Yesterday, the Red Sox made the craziest comeback of the MLB season so far. That’s not hyperbole: MLB teams were 0-487 when going into the 8th inning with a deficit of six or more runs. Today, they’re 1-487 because the Red Sox came back from a 6-run deficit to tie the game 7-7 in the top of the 8th inning and nab their 97th win of the season. The Red Sox have come back from 5-run deficits thrice this season, but yesterday’s comeback was a first for any team in the league this year.
We knew yesterday’s series finale in Atlanta would be interesting from the minute Alex Cora announced the night before that the lineup would be ‘weird.’ And weird it was: Mookie, JD, and Xander were among the mainstays who had the day off, while #9 hitter JBJ had the leadoff spot, Blake Swihart played right field, and starting pitcher Hector Velazquez had to bat against the National League Braves.
The Red Sox quickly fell behind 2-0 in the 1st, and Drew Pomeranz came in to relieve Velazquez. In typical PomPom fashion, he lasted .1 innings, walked two batters, and gave up five runs on three hits to make the score 7-1. Through the first seven innings, the Red Sox bats were held to two hits and a single run. It started to feel like a throwaway game, a team practice for the players who rarely see regular playing time and an extra day off for the superstars before returning home to face the visiting World Champ Astros.
But by now, everyone knows not to count the Red Sox out until the scoreboard reads ‘final.’ Since the home opener on April 5th, the Red Sox have been erasing deficits in late or extra innings to win improbable games. Opponents have had 43 save opportunities against the Sox, and have only converted 22, the fewest against any team in baseball. The league average for save percentage is 66%, but against the Sox, teams are barely breaking 50%. These comeback games always feel like an exciting surprise, but in reality, the Sox have been doing this all season long.
But this week, the constant force in this latest comeback victory was the newest member of the team: Brandon Phillips, who made his Boston debut yesterday. In his first major league game since September 30, 2017, the 37-year-old scored the first run in the 2nd and the tying run in the 8th. But the biggest moment of the game came in the top of the 9th, when the Red Sox again found themselves behind thanks to their disastrous bullpen. Down to Boston’s final out, Phillips blasted a 2-run homer a la Willie Mays Hayes off the first pitch he saw to give the Red Sox a 9-8 lead over the Braves and complete a series sweep. Interestingly, his was Boston’s only home run of the entire series.
Phillips is sixteen years into his MLB career, a 3-time All-Star who’s won a Silver Slugger and four Gold Gloves. But despite playing well last year with the Braves and Angels, posting a combined .285 AVG with 13 home runs and 60 RBIs, no MLB wanted him this season. Dave Dombrowski took a chance and signed him to a Minor League deal at the end of June. After his heroics yesterday, Phillips said, “I’m just out here playing baseball, happy that the Red Sox gave me an opportunity to do this.
Phillips’ energy yesterday was the kind you hope to see from all players, but unlike his teammates, his drive stems from spending the season feeling unwanted, and then trapped in the minors. He was fueled by desperation and a desire to prove that he still has gas left in the tank, and yesterday, he did that in spades. The first player in franchise history to wear ‘0,’ he also became the first Sox batter every to hit a go-ahead homer in the 9th inning or later in his debut. His pride and happiness were evident, and the entire thing was a joy to witness.
Now, obviously, his debut game is a small sample, but Phillips unbridled effort is the kind of vibe this clubhouse needs heading into the playoffs. Despite not being on the team’s 40-man roster by the end of August, Phillips is eligible for the postseason roster as long as one of the injured players currently on the roster remains sidelined. With Pedroia and a few others unlikely to return, I really hope we’ll see Phillips make the cut.
Photo: Red Sox Twitter