KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It took 78 days, 71 games, 39 players, 17 trips to the disabled list and five third basemen, but the Boston Red Sox are finally alone atop the American League East.
What a long, strange trip it has been -- and it isn't even half over.
It doesn't get much longer or stranger, though, than the journey that brought Deven Marrero and Sam Travis here Tuesday. What began with a 5 a.m. wakeup call in Rhode Island and included multiple delayed flights in Boston and a scramble to find a private jet ended 18 hours later with the two Triple-A call-ups combining to go 3-for-7 with three runs and two RBIs in an 8-3 win over the Kansas City Royals.
To hear Marrero tell it, this victory was fueled by Starbucks and Uber, with an 8⅓-inning gem from ace Chris Sale mixed in for good measure.
"We're going to sleep good tonight, for sure," Marrero said.
Here's the thing: The Red Sox ought to keep their travel-weary infielders around for a while. They're a more balanced and dynamic team when Marrero and Travis are on the roster.
Marrero took the place of maligned third baseman Pablo Sandoval, whose stop-and-start season was halted again by an inner-ear infection that landed him on the disabled list Tuesday. It's just as well. Even when Sandoval isn't running a fever, he can no longer hit from the right side of the plate or be counted on to play steady defense. A former All-Star and three-time World Series champion, Sandoval hasn't been a productive player for three years, and although he's only 30, there's at least a chance he might never be again.
In Marrero, the Red Sox aren't going to get much offense. In four Triple-A seasons, he has posted only a .558 OPS, including impossibly low .487 and .433 marks last year and this year, respectively.
But Marrero is a slick fielder, as evidenced by his backhand stab to rob close friend Eric Hosmer of a hit in the seventh inning, and he brings energy to the No. 9 spot in the batting order even when he isn't hopped up on coffee.
"Had Starbucks like three times," Marrero said in relaying his travel adventure, which included several hours of waiting for delayed flights at Logan Airport before the Red Sox chartered a plane for him and Travis from Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford, Massachusetts. "Sammy was a little nervous. I was like, 'Hey, man, we'll be all right.'"
Marrero had a calming influence on the Red Sox earlier in the season, too. With Sandoval out with a knee sprain, Marco Hernandez lost for the season to shoulder surgery and Josh Rutledge struggling defensively at a new position, Marrero came up from Triple-A and played his typically solid defense at third base.
It's a given that he will do at least that again. That he doubled and scored the Red Sox's first run in the third inning, drove in a run with a sacrifice fly in the fourth and walked and scored in the sixth was a nice bonus.
And by now, it should be clear that Marrero can be at least a reliable short-term solution at the troublesome position while president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski decides whether to trade for a third baseman before the July 31 deadline.
"When you know what your players are capable of, then you can hopefully put them in a position to succeed more readily," manager John Farrell said. "[Marrero's] role was really starting to be carved out very clearly: Defensive replacement for [Sandoval], spell a guy on a given day and settle things down [at third base]. It's good to have him back here for that very reason."
Travis adds value to the Red Sox, too. Even if Hanley Ramirez wasn't dealing with soreness in both shoulders that limits him from playing first base, his clear preference is to be a full-time designated hitter. First baseman Mitch Moreland, meanwhile, is playing through a painful fracture of his left big toe.
With Travis on the roster, manager John Farrell has a deeper bench against right-handed pitchers and the ability to give Moreland a necessary rest against lefties. And there's no doubt Travis can hit. He lined an RBI double to left field and scored in a four-run fourth inning that broke open the game for Sale, who retired 19 batters in a row at one point but was nevertheless dissatisfied that he was unable to finish off the complete game.
"To see those guys walk off an airplane here at 4 in the afternoon, get right in the lineup and contribute as they did," Farrell said, "it was a much-needed lift, given the physical status of a number of our guys."
And to think, they almost didn't make it.
"This is the Boston Red Sox, man," Marrero said. "They get stuff done here."
That should include keeping Marrero and Travis around for a while.