We begin with a look at the American League standings on Wednesday because numbers in the era of analytics do not lie just confuse.
The defending champion Boston Red Sox are 63-59, 17 ½ games behind the first-place New York Yankees in the AL East and in fourth place in the Wildcard race, 8 ½ games out in the second-chance-at-life column.
“We have a real shot,” manager Alex Cora said Sunday. “It’s not a fake one.”
To say the Red Sox have had a difficult season would be like saying their fans despise the Yankees. That is clearly the case.
Like many teams in the Major Leagues, they have discovered how inadequate their pitching is and that is responsible for the biggest turnaround in the game this season. They never replaced Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly in the bullpen. Nathan Eovaldi has been hurt. Their starters have generally sucked.
They have lost six of their last 10 and even are below .500 (30-32) at Fenway Park this season. Even if they won each of their final 40 games they would finish with five less than the 108 they won in 2018.
But to paraphrase Norman Vincent Peale (look him up, kids), even when the sky seems the darkest, bright spots can occasionally break through the clouds and make everyone feel better about themselves. And the Red Sox had one of those days on Tuesday in Cleveland.
Third baseman Rafael Devers became the first player in modern MLB history to have six hits and four doubles in the same game.
And staff ace, Chris Sale, recorded his 2,000th strikeout faster than any pitcher in the history of the game.
Good thing the Red Sox won, 7-6. A loss would have turned the smiles upside down.
Let’s start with Sale, the side-winding lefthander, who has had a very uneven season. The Sox are 10-15 when he starts. He didn’t get his first win this season until the first week in May and is 6-11 with a 4.40 ERA in 25 starts. Compare that to 2018: Sale’s ERA was 2.11 with a 12-4 record in 27 starts.
Despite it all, he has managed to keep up the pace with his strikeouts. According to MLB, his strikeout-walk ratio of 5.9 to 1 is the best in the Major Leagues since 1920.
He came into Tuesday’s game five Ks short of the milestone and got moving quickly by striking out the side in the first inning. He finally registered No. 2,000 by whiffing rookie Oscar Mercado in the third inning. And he ended the night with 12 strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings. He also allowed five runs.
According to the Red Sox, Sale reached 2,000 in 1,626 innings, far better than the next closest trio, Pedro Martinez (1,711 1/3), Randy Johnson (1,733 1/3) and Max Scherzer (1,784).
“It’s cool. It’s special,” said Sale after the game. “I’m not a guy who is really into his stats, but I respect it. I appreciate what it means. A lot of people put in a lot of hard work to help me get there.”
Meanwhile, Devers, one of the best young hitters in the game, had one of the best nights anyone with a bat has had this season. He is leading the AL in average (.328) and doubles (43).
According to MLB.com, Devers has led in batted balls with an exit velocity of 95 mph or more. He had five more Wednesday to give him 197. DJ LeMahieu of the Yankees is second at 178.
“I had no idea obviously,” said Devers. “I was just trying to go out there and have a good at-bat. That’s really all I was thinking about. I just wanted at every turn to try to get on base and try to do that for the team.”
Devers began with an opposite-field double in the first inning then followed with a third-inning single, a double in the fifth inning, another in the sixth, an infield single in the eighth inning and a line-drive double in the 10th inning.
“What was even more impressive is that every single ball was a stud missile that he hit,” said Jackie Bradley Jr. “He hit everything hard. There were no cheap hits.”
Here’s more from the record books: Devers, 22, became the third-youngest player to go 6-for-6 in a game in the modern era, behind Jesus Alou (1964) and Joe Morgan (1965).
“Historic. Amazing,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora.
Devers is also just the fifth player in AL history to record six hits, four extra-base hits and three RBIs in a single game, joining Ty Cobb, Jimmie Foxx, Kirby Puckett and Ian Kinsler.
“He’s not only one of the best players on our team, but one of the best players in the league,” said Sale. “He’s got a chance to be the MVP. That in itself is pretty special.”