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Rafael Devers makes Red Sox history with a win, but bad news about Garrett Whitlock looms

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Wins at Tropicana Field have been elusive lately for the Boston Red Sox. In fact, the Red Sox had gone 2-15 since 2022 in the home of the Tampa Bay Rays. That the Red Sox ended the night with a 5-0 win proved satisfying for a number of reasons.

Through the first three innings, Rays starter Taj Bradley had retired nine straight, striking out eight.

Then, Rafael Devers hit his sixth straight home run in the fourth, setting a franchise record.

The offense, which posted a .135 BA with men in scoring position in their previous 11 games, went 3-for-6 in such situations.

The Red Sox defense, a bugaboo all season, shined with a nice double play from Devers and Ceddanne Rafaela and strong performances from David Hamilton and Wilyer Abreu.

Tanner Houck, five days removed from a career-high, 112-pitch effort against the same Rays team, pitched seven scoreless innings.

And all that in a neat 2 hours and 8 minutes.

“Overall one of the best games we’ve played here,” said manager Alex Cora. “It was fun. It was a good, well-played baseball game.”

But in a season where seemingly every good event has had a gloomy counterpart, Cora also had difficult news to deliver after the match. Garrett Whitlock, who appeared in rehab last week before suffering a setback with elbow pain, has ligament damage and may need surgery. He visits Dr. later this week. Jeffrey Dugas, who performed Whitlock’s Tommy John surgery in 2019, for more information.

The Red Sox have been without Whitlock since April 17. As with every other major injury the team has faced this season, Cora was pragmatic.

“We’ve been down this path before, I know it sounds harsh, but we have to turn the page and be ready to go,” Cora said. “It sucks for the child.”

The Red Sox crawled back to .500 at 24-24 with the win over the Rays, but perhaps their biggest victory this year has been staying afloat amid a shocking number of injuries.

If the Red Sox want to prove they can overcome adversity, they will need more wins against the American League East. Monday’s opening win moved them to just 2-6 in the division this year, but marked a step in the right direction.

Last week the Rays won three of four against the Red Sox at Fenway Park.

After eight strikeouts in the first three innings, it looked like the Red Sox were ready for another loss, just one day after a 10-run blowout in St. Louis. But the second time through the order was a different story.

Jarren Duran led off the fourth inning with a triple to left that was almost a home run, and Abreu knocked him in with a double. After a Tyler O’Neill lineout, Devers hit his historic home run to make it 3-0.

After Sunday’s homer, Devers was tied with Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams, Dick Stuart, George Scott, Jose Canseco and Bobby Dalbec for five games in a row. The MLB record is eight straight games, but no other player in the Majors has hit home runs in six straight games since Mike Trout in 2022.

“At that moment I didn’t think about that,” Devers said through translator Carlos Villoria-Benetiz. “Most of the time I don’t think about records or anything in the game. For me it was more about hitting the ball well in the air with men in scoring position. I know I’ve had trouble with guys in scoring position in the past. For me it was a great moment to help the team take the lead with two runs at that moment.”

Overall, Devers is having a strong season, hitting .284 with a .967 OPS and 11 home runs. He is on a 10-game hitting streak and has hit safely in 22 of his last games. But with men in scoring position, he went only 6-for-34 (.177) with 14 strikeouts.

“He keeps making adjustments,” Cora said. “He’s struggling through it. Little by little he feels at ease. He’s not here yet. I don’t think he’s there yet.”

In the fifth, Hamilton led off with a single, stole second and Reese McGuire moved him to third before Rafaela hit a ball to right field for his fifth homer to make it 5-0. Rafaela’s 25 RBIs lead all rookies.

Houck, meanwhile, hardly needed the insult, but gladly accepted it. The Red Sox initially wanted to give Houck an extra day of rest after a career high in pitches thrown against the Rays last week, but with Whitlock not returning to the rotation this week as expected, Houck remained on regular rest and fired 94 pitches, with which he shutout. the Rays.

“I was talking about the last outing, too many free passes, a hit batsman, three walks and that was the focus between the outings,” he said. “I just got back in the zone and filled it with all my pitches and just trusted things, and I felt like I accomplished that pretty well tonight.”

Houck allowed just two hits and a walk while striking out five in seven innings. He became the 11th Red Sox pitcher in the Live Ball era to post an ERA below 2.00 in his first 10 starts of the season, finishing the night with a 1.94 ERA. Clay Buchholz in 2013, Josh Beckett in 2011 and Pedro Martinez in 2000 and 2001 were the most recent starters to do so.

Houck, who was burned by his defense in his last start, walked off the mound after a nice double play by Devers and Rafaela. He allowed a leadoff single in the seventh, the first hit he allowed since the third inning. With one out, Brandon Lowe grounded up the middle. Rafaela got behind the bag, realized he had enough time to catch the runner in second place and made a backhand to Devers, who was in second. Devers then turned doubles.

“Rafaela and Raffy’s doubles, they work on that every day, it never happens,” Cora said.

The Red Sox have already matched their 2023 win total at Tropicana Field with two games remaining this week.

(Photo of Devers hitting his home run: Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)