After struggling against teams with worse records throughout the first half of the season, the Red Sox are finally seizing the opportunity to pad their record. After a solid win in Friday night’s series opener, they overpowered the Oakland Athletics again on Saturday to the tune of a 10-3 win and series victory.
As he’s done for most of the season, James Paxton anchored his team. Over six innings, the American League Pitcher of the Month for June held the A’s to six hits, a walk, and three strikeouts. They tagged him for a pair of solo home runs, but nothing more.
It was simply the latest in a comeback season full of impressive starts. Dating back to the beginning of June, he’s has gone at least six innings and allowed no more than two earned runs in five of six starts; over that span, he owns a 1.93 ERA and 0.86 WHIP.
“Obviously, a different week, right? Probably not getting too much rest,” Alex Cora joked about his starter, who became a father of two earlier in the week when his wife gave birth to a baby girl. “It’s been a crazy week,” Paxton agreed.
The veteran left-hander, who missed almost all of 2021 and all of 2022 with injuries, is grateful for the consistency he’s found this season and the momentum he’ll carry into the second half.
“It feels really good. Now, I feel in a really good place like, mentally, on the mound, just attacking hitters,” he said. “It feels great just being able to compete at the level I’ve been able to compete at so far. And you know, as a team, we’re playing some really good baseball right now, so just excited to get back out there and keep on going.”
Brandon Walter took over in the seventh, and earned his first big-league save by pitching the remaining three innings. The rookie allowed one unearned run on three hits and struck out three.
As Paxton and Walter commanded on the mound, the Boston bats plowed through six Oakland pitchers. By the bottom of the fifth, the Red Sox were up 9-1 and had recorded their 10th hit of the game, which extended their streak of consecutive double-digit hit games to seven, the longest such streak in the majors this year, and their longest since July 25-Aug. 1, 2019. They have 39 double-digit hit games this season, tied for the second-most in the majors.
“It’s great seeing those guys swinging the bat so well, putting runs on the board. Always nice pitching with a big lead,” Paxton said appreciatively. “We’ve been battling our way through, and you know, you have ups and downs throughout a season. That’s going to happen. And we’re playing good baseball right now, and we’re just going to focus on continuing to do that, and try to get where we want to go.
It was a big day for for several players in the lineup. Justin Turner got the Red Sox on the board with a first-inning RBI single to extend both his hitting and RBI streaks to eight games, the latter being the longest active streak not only of his career, but in the majors. By going 2-for-5, Masataka Yoshida had his sixth consecutive multi-hit game, matching Anthony Santander (Orioles) and Julio Rodriguez (Mariners) for the longest streak in the game this year. Alex Verdugo went 2-for-4 with his seventh home run of the season; after going 45 games without a round-tripper between May 1 and July 1, he’s homered twice in his last six games. Triston Casas collected two doubles and scored twice.
But as has been the case in nearly every game recently, Jarren Duran was the star of the show. For the fourth time in his last five starts, he served as the leadoff hitter and got things started with a base hit and run scored in the first inning. On Saturday, he also included his 17th stolen base of the season before getting the Red Sox on the board.
The following inning, he blasted a 2-run homer to the Green Monster to push the lead to 5-0, then added an RBI double in the fifth. He finished the day 3-for-5 with three runs scored and three RBI, plus an impressive catch at the bullpen wall to rob a big hit.
“Man, he’s on fire right now,” Paxton said of his teammate. “It’s fun to watch, you know? He’s just such an athletic guy, and so many tools on the field, he’s an exciting player, glad he’s on our team.”
“(Duran’s) playing with confidence right now, you can tell,” his manager said. “The last few days, the last 10 days, he’s been amazing. Probably one of the best players in the league. Just leading the charge.”
“I think Jarren has been the key, outside of the other guys,” he added. “He’s been very dynamic.”
“I’m so pumped for him, and I’m really proud of him,” Chaim Bloom told the Herald earlier in the week. “This is a guy who matters a great deal to a lot of us and to this organization.
“When he’s struggled, we’ve struggled with him. He’s stayed with it,” the chief baseball officer added. “There’s so much failure in this game. That’s not the only thing that separates good players; what separates them is how they grow from it. He’s growing.”
The young centerfielder is about as locked in as any hitter can possibly be, but his focus is on the big picture.
“I’m just going out there, just trying to put good at-bats together for the team, and just do what I can for them,” he said modestly. “Just trying to get on base for the guys.”
Until the bottom of the seventh, the Red Sox plated at least one run in every inning. By game’s end, they’d collected 15 hits, including five doubles and two home runs. They could’ve put an even bigger hurt on the A’s; they were 6-for-13 with runners in scoring position and left eight men on base, including Verdugo leaving the bases loaded, and Kiké Hernández going 0-for-4, the only member of the starting lineup without at least one hit.
Struggling offensively and defensively, Hernández could certainly do with a reset. Or as Duran said, “Some guys need the rest, and that’s really important for the team.”
Entering their final contest before the All-Star break, the Red Sox have a four-game winning streak, and victories in seven of their last eight. A positive turn of events is how they’ve overpowered struggling teams along with the powerhouses.
If they can complete a series sweep on Sunday and ride that momentum into the second half. Duran feels confident that they can surprise people.
“I think a really good team, and I think we’re just keeping our heads down and we’re just working right now. We don’t need anybody to put the spotlight on us, we’ll just be keeping our heads down, working, and then, by the end, guys will be like, ‘Wow, I didn’t even see that happening,” he said.
“I like the way we’re working.”
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