell was telling a different story. Per MLB.com’s Sam Blum, Farrell hinted that Sandoval could return to the team as soon as October, albeit in a very limited capacity.
At the time of the surgery, it was all looking at the start of next Spring Training,” Farrell said. “We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves here, but at the same time, we compliment him for the work he’s put in, the way he’s responded to the rehab, the way he’s worked himself into better condition. We’re staying open-minded.
If the 30-year-old does return in 2016, don’t expect him to look like the three-home run hitter of the 2012 World Series. Should the Red Sox lose another player to injury, Sandoval might be called on as a backup option, but he’s unlikely to see substantial playing time under any other circumstances. Despite making two appearances at DH in the instructional league, Sandoval has not started at third base since undergoing surgery, though Farrell noted that a return to third base would be the next logical step in his recovery process.
Sandoval has yet to hit his stride within the Red Sox’ organization after hitting career-worst numbers in 2015. According to FanGraphs, his Offensive Runs Above Average (Off) plummeted to -20.2, contributing approximately two wins fewer than the average offensive player in 2015. (The Diamondbacks’ Chris Owings held the lowest Off mark in 2015, with -26.3 runs below average.) Sandoval has not appeared in a postseason race since the Giants’ championship run in 2014.
Heading into Saturday evening, the Red Sox could clinch their spot in the postseason with a win over the Rays and an Orioles’ loss.