Rick Porcello had given the Red Sox all they could expect in Minnesota on Monday, protecting a 1-0 lead for seven innings. When manager Alex Cora signaled the bullpen to start the eighth, he didn't tab Brandon Workman or Matt Barnes, however.
He went to . . . Colten Brewer?
With his four top relievers unavailable for various reasons — Heath Hembree on the IL, Brandon Workman and Marcus Walden from recent use, Matt Barnes needing a break — Cora sent the curve-balling right-hander to the mound with simple instructions.
"Be ready, be nasty, and be yourself," Brewer relayed to reporters in Minnesota after protecting that 1-0 lead in what ended up being a 2-0 win that gave the suddenly streaking Red Sox six straight victories and a chance to win a series against a playoff team for the first time since sweeping the Rays in April.
This one was about the pitching staff, from Porcello's seven shutout innings to Brewer and Ryan Brasier slamming the door. For all the slings and arrows they've absorbed this season, Red Sox relievers have actually pitched fairly well. That doesn't mean they don't need help — they're being overused, after all — but they might be better than people think.
"People think it's short," manager Alex Cora said to reporters in reference to his bullpen. "I think it's just limited because those guys have good stuff. Matchup-wise, Brew makes sense with a lot of those guys. And obviously Brasier was fresh so we went with him. Sometimes I made the mistake of saying short. It's not short, it's just limited."
The eighth wasn't easy, but the Twins helped Brewer's cause after a leadoff single by Jonathan Schoop and a walk to Max Kepler. First, the AL's leading hitter, Jorge Polanco, sacrifice bunted the runners along, giving Brewer a key out in the process. With Rafael Devers covering third, Brewer aggressively pounced off the mound before throwing a strike to first to nip Polanco by a half step.
He then induced a swinging bunt to power-hitting Nelson Cruz, deftly underhanding the ball to catcher Sandy Leon to trap Schoop in a rundown that took the Twins right out of the inning. When Eddie Rosario grounded to first, Brewer had officially escaped one of the biggest moments of his career.
"That's what we live for as baseball players, getting in the situations and getting out of them," Brewer said. "It's definitely a special moment to share with your teammates."
That still left the ninth inning, which brought yet another surprise: Brasier, who left the team last week while on the bereavement list. Making his first appearance in a week, Brasier delivered a 1-2-3 ninth, striking out the dangerous Miguel Sano to end it. It was just his second clean inning this month.
"That's what I expect," Brasier said. "The bullpen has been taxed a little bit the last three or four games and I was ready to go."
Add it together, and two unlikely contributors helped the Red Sox secure one of their most important victories of the season.
"We're rolling right now and to keep it rolling against a team like that and to scratch some runs together and keep them off the board is huge," Brasier said.
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