Matt Barnes hasn't lived the life of a closer for some time.
By the time May 22 hit last season, he was certainly entrenched in such an existence, already notching 11 saves while striking out 40, walking just five and limiting opponents to a .120 batting average.
Coming into Saturday, however, Barnes had only faced six batters in save situations all season. His struggles had pushed him down the bullpen depth chart.
But with the Red Sox having completed their comeback from a five-run deficit with a go-ahead RBI single from Christian Vazquez in the eighth inning, the Red Sox needed a closer. This time Alex Cora turned to Barnes.
The result was a 1-2-3 ninth inning which included a leadoff strikeout and two straight line-outs, the final one coming off the bat of Ty France at a rate of 105.3 mph. But Kiké Hernandez would track down the 388-foot blast, offering a huge sigh of relief for the Red Sox and the last of five relievers.
For the Red Sox, it capped their 6-5 win over the Mariners, clinching their third consecutive series victory.
For Barnes, the opportunity was great, but actual outing - which saw his fastball sit consistently at 95-96 mph - was the true positive.
"Like I’ve told you guys the last few weeks, I think we’ve made some really good strides and we’ve put in a ton of work behind the scenes to get back to what is normal, and really felt like I was making a lot of good strides," Barnes said. "So to be able to go out there, the offense really stepped up today, coming up big in the bottom of the eighth, Vazky with the base knock to drive in the run, then to have the opportunity to be put in that position. And then obviously to be able to get it done and win a series against a good ball club over there, so that one felt really good."
So, why did Cora give Barnes the opportunity? According to the manager, it was out of a lot of necessity and some trust.
Tyler Danish (2 IP), Jake Diekman (1 IP), Hansel Robles (1 IP), and John Schreiber (1 IP) had already pitched, with Tanner Houck and Matt Strahm unavailable. (Austin Davis was warming at the end up just in case despite getting four outs the day before.)
Barnes was next up.
"A lot of people down," Cora said asked about the decision to go to Barnes for his second save of the season. "He has to get people out at one point. Schreiber, his third day, so we decided to go with him in that pocket facing the bottom of the lineup. We had a righty, a lefty and a righty. You got to trust him. At one point, he’s got to get people out at this level and help us win games. He grinded there and he got us three outs."
Cora added, "He threw strikes which is very important and we made some good pitches, he threw a few good breaking balls. He got the save and we won the game. It was a total team effort today. Garrett (Whitlock) wasn’t … he got hit hard today. Just trying to figure out how we get 27. Offensively, it felt like we were putting good at-bats early on in the game and it was going to be one of those games where we had a shot. We’re getting that feeling back. Even in the game that Nate (Eovaldi) pitched the other day, when they scored all those runs, we were one swing away from getting back in the game. It’s getting to that point now and like I said, that’s the fun part of this team.”