BOSTON — The Red Sox signed J.D. Martinez for his bat, not for his legs.
On a raw April day at Fenway Park, however, it was with his legs that Martinez helped the Red Sox win their fourth straight game. The slugging left fielder alertly sprinted home on a Dylan Bundy slider in the dirt in the sixth inning, scoring the go-ahead run in a 3-1 victory for the Red Sox over the visiting Baltimore Orioles on Sunday.
It was a fitting way for the Red Sox to score the decisive run on the coldest game day at Fenway Park since 2003. The ugly weather isn't expected to abate; the team announced on Sunday evening that Monday's 11 a.m. Patriots' Day game would be postponed.
Martinez had reached on an error and moved to third base on a double by Mitch Moreland — the second double of the game by a hitter who hit a career-best 34 doubles a year ago. The first pitch Bundy threw to Rafael Devers was a slider that Baltimore catcher Caleb Joseph blocked only partially. It didn’t get all that far away from Joseph — Moreland didn’t move up from second to third on the play — but it got far enough away for Martinez to sprint home and score the go-ahead run.
“It didn’t seem like it kicked very far away,” Moreland said, “and it kicked toward him. That’s a tough read. The fact that he was able to get a good read on it and make the play, that was big."
For a Red Sox team that ranked second in the major leagues in outs on the base paths entering play on Sunday — and then saw Andrew Benintendi thrown out at the plate later in the game — winning a game with a run scored on a wild pitch had significance.
“As bad as we looked (on the bases) early in the first few games, we’re making better decisions,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “Do we need to keep improving our baserunning? Yeah, of course. But the last few days have been better.”
It’s early yet, but the win pushed the 13-2 Red Sox a remarkable 8½ games ahead of Baltimore in the American League East standings — and 5½ games ahead of the New York Yankees, their primary competition in the division, who saw a doubleheader rained out in Detroit on Sunday.
The Red Sox have given themselves enough of a head start that they merely need to play at a 88-win pace the rest of the way (a .544 winning percentage) to match the 93 wins that won them American League East titles in 2016 and 2017.
The cold weather and snow flurries didn’t seem to affect Chris Sale, who pitched in short sleeves and compiled almost exactly the same line he did two weeks ago in balmy Miami. He needed 93 pitches to navigate five innings, but he struck out eight and yielded just one run — which came on a Manny Machado double into the left-field corner in the first inning.
Still, that doesn’t mean it was fun.
“This was the most miserable I’ve ever been on a baseball field by far — not even close,” said Sale, which was saying something, considering he pitched in Chicago for seven seasons.
Sale ditched his changeup after the first inning, as the cold temperatures were preventing him from throwing his fastball hard enough to get separation from his changeup. From his perspective, especially after he saw Boston’s Tzu-Wei Lin hammer a ball that died in center field in the second inning, the cold weather meant he didn’t have to be fancy about the way he pitched.
“I didn’t care what pitch it was or how hard I was throwing,” he said. “I just wanted it to be a strike. You could see today there were a couple of balls that were crushed, balls that have a chance of getting out on a normal day — and they died, they didn’t go anywhere. After the second or third inning, we almost wanted these guys to hit the ball because it’s not going to go anywhere.”
Sale hasn’t yet thrown more than 93 pitches in a game this season, nor has he pitched into the seventh inning. That’s consistent with the team’s stated aim to keep him fresh deeper into the season than it did a year ago, when he wore down in August and September.