John Tomase

Five unsung heroes keying an unexpected Red Sox turnaround

A host of unheralded players have stepped up to help the Red Sox win 11 of 13.

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Multiple Red Sox personnel sounded the same note of caution this spring when asked for their honest season outlook: We're gonna need a lot to go right.

Six months later, it's starting to look like they're getting their wish. With another dominating victory over the A's on Monday night, the Red Sox won for the 11th time in 13 games, moving out of last place in the American League East for the first time since May.

They did it not with mainstays like Rafael Devers (who got the night off with a sore calf) or All-Star closer Kenley Jansen (who wasn't needed in a 7-0 victory), but with the cast of secondary heroes who have played a crucial role in this July turnaround that has made the Red Sox the hottest team in baseball.

So let's take this opportunity to salute five players who weren't necessarily projected to play major roles, but are nonetheless finding themselves in the middle of multiple victories.

Nick Pivetta, pitcher

West Coast games used to be a recipe for 1:30 a.m. bedtimes, but Pivetta had Monday's game over just after midnight with one of the most statistically dominant relief performances ever.

He struck out 13 over six hitless innings, offering yet another reminder of why manager Alex Cora is right to leave him exactly where he is despite multiple injuries to the rotation. Nondescript as a starter, Pivetta has embraced an attacking relief role in ways that no one could've predicted.

"A lot of people were worried when he got, quote unquote, demoted to the bullpen because he wants to be a starter," Cora told The Boston Globe's Julian McWilliams in Oakland. "But he took it the other way. He's like, 'You know what, I'm going to contribute, I'm going to help this team. In whatever role you give me, I'm going to go out there and perform.' So far so good."

The numbers tell the story. Bounced from the rotation with a 6.30 ERA, Pivetta is 3-2 with a 2.31 ERA in relief, limiting opponents to a miniscule .124 batting average. With the Red Sox down to just three healthy starters, Pivetta may be forced back into the rotation, but there's something to be said for leaving him in place.

Brennan Bernadino, pitcher

That brings us to unsung hero No. 2. Monday night's starter, Bernardino has now piggybacked with Pivetta three times this month, all victories. Claimed off waivers in April from the Mariners, the left-hander arrived as anonymous bullpen grist, but he has since carved a role for himself as the most reliable lefty reliever in the wake of injuries to offseason acquisitions Richard Bleier and Joely Rodriguez.

Bernardino started as a mop-up man, appearing in 10 losses over a stretch of 11 appearances between May and June, but he's finding a home as an opener and owns a 2.27 ERA overall.

Connor Wong, catcher

Both Pivetta and Bernardino have been throwing to unsung hero No. 3, catcher Connor Wong. The afterthought of the Mookie Betts deal has emerged as a legitimate weapon defending the running game, and he's got some pop, too.

On Monday, Wong went 3 for 4 with a double and three RBIs to play the offensive hero. Pressed into everyday duty following an injury to backup Reese McGuire, Wong hasn't wilted. He's hitting .242 with six homers, but more importantly, pitchers have compiled a 3.84 ERA throwing to him, and he has erased 16 of 48 would-be base stealers, a 33 percent success rate that's well beyond the league average of 21 percent.

He has the makings of a solid No. 1 catcher defensively, with the chance to hit for enough power to be something more.

Kutter Crawford, pitcher

And now for two heroes who didn't play a role on Monday. The first is right-hander Kutter Crawford, who limited the Cubs to just one hit over six shutout innings on Sunday and finds himself on a nice little roll.

He's 4-4 with a 3.74 ERA and hasn't backed down from the challenge of serving as the team's third starter behind Brayan Bello and James Paxton. His ability to hop back into the rotation following injuries to Chris Sale, Tanner Houck, and Garrett Whitlock has helped save the season, because the Red Sox couldn't do what they've done over the last three weeks with three bullpen games a turn.

Crawford represents a victory of the player development system, which helped transform a 16th-round pick into a viable big leaguer.

Rob Refsnyder, outfielder

That leaves us, finally, with unsung hero No. 5 -- outfielder Rob Refsnyder. He recently told's Rob Bradford that he wants to be known as "Bargain Bob" for the way he's already outproducing his modest contract extension, and it's hard to argue.

Deployed as Cora's perfect weapon vs. left-handed pitching, Refsnyder has continually made teams pay for bringing in a lefty to face, say, Jarren Duran, with Cora immediately tabbing Refsnyder. He's hitting .346 with a .912 OPS vs. left-handed pitching. Add his ability to play above-average defense in left field in place of the more limited Masataka Yoshida in the late innings, and Refsnyder has emerged as the roster's perfect complementary player.

It turns out the Red Sox have a lot of those, and they're helping the team unexpectedly thrive.

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