'What we learned': Red Sox’ 2-1 win over Rays
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Three things we learned from the Red Sox' 2-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays
1) Mookie Betts surprised even himself
Kevin Kiermaier described the throw that resulted in him getting cut down at third in the eighth inning as "perfect'' and that's a good description. Betts played the carom off the wall in foul territory, positioned himself well and fired a one-hop strike to third, nailing Kiermaier in his effort to stretch a double into a triple.
But not even Betts thought he was capable of such an accurate throw from that distance.
"I knew I had to try to get rid of it (quickly),'' recounted Betts, "and I knew it had to be (accurate) because any little (variation) left or right and he's going to be safe right there.''
Asked if, when he uncorked the throw, he thought he had a shot of getting Kiemaier, Betts smiled.
"Yes and no,'' he said. "Yes, because it was on target. No, because I didn't know I could really do that. I think we were all kind of surprised. Accuracy, I've been pretty good (with), just from being in the infield. But hard is what I didn't know I could do.''
Credit Betts for building arm strength since he transitioned to the outfield a little more than two years ago.
It's hard to believe that this is his first full year in right field.
2) Suddenly, the Red Sox are winning lots of low-scoring, close games
Take a look at some of the final scores on this successful road trip: 3-2; 5-3; 3-2, 2-1.
That's four games alone in which the Sox won by either a run or two runs - precisely the kind of games that the Sox weren't winning earlier in the season.
Much of that can be attributed to the improved starting rotation, which has posted a 2.69 ERA this month, ensuring that most nights, the Sox have a chance to win.
Credit the defense, too, for playing crisply, and as was the case the last two nights, supplying electrifying plays from the outfield.
Not only have those wins boosted the Sox in the standings, but they also serve as a primer for what things will be like in September, and if the Sox are fortunate, October.
"When you have to execute from the mound, defensively, late in games with minimal margin for error,'' said Farrell, "I think these are very good tests for us as we get to the portion of the schedule. To come through as we've done defensively, that's the key. We're doing the things defensively to make one run stand up.''
3) Craig Kimbrel has been a beast since coming off the DL
As the Boston Globe's Alex Speier noted, opposing hitters have been just 2-for-28. That translates to a .071 batting average against, the lowest for any A.L. pitcher in August.
In his last five outings, Kimbrel is 5-for-5 in save opportunities, with two hits allowed in five innings to go with one walk and eight strikeouts.
Kimbrel's reliability in save situations -- 23-of-25 with a 1.08 ERA -- is another reason for the Red Sox to suddenly feels good about winning close games down the stretch.
He had the one hiccup in Boston on the last homestand in which he allowed the Yankees to nearly come back, and required backup help from Matt Barnes.
But he's otherwise been spotless since returning from knee surgery and stands as a huge weapon for the final five weeks.