BOSTON -- What do we make of this 2018 baseball season, anyway?
The Red Sox are on a pace to win 110 games, yet can barely hang onto first place in the American League East. The Sox have not had their perennial All-Star second baseman in the lineup for almost the entire season, and have not had their presumptive All-Star right fielder for 10 games now, but they keep winning and winning and winning.
The latest development in what has been a nearly perfect season?
A new invention —the lights-on closer.
That happened in the seventh inning of Boston’s 7-1 victory over the Tigers. With Detroit up for its share of the inning, Sox fans began turning on the flashlights on their phones, something that had never been seen before at Fenway Park.
The Tigers objected and security went to work getting the lights turned off, but it was a strange sight, indeed.
It was a sight Alex Cora had seen before, but not here.
“In basketball games and volleyball games back home (in Puerto Rico),” he said. “I mean, that’s pretty good. That’s a good weapon. Smart fans. We didn’t (object). They did. I bet it’s tough because the batter’s eye here is different than other places, but, we should have a sign for that one.”
At that point in the game, it probably didn’t make much difference as the Sox had built a 5-1 lead but the flashlights certainly didn’t create a spirit of hospitality for the forlorn Tigers, who are 29-34 compared to Boston’s 43-19.
The triumph was the Red Sox’ fourth in a row and this is the way their season has gone in general — two steps backwards, four steps forward. This particular victory was paced by good starting pitching by Eduardo Rodriguez and especially good hitting by Andrew Benintendi, Xander Bogaerts and Christian Vazquez. Benintendi and Vazquez hit home runs. Bogaerts and Vazquez both had three hits.
Rodriguez, the inconsistent and occasionally maddening lefty, has won four consecutive starts for the first time in his career. He is 7-1 personally and Boston is 11-1 in his 12 starts this season. Wednesday night, he went 5 2/3 innings before giving way to Boston’s lights-on bullpen. For his part, Rodriguez has an earned run average of 1.90 during his streak and his ERA has gone down after each of the games.
The Red Sox beat lefty Blaine Hardy, whose record fell to 2-1. Hardy allowed five earned runs in six innings of work.
Overall the Sox touched Detroit pitching for 12 hits, six for extra bases. That included the two home runs plus doubles by Benintendi, Vazquez, Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts. Bogaerts had three hits including a pair of singles.
Vazquez missed the cycle by one hit, the triple, and had his first three-hit game of 2018.
“It seems like he’s on time every time,” Cora said. “He’s able to see the ball. Right away, we saw the results, the adjustment against (Justin Verlander) that first at bat (in Houston). He goes deep…the swings are better, he’s getting to hitter’s counts and he’s taking advantage of them.”
The Red Sox are 7-3 since Benintendi was inserted into the leadoff spot to replace Betts and he has been hitting almost as well as Betts did before he suffered that inconvenient abdominal strain. As the new leadoff man, Benintendi is batting .357 with 11 runs scored, 10 RBIs, 4 doubles, 4 home runs and a triple.
The Tigers led briefly and insignificantly, as it turned out. They scored a run with two out in the second inning then Boston came back with four in the third. That rally featured an infield hit by Devers, who had just his second two-hit game since May 3, and doubles by Vazquez, Benintendi and Bogaerts.
Benintendi homered into the Boston bullpen leading off the fifth. Vazquz hit one over the green monster leading off the seventh and rookie Sam Travis had an RBI single in the eighth.
Cora gave his bullpen a workout as he used four relievers to finish up after Rodriguez’ departure. They were, in order, Heath Hembree, Matt Barnes, Brandon Workman and Bobby Poyner. Barnes was on the mound when the Light Brigade appeared in the stands and gave up two hits and a walk, so it is unclear how much he may have benefited.
Not that it mattered, the way things are going for the Red Sox, who have so far mastered the art of finding ways to not lose.