Alex Verdugo’s dramatic, tiebreaking home run lifts Red Sox over Braves

Alex Cora has said that Alex Verdugo is the Red Sox’ most complete hitter. Over the last week, he’s showing that he’s also one of their clutchest.

Verdugo, who hit a walk-off single to beat the Blue Jays last Friday, one-upped himself on Tuesday night in Atlanta. The outfielder created his signature moment in two years in Boston, belting a dramatic, tiebreaking three-run homer in the eighth that lifted the Red Sox to a 10-8 victory over the Braves.

The Red Sox had jumped out to an early 5-0 lead before pitching struggles and sloppiness let the Braves tie it at 7 late. But they stayed resilient. Christian Vazquez and Bobby Dalbec opened the eighth with back-to-back singles before pinch-hitting Marwin Gonzalez moved them over with a perfect sac bunt.

Verdugo made that moot.

After Kiké Hernandez grounded out, Verdugo hammered a 2-0 changeup that kept carrying and carrying. When it finally landed in the seats, Verdugo raised his arms high in the air as he rounded the bases in a celebration fit for the moment. Verdugo, who always wears his emotions on his sleeve, pumped his chest a few times, fired up as he looked back at his teammates in the dugout.

As All-Star Game voting heats up, Tuesday’s blast will only help Verdugo’s case for his first appearance. The outfielder is now hitting .319 with a .923 OPS over his last 25 games as he’s fast becoming a fan favorite in Boston.

More takeaways from Tuesday’s win:

— Eduardo Rodriguez, in desperate need of some positive momentum, saw his struggles continue in an uneven start. He looked good early, recording five strikeouts in two shutout innings to start the game, and induced a season-high 17 swings and misses, but it ended in familiar fashion.

Given a 4-0 lead in the first and a 5-0 lead as he entered the third, Rodriguez nearly coughed it all up. He surrendered back-to-back doubles to start the fourth, and after allowing a two-out walk to Ehire Adrianza, Ronald Acuna Jr.’s two-run double made it a 5-4 game.

Rodriguez struck out Freddie Freeman to end the fourth but his night was over after that. Even with Rodriguez at 80 pitches, his fourth-inning struggles forced Cora to turn to Garrett Whitlock for the fifth. For the fourth time in his last five starts, Rodriguez couldn’t complete five innings. His ERA during that span is 9.13 as he’s seen his ERA for the season jump to 6.21, the highest among Red Sox starters.

— The Red Sox restored their lead to 7-4 in the fifth and it looked like Whitlock’s homecoming would be storybook, as he pitched a 1-2-3 fifth before delivering his first career hit in the sixth in front of friends and family.

But a sloppy bottom half erased it, as the Red Sox committed two errors and Whitlock allowed an RBI single and walk that loaded the bases. Whitlock struck out Acuna, but Cora turned to Darwinzon Hernandez for the lefty matchup with Freeman. Hernandez proceeded to throw a wild pitch on his first pitch that scored a run before Freeman tied it at 7 with a sacrifice fly.

— The Red Sox’ 5-6 hitters of Rafael Devers and Hunter Renfroe provided their primary sources of offense. A night after delivering the game-winning hit in their walk-off win, Devers stepped to the dish in the first and blasted a three-run homer. Renfroe followed him with a solo shot to make it 4-0.

The duo stayed hot. In the fifth, after Xander Bogaerts homered, Devers hit a double before Renfroe scored him with a single. The two combined for five hits and six RBI on the night.

Read More