By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — As one might expect from a 20-year-old rookie in the midst of a pennant race, Rafael Devers has fallen into a bit of a slump at the plate. He’s batting just .114 over his last nine games, reaching base just seven times in 37 plate appearances.
Yet while the bat has cooled off since his ferocious introduction to the big leagues, the kid made a game-changing play with his arm and his head to help his team get a win in Toronto on Monday evening.
It went down in the books as a 5-2 putout, a routine occurrence in a bases-loaded, one-out situation. But the play itself was far from routine.
A two-hop chopper off the bat of Kevin Pillar sent Devers — who was positioned behind the third-base bag — a few steps to his right. With the hope of a double play nonexistent and with the path to home plate blocked by the runner (Josh Donaldson), Devers decided to fire across the diamond to get the batter and at least salvage the play by recording an out.
Yet while sneaking a peek at the speeding Pillar up the first-base line, Devers calculated that such a throw would have a low chance of success. So, after lifting his leg to begin his step toward first base, Devers decided to adjust on the fly and fire toward the plate. In a bit of an unorthodox delivery (because of that partial step toward first), Devers threw a strike to Christian Vazquez. The throw beat Donaldson by perhaps an inch.
All of this happened in a span of under 4 seconds.
And Devers reacted by casually tossing some sunflower seeds in his mouth.
Here’s the video, with the always-more-exciting Spanish play-by-play:
Again, at this point, Devers still intended to throw to first:
It wasn’t until here that he realized home might still be an option:
Here’s the throwing angle Devers had to deal with to not hit the runner in the back:
And here’s the exact moment Vazquez caught the ball:
Drew Pomeranz snagged a smoked line drive out of the air in the next at-bat, thus extinguishing the threat and keeping Toronto’s lead at 3-2 after five innings. Vazquez would hit a near-400-foot bomb to give the Sox a 4-3 in the seventh, with Mitch Moreland and Xander Bogaerts each getting an RBI to stretch that lead to 6-3. Craig Kimbrel allowed a two-out, two-run home run in the ninth, and the Red Sox escaped with a 6-5 victory.
Suffice it to say, every play in the field mattered in this one. And though Devers’ defensive display didn’t earn even a fraction of the attention that Pillar’s incredible diving catch out in right-center field drew from the baseball world, it was a critical play at a critical moment for a team desperate to break a four-game losing streak.