John Tomase

The Red Sox are winning games with their gloves, and it's sustainable

Boston made a pair of stellar defensive plays Tuesday that directly led to victory.

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Two plays the Red Sox wouldn't have made last year, one game they definitely would've lost.

Yeah, I'd say things are already different in 2024.

We've talked about the Andrew Bailey Effect, and we've highlighted the newfound injection of energy and excitement. In Tuesday night's 5-4 victory over the A's, the defense took center stage.

The Red Sox made a pair of plays in extra innings that provided the razor-thin margin between victory and defeat. First, Rafael Devers charged and barehanded a leadoff sacrifice bunt attempt in the 10th that had bonus hit written all over it, nailing the speedy Zack Gelof at first by a quarter step.

Instead of first-and-third, no outs in a tie game, the A's had one out and a runner on third. The Red Sox walked the next guy to set up the double play and Josh Winckowski then erased the winning run at home on a contact-play comebacker. Disaster No. 1 averted.

The even better play came an inning later, with a ghost runner on second and the Red Sox trying to close out the game. Burly catcher Shea Langeliers sent a screaming liner to deep center. The hit probability was 83 percent. With last year's starting center fielder, Adam Duvall, patrolling the deepest reaches of Oakland's Coliseum, might as well bump that up to 100.

Instead of a tie game and the go-ahead run at second or even third, the A's got nothing except a scream of dismay from Langeliers when rookie center fielder Ceddanne Rafaela chased the ball down 391 feet from home plate before firing a strike to the infield that forced the runner back to second.

"I had a pretty good jump," Rafaela told reporters, including Julian McWilliams of The Boston Globe. "I think that's why I made the catch. In my mind, everything that's in the park, I have to catch it."

It was a scintillating play from someone who has been touted as a potential Gold Glover since he reached Double-A. Outside of Jackie Bradley Jr., no Red Sox center fielder in the last 20 years gets to that ball so effortlessly, and that includes plus defenders Johnny Damon, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Kiké Hernández. But Rafaela is that rare a talent.

"I was watching it turn and kind of keep going to right-center even farther and farther away from Rafaela," Winckowski told reporters. "And the fact that he caught it was unbelievable. Obviously 100 percent saved the game. Just a crazy play."

As we ask the same question of every early-season victory – "Is this sustainable?!?" – at some point we'll simply enjoy a well-played game for what it is. But in the meantime, it's worth noting that a lot of what the Red Sox are doing during this 4-2 start – effort, hustle, energy, defense – is absolutely sustainable.

That may be less true of Devers, who has led AL third basemen in errors for a record six straight seasons and is known to lose his defensive mojo for stretches, but there's no reason to think that shortstop Trevor Story, two-time Gold Glove outfielder Tyler O'Neill, or Rafaela will encounter any such slumps.

Though Brayan Bello struggled in his personal house of hours to deliver the first subpar outing of the season (5 IP, 4 ER) from a Red Sox starter, the formula is coming into focus. Throw it and catch it at a high level, and find enough offense to win. So far, it's working, with Rafaela's catch the most dramatic example yet.

"From my end, yeah, I knew he had it," manager Alex Cora told reporters, including Ian Browne of

"He had it the whole time. That's what we do now. We play better defense and we pitch a lot better."

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