Then, in a span of five pitches in the bottom of the frame, that shred of positivity disappeared. The Red Sox are back to facing their reality of near-impossible odds to make the playoffs as they take on the Indians in the second contest of the three-game set Tuesday.
Carlos Santana delivered Cleveland a 6-5 win Monday with a walk-off home run off Marcus Walden leading off the bottom of the ninth. The victory gave the Indians sole possession of first place in the American League Central while the Minnesota Twins were idle.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, dropped to a seemingly insurmountable 8 1/2 games back in the wild-card standings.
Red Sox manager Alex Cora was inspired by seeing his team fight back Monday, but he knows that isn't enough at this point. Tied for the second wild card as recently as July 27, Boston has lost 12 of 15 game since, as starting pitching continues to be its downfall.
Eduardo Rodriguez gave up five runs over six innings in the opener, forcing the offense to play from behind from the start.
"We don't like losing. It's a tough situation we're in right now," Cora said. "I know where we're at, but there's some positives here."
Sale has been the only positive in the rotation of late, having struck out 13 over eight scoreless innings against the Los Angeles Angels on Thursday in his last start. Still, the southpaw has looked far from himself on the season, and he'll face a Cleveland club against whom he is 5-8 with a 4.80 ERA in 30 games (19 starts) in his career.
Making the task more difficult is that the Indians have been surging since the All-Star break, winning 22 of their last 29. Santana's game-ending heroics Monday marked his second straight day bailing out closer Brad Hand after a blown save -- Hand faltered against the Twins in their finale Sunday before Santana hit a tiebreaking grand slam in the top of the 10th.
"He has come up so big for us and has been so consistent," Indians skipper Terry Francona said of Santana. "Right when you get punched in the stomach, he takes a swing like that. I mean, that was a gorgeous swing. I know the last two days, but he's been doing it all year."
"It's exciting, I'm excited," Santana said. "We're fighting for the division, and every game is really important for the team."
Clevinger finds himself in uncharted territory entering his start, having thrown a career-high 117 pitches against Minnesota his last time out. He allowed two runs on three hits over seven innings in that outing on Thursday to pick up the win.
Lifetime, Clevinger is 0-1 with an 8.03 ERA in three starts against the Red Sox, walking 13 in 12 1/3 innings.
--Field Level Media