Red Sox make no apologies for opportunistic, aggressive play

CINCINNATI -- Mookie Betts had just thrown out two baserunners, driven in three runs with a double, and scored the go-ahead run from second base on an infield single. Yet the Boston Red Sox star couldn't help thinking about a different moment from Sunday's game.

"I thought I got that one to center," Betts said of a sixth-inning fly ball that came down short of the fence at Great American Ballpark. "And then I remembered that I'm 170 pounds."

Betts smiled easy and laughed, and why not? The Boston Red Sox won their sixth consecutive game, 5-4 over the Cincinnati Reds, and capped an 8-1 road trip in which they came from behind to win four times when trailing by three runs or more. They stretched their division lead to five games over the playoff-bound New York Yankees with seven remaining and reduced their magic number to three to win back-to-back American League East titles for the first time in their history.

Sunday might have been the Mookie Betts Show, with the dynamic right fielder almost single-handedly responsible for a four-run eighth-inning rally against two Reds relievers, including closer Raisel Iglesias. But it was also quintessential Red Sox in both style and substance.

In a season in which home runs have been hit in record numbers, the Red Sox didn't get the memo. They are last in the league and 27th in the majors with only 160 homers.

That hasn't stopped them from ranking in the top half of the league in runs (753) and winning 91 games, two shy of their total from last year. With a strong finish in the final week of the season, the Sox could approach the 97-win total from their World Series-winning 2013 season.

Offensively, they do it the way they did in the eighth inning against the Reds. A walk here (to Christian Vazquez), a base hit there (by Xander Bogaerts), another grind-it-out walk (by Andrew Benintendi), a well-timed hit (Betts' double over the left fielder's head) and always daring baserunning. This time, after tying the score, Betts never stopped around third base on Rafael Devers' tapper, forcing Iglesias to rush a throw in the dirt to first and beating Joey Votto's relay to the plate.

"With Iglesias pitching, I know it’s going to be tough to score," Betts said. "I know Devvy runs good down the line and I figured he would have a chance to beat it. With that play having to happen, me running home was going to be a tough play at home."

Opportunistic and aggressive. The Red Sox don't apologize for it, even though it means they run into more outs on the bases than any team in the majors. It's the way they have to play, the only way for a team that doesn't strike quickly by launching balls over the fence, even in homer-friendly places like Great American Ball Park.

"We don't give at-bats away," manager John Farrell said. "You look at the eighth inning that, finally we were able to mount an inning, have one offensive push today. Combined in that are the relentless at-bats of Vazqui, Beni with a couple of walks built in there. That's a part of our weaponry and it continues to show true to form."

Pitching-wise, it all revolves around a staunch bullpen. When Farrell lifted starter Doug Fister in the sixth inning, the Red Sox were trailing 3-1. Fernando Abad, Brandon Workman, Robby Scott, Addison Reed and Craig Kimbrel passed the baton for the final 11 outs. They didn't give up a hit and allowed one unearned run to give the offense a chance for that one rally.

"We're learning a lot about ourselves," said Fister, no stranger to winning teams from his years in Detroit and Washington. "We can put ourselves in a corner getting down early and all of a sudden we fight back. If we need to put up a touchdown, the boys are putting up a touchdown. It's that kind of mentality that we're never out of the fight until the fight's over. That’s a great thing for us going into our future."

It's far easier, of course, to play from ahead, especially when the opponents shift from the out-of-contention Reds, Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays to the Houston Astros, Cleveland Indians and the rest of baseball's iron. It will be much more challenging to mount comeback after comeback in the postseason. Fall behind too often and the Red Sox won't be long for the tournament.

But after months of searching for their identity in Year 1 of the post-David Ortiz Era, at least they have figured out who they are as a team and how they have to play. And while their best player would have preferred that his fly ball to center had traveled a few feet farther, it's hardly the only way for Betts to impact a game.

"I put in a lot of work to get to a good spot [offensively] and just kind of let my abilities take over, and I was finally able to do that. Better late than never," Betts said. "I try and affect the game in every way. I was able to do it today in a couple of different ways. It's a reason to come back to the park."

Also a reason the Red Sox can't be counted out in October.