ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Michael Chavis needs to stay.
And after what he did to the most dominant pitcher in the majors on Saturday evening, one could argue that he needs to start playing regularly.
Rays closer Jose Alvarado entered the day having faced 36 batters this year while allowing just four hits, all singles, while striking out 16 in 9-⅓ scoreless innings. His triple-digits sinker has late movement and right-handers have struck out in half their plate appearances against him.
Then up stepped the rookie, making his major league debut in a tie game in the ninth inning. And whack, on a 1-2 count Chavis hit a missile straight off the center-field wall for a double. His helmet came flying off as he slid into second. He pumped his fist and looked into the Red Sox dugout.
That was the spark the Sox have been looking for.
Chavis’ key hit pushed Jackie Bradley Jr. to third, Bradley scored on a sacrifice fly by Andrew Benintendi and the Red Sox came away with a 6-5 win over the first-place Rays.
After winning the first two in this three-game set, the Red Sox have finally captured a series victory, their first in seven tries this year.
It looked like it would be an easy day for the Sox, but they haven’t had many, if any, of those this year.
Rays starter Charlie Morton lost control in the second inning, loading the bases on two walks and a single, then gave the Sox’ a 1-0 lead when he plunked the nine-hitter, Sandy Leon. Morton then fired a perfectly-placed 96-mph heater on the upper-outside corner, but Benintendi put a beautiful swing on the pitch and directed it to left-center for a grand slam.
A fan wearing a Rays shirt reached over the wall to catch the home run, but after a short review, umpires ruled no fan interference and the grand slam stood.
Rick Porcello, having fixed some mechanical issues between starts, took the 5-0 lead and pitched confidently, allowing just two runs over 5-⅔ innings for his best outing of the young season.
Manager Alex Cora placed a lot of trust in Heath Hembree, Bobby Poyner and Marcus Walden to handle the final out in the sixth and three outs in the seventh, but Hembree and Poyner ran into trouble, allowing two runs to score as the Rays cut the lead to 5-4.
Walden saved the Sox from losing the lead, striking out Tommy Pham and Willy Adames on nine pitches with the go-ahead run on third base to end the seventh.
Matt Barnes allowed the game-tying homer to Yandy Diaz in the eighth.
In the ninth, Bradley hit a single off Alvarado to snap out of a funk and then Chavis came through with one of the most important hits of the season so far.
The ball jumped off his bat at 109 mph, the hardest-hit ball by any Red Sox player in four days. His double was the first extra-base hit off Alvarado this year. RIght-handed batters had previously been 3-for-25 with 13 strikeouts against him.
Christian Vazquez ended the game by picking off Tommy Pham at first base.
The Red Sox move to 8-13.
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