Pap lets loose
This was part of the promise.
Sure, the Red Sox were wallowing for the better part of the month. And maybe that existence in the Wild Card standings was getting more and more uncomfortable by the day. But ...
Just wait. This wasn't the team that would be representing Alex Cora and Co. when it counted the most. Reinforcements were on the way. Sunday night, it sure seemed like the narrative had some teeth.
One of those "wait-until-they-get-back" guys, Michael Wacha, presented the image of an absolute game-changer, shutting down the Yankees over seven innings, giving up just two hits. Pitching for the first time since June 28, Wacha retired each of his first 14 batters on just 47 pitches.
The entire package - that was wrapped up in a 3-0 win over the Yankees - offered a reminder of better times.
When last we saw Wacha he was one of the better stories for the Red Sox, carrying a 2.69 ERA in 13 starts. Back then the Red Sox were nine games over .500, feeling like it was solely a matter of positioning themselves for the best Wild Card matchup.
But since news came down that Wacha's arm wasn't right, the Red Sox had gone 14-26, plummeting to last-place in the American League East and 4 1/2 games out of a Wild Card berth. On top of it all, they were not faced with the task of keeping their collective head above water with a series finale against the big, bad Yankees.
"He was in command the whole night, ahead in the count, right through 85 pitches or whatever it was," Cora said. "Very efficient. His tempo is great. It makes the defense better. And we made some plays behind him. You look up and you see his numbers, he was really good for us early on. He was one of the reasons we were playing good baseball. To have him back means a lot."
Lo and behold, hope did remain at least somewhat in the Red Sox' corner.
Wacha was excellent. Ryan Brasier continued to be the kind of set-up man the team desperately needs. Garrett Whitlock looks more and more like his old self each time out. And Rafael Devers? Well, Devers pushed aside any concerns of a late-season downturn with an absolutely mammoth 433-foot two-run homer.
Cora didn't say it, but you know he wanted to repeat a familiar mantra ... "Now, we go."
On top of Wacha's return, the Red Sox have found another starting rotation revelation in Kutter Crawford along the way. And when we next see them in Pittsburgh, the outfield defense will be getting an upgrade thanks to the return of Kiké Hernandez, who hasn't played since June 7.
Matt Strahm. Trevor Story. Brayan Bello. Perhaps Tanner Houck. They are all on the cusp of coming back to join this final push. Is it too little, too late, with the Red Sox sitting 4 1/2 games out of a Wild Card spot? Perhaps.
But at least the Red Sox were able to keep conversation going a bit longer. Without Wacha and this win, that might not have been an option.
"Enjoy the off-day tomorrow and be ready to play in Pittsburgh," Cora said. "We’re in the business of winning series. Finally, we won one against the East – er, two in a row, sorry. But it's important. The offense, at one point, we're gonna get going. Those guys are gonna hit. Xander (Bogaerts) is gonna hit. J.D. (Martinez) is gonna hit. They’re gonna do their part. Those guys carried us for a while and they can get hot, too, right now and do the same thing."
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