The Red Sox knew a good deal of what they were getting in Hunter Renfroe, in part because they were victimized by his underrated talents last season.
Among many losses in 2020, Renfroe helped hand the Red Sox one of their worst when his Rays came to town last August and he crushed two homers in a 17-8 beating.
So when the Red Sox needed a new outfielder this winter and Renfroe was on the market, Chaim Bloom didn’t hesitate to snag him from a division rival.
So far, they’re reaping the rewards even more than what they may have expected, on both sides of the ball.
Bloom thought Renfroe had the upside to develop into more of a platoon player, and over the last two months, he’s been proven right. Renfroe continued his torrid run Monday night as he blasted two home runs, including the game-winning blast, as the Red Sox overcame a shaky beginning from Garrett Richards to come back for a 6-5 win over the Royals at Fenway.
“The last two months, he’s been playing All-Star caliber baseball,” manager Alex Cora said. “And we know what he can do defensively. …
“The way he’s playing, people need to start recognizing him as one of our best players. He’s been huge for us. We always talk about the four guys, but what he’s doing has been amazing the last two months.”
It was Renfroe’s first multi-homer game since that beat down last Aug. 13, and they needed both to stay in front of the Rays for the division lead.
Richards had put the Red Sox in an early 5-1 hole before they stormed back in the fourth. Xander Bogaerts hit a ground-rule double to right to set up Renfroe, who cranked a two-run shot to center.
Two innings later, with the game tied, Renfroe smoked a curveball from Josh Staumont and peppered it off the top of the National Car Rental sign above the Green Monster, reminiscent of the blasts he hit here when he was a visitor. His two homers Monday night combined to travel an estimated 873 feet and reminded him a bit of those shots he hit at Fenway last year.
“Kind of the same conditions, it was hot then and I felt good at the plate then and I feel good now,” Renfroe said.
Renfroe certainly feels good, and the numbers back it up. After a cold April, he’s been one of the Red Sox’ hottest hitters over the last two months. Since May 1, he’s hitting .307 with a .910 OPS, 10 homers, 13 doubles and 32 RBI. He’s also leading the majors this season with 11 outfield assists.
“I feel good,” Renfroe said. “I like where I am right now. I’m swinging the bat well, seeing the ball well. I think that’s the biggest part is seeing the ball before you hit it. I’m seeing the ball as good as I have in a long time so just got to keep going, stay with my approach, stay with my routine in the cage and just try to stay healthy.”
Some pressure was mounting on Richards, who’s struggled over the last two weeks as he’s worked to adjust to baseball’s outlaw of foreign substances, which by his own admittance has been frustrating and challenging and has made him change the way he’s pitched over the last 10 years of his career.
It didn’t look good to begin Monday night. He pounded the strike zone with a fastball-heavy approach, but he once again wasn’t yielding the results he’s looked for. He allowed two softly hit singles to Whit Merrifield and Jorge Soler, and Carlos Santana followed them by smashing a slider that was right down the middle to the right-field bleachers, giving the Royals a 3-0 lead.
Inside Fenway Park, there was a sense of here we go again.
It got worse before it got better. Richards’ night wasn’t bound to be long when Michael A. Taylor led off the second with a blast to right-center, and Merrifield soon followed with the Royals’ third homer on a shot to center. Heavy boos rained down on Richards, who nearly gave up a fourth on another deep drive by Santana that was caught at the bullpen wall by Kiké Hernández.
Somewhere in the third, though, something clicked for Richards. The right-hander mixed up his breaking stuff some more and it returned some long-awaited success. He went the next 3 2/3 innings not giving up any runs, and just five singles. When Cora pulled him out with two outs in the sixth, the crowd at Fenway cheered him, an unexpected development given his early struggles.
“He was competing from the get-go,” Cora said. “It didn’t work out with him. The ball was flying today. They put some good swings. But he kept competing. He gave us a chance to win.”