Richard Justice

Red Sox primed to do special things

Red Sox primed to do special things

HOUSTON -- These are plays that good, smart teams make. These are plays that resourceful teams make. The Red Sox are all those things at the moment. They're also an imperfect team, but that's beside the point.

Oh, and they're a first-place team as well. When their gritty 6-5 Sunday night victory over the Astros is unwrapped layer by layer, that'll be the bottom line.

The Red Sox haven't played the way they expect to play, but they've won 18 of 27 games to make up 4 1/2 games in the American League East.

At 39-30, they'll begin a series in Kansas City tied with the Yankees atop the division, which says plenty about what they're capable of when they get rolling.

"If you look at the number of times we've come from behind to win a game late, this is a resilient bunch," manager John Farrell said. "They're confident. They don't mail games in."

Here are the two moments Red Sox fans will take away from this one, two plays that may linger in hearts and minds for a while.

One came in the bottom of the eighth inning, when left fielder Andrew Benintendi unleashed a 91-mph laser to throw out Astros second baseman Jose Altuve at home plate.

Benintendi nabs Altuve at home

Wait, it gets better.

With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Astros manager A.J. Hinch took a calculated gamble against baseball's best closer, Craig Kimbrel. Hinch gave rookie outfielder Derek Fisher the green light to steal second base, hoping to get him into scoring position with the potential tying run for his leadoff man, George Springer.

That's when catcher Christian Vazquez did the thing he does better than almost anyone. He threw out Fisher to end the game.

"That's my game," Vazquez said later. "After that I went 4-for-4 in my mind."

Vazquez nabs Fisher for the win

Those were the highlights of a game that had a dozen nooks and crannies. First there was shortstop Xander Bogaerts hitting two booming home runs and driving in five runs.

Bogaerts' second homer of game

And then there was left-hander David Price wading through five difficult innings, on the ropes from the beginning but stranding runners in all but the fourth inning.

Price gets out of a jam

In the end, though, the Red Sox won again. They won two of three from the Astros, the team with the best record in baseball. They won despite a pair of rocky pitching performances from Price and Saturday night starter Rick Porcello. They continue to win even though their offense has been spotty.

In a season when there may not be any perfect teams, the Red Sox know they're plenty good enough to make something special.

Their bullpen is one of baseball's best. Their defense is solid. And in a post-David Ortiz era, they'll need their next generation -- Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr. -- to keep improving.

But this latest victory may have come with a steep price. Second baseman Dustin Pedroia left the game in the eighth inning after being drilled in the ribs by Astros reliever James Hoyt.

That injury comes at a time when the Red Sox still have a chance to resemble the club that was the consensus favorite to win the AL East.

Pedroia gets hit, teams warned

"We just haven't played to the best of our ability," Price said. "Any series you win two out of three, you've got to be able to take something positive."

The Red Sox earlier in the week won a pair of walk-off victories against the Phillies. In the last four days, they've played three one-run games and won two of them.

"We've been playing a lot of good baseball lately, especially that homestand with Philly and carrying over to the road trip," Bogaerts said. Referring to the Astros, he said, "This is one of the best teams in the big leagues. It was a good series."

Richard Justice has been a reporter for since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.