Hunter Renfroe hit a two-run homer in the eighth inning and threw out Joey Wendle trying for a triple from deep center field for the final out of the ninth as the Boston Red Sox beat the Tampa Bay Rays 2-1 Wednesday night.
Renfroe’s big bat and strong arm helped the Red Sox avoid a three-game sweep against the AL East-leading Rays.
“We needed that win really bad,” Renfroe said.
Renfroe drove a hanging slider from reliever JT Chargois (5-1) over the Green Monster in left field just after Boston had fallen behind in what was a scoreless tie through the first seven innings.
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A half-inning later, the right fielder tracked down Wendle’s drive toward the deepest part of Fenway Park after center fielder Danny Santana dived and missed. Renfroe’s one-hopper from just in front of the warning track reached third baseman Bobby Dalbec just in time to tag the sliding Wendle.
“I knew that if I made a good, strong throw and it was accurate I had a chance to get him,” Renfroe said. “It happened to beat him and I think Bobby made an incredible tag on him.”
Dalbec played first base for the first eight innings, then moved across the infield before the top of the ninth as Boston made a number of defensive changes, trying to hold on and win despite still being without a chunk of the lineup currently stuck on the COVID-19 injury list.
“We used everybody and we got creative at the end and that’s the way we’re going to attack games,” manager Alex Cora said.
Renfroe, who spent last season playing for Tampa Bay, also threw out Manuel Margot for the last out of the fourth inning when he tried for second on a base hit toward the right field corner. Umpires reviewed the play for about a minute before confirming the initial call.
The Rays tested Renfroe’s arm again in the ninth. Wendle said once he saw the ball get past Santana, he felt he could make it to third.
“Honestly, I thought it was an easy read, but obviously not,” Wendle said. “On the flip side, you’ve got to tip your cap to him. He threw the ball about 270 feet on a dime to get me on a bang-bang play.”
Boston pulled within nine games of Tampa Bay for the division lead and moved a half-game ahead of the New York Yankees for the top AL wild card.
Tampa Bay’s Nelson Cruz drove in the game’s first run with a single up the middle off Garrett Richards in the eighth, driving in Brandon Lowe after he reached on a two-out single and Wander Franco walked.
Richards (7-7) got the win and Hansel Robles pickced up his 12th save. Nathan Eovaldi pitched seven shutout innings for Boston, striking out eight and allowing just three hits and two walks.
Shane McClanahan pitched five scoreless innings for the Rays, holding Boston to three hits and a walk while striking out three.
With outfielder Randy Arozarena away on paternity leave to be with his wife as she gave birth, the Rays called up Josh Lowe from Triple-A Durham for his big league debut.
Lowe started in right field and batted eighth. He drew a leadoff walk in the third and stole second, then ran out a slow roller back to Eovaldi for an infield single in the fifth.
Lowe, whose brother, Nathaniel, played the last two seasons for the Rays and is currently with the Rangers, finished 1 for 1 with a walk. He was the 58th player used by Tampa Bay this season, topping the club record of 57 set two years ago.
Manager Kevin Cash said Arozarena, his wife and the baby were all doing well, and he expected Arozarena to be back with the Rays by Saturday.
The game was delayed for a couple of minutes in the fifth after a fan reached over the wall and touched the ball on a foul pop as Santana tried to get under it and attempted to make a catch. The fan, who got a hand on the ball but couldn’t hang on, was escorted out by security during the delay, drawing a mix of cheers and boos from nearby fans.
Rays: Activated 1B Ji-Man Choi (left hamstring strain) and RHP Matt Wisler (right middle finger inflammation) from the 10-day injured list. … Optioned RHP Louis Head to Durham and designated RHP David Hess for assignment.
Red Sox: Santana, on the COVID-19-related IL since Sunday as a precaution, returned to the lineup and started in left field. … Manager Alex Cora said the Red Sox were still trying to piece together which of the eight players still on the COVID-related list could return, including shortstop Xander Bogaerts, and when. “It’s not going to be easy, obviously, because there’s been some down time but at the same time, we hope everything goes well and we can get them sooner rather than later,” Cora said.
Rays: Open a three-game series Friday night at Detroit. Cash said RHP Michael Wacha (3-4, 5.54 ERA) is likely to start the opener against LHP Matthew Boyd (3-8, 3.89) for the Tigers.
Red Sox: Are off until Friday, when RHP Tanner Houck (0-3, 3.26) is schedule to start the opener of a three-game series at the Chicago White Sox.