On June 13, Alex Cora shut down the idea of sending a struggling Triston Casas down to Triple-A Worcester to hone his craft.
The 23-year-old rookie first baseman came into that day hitting .197 with a .683 OPS and 36 hits through his first 59 games. He entered Saturday, hitting .323 with a 1.008 OPS in 61 games since.
On Saturday night in Kansas City, he went 2 for 4 with a home run, two runs, two RBIs, and a walk, helping the Red Sox snap their five-game losing streak with a 9-5 victory.
The win was also Cora’s 432nd, tying predecessor John Farrell for sixth-most in franchise history.
“At least for today, that was a good one,” the Red Sox manager told reporters.
Scoring early and often was a welcome change after a long week full of staring up at early, steep deficits. Alex Verdugo led off the contest with a triple and scored on Rafael Devers’ double, putting the Red Sox on the board 1-0 immediately and setting the stage for the rookie first baseman to come through with another big hit.
Casas’ home run put his team ahead 3-0 and extended his hitting streak to six games. He’s been putting together quality at-bats all summer, including 13 homers since the All-Star break, and has collected at least one hit in nine of his last 10 games, including four multi-hit performances.
“I think we owed ‘em one after yesterday,” Casas told NESN’s Tom Caron. “Our plan was just to go out and be aggressive … I think overall, we like the quality of at-bats today.”
After homering to keep his team from getting shut out on Friday night, Verdugo flirted with the cycle on Saturday. He led off the contest with a triple, a double in the second, and a single in the fifth; the triple was his fifth of the season, the most by a Red Sox outfielder since Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi collected five apiece in 2019.
Devers contributed two doubles, his 29th and 30th of the year.
“Our offense runs through him,” Cora said. “When he’s swinging the bat well, we play better baseball.”
As Casas and Co. piled up runs, Tanner Houck pitched the kind of start his team has sorely lacked over the last several weeks. After James Paxton lasted just 1 1/3 innings in Friday night’s series opener, Houck went five.
The 27-year-old right-hander was in control until the beginning of the sixth, when he loaded the bases on back-to-back singles and hit Matt Beaty with a pitch.
It was the third time Houck had plunked Beaty, making the Royals designated hitter part of a unique club. According to Stathead, Beaty is the fifth player in MLB history to suffer three hits-by-pitches in a single game against the Red Sox. One wonders what Detroit Tigers infielder Damion Easley did to deserve not one, but two such games (May 31, 1999, July 16, 2002) in his career.
Josh Winckowski took over and allowed all three inherited runners to score, putting the Royals only five runs back. He reloaded the bases before getting the third out to strand them all.
Once the Royals pulled closer, the Red Sox bats went 1-2-3 in the seventh, eighth, and ninth. But for the 18th time this season (and just the second time since the trade deadline), they’d put at least nine runs on the board, and even though Royals left-fielder MJ Melendez went 3 for 3, homered in the ninth, and reached base five times overall, those nine runs were more than enough.
Nick Pivetta took over in the bottom of the seventh, and pitched the remainder of the contest, slamming the door on the Royals, who are now 42-95 on the season.
“Nick was amazing,” Cora lauded. “I think Nick was huge, huge for us.”
Pivetta has worked every possible pitching role this season, and his manager took the opportunity to show his appreciation. “He’s kind of like the hybrid guy,” Cora said, adding, “He is one of our best pitchers, one of the most important pitchers on this staff.”
The Red Sox skipper didn’t skimp on praise for his rookie first baseman, either.
“Very,” Cora answered, when asked how impressed he’s been with Casas. “Lately, what he talks about in those (hitters) meetings, he executes. He’s been great, he’s been one of the best hitters in the big leagues in the second part of the season.”
For his part, Casas isn’t bragging about how far he’s come since the start of the season.
“It’s a game of adjustments,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot about myself, I’ve learned a lot about the game.
“(I) Just treat every day like its own individual challenge. It’s a blessing to come out here and play the game that I love for a living, so I look at it as a privilege, not a task.”