October 5, 2022

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Key to win? 'Defense, defense, defense'

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Story's final play caps stellar all-around effort in series opener vs. Rays
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ST. PETERSBURG — As Trevor Story joyfully ran to the clubhouse after the Red Sox’s thrilling and stressful 4-3 victory over the Rays on Friday night at Tropicana Field, he sounded like a basketball fan trying to will his team to a key stop in crunch time.

“Defense, defense, defense,” chanted Story.

Only on this occasion, Story was talking about the timely stops that the Red Sox got on a night they needed each one of them to win.

In fact, it was Story who was the defender of the game.

A career shortstop who made the transition to second base after signing with the Red Sox in March, Story is looking like a force at his new defensive home. And never was that more evident than in the bottom of the ninth inning, with the game hanging in the balance.

The young and brilliant Wander Franco, who had already tormented the Red Sox with two homers and a spectacular catch down the left-field line in the sixth, was coming up with the bases loaded and two outs, his Rays down just a run.

Matt Barnes got the challenge of coming out of the bullpen to face Franco in that highly pressurized situation. Franco attacked the third pitch of the at-bat, an 82.2 mph curveball.

For the fourth time in the game, Franco spanked the ball at a triple-digit exit velocity. But Story refused to let it get by him. He raced to his left into shallow right field, slid to field the ball and fired to first to end it.

“I felt like I had a good bead on it the entire time,” said Story. “Just a matter of if I was going to dive or slide. Franco can run. The slide and the popup was the quicker way to do it.”

The fact that Story is off to a slow start at the plate (.231/.286/.282, no homers) made his big defensive game even sweeter.

“Obviously, [I was] pretty fired up,” said Story. “I’m not swinging the bat like I want to, so I’m trying to find ways to help the team, and defense is another way.”

With Jake Diekman in trouble to start the ninth after back-to-back walks, Harold Ramirez belted one to Story’s left. In a pure reaction play, Story swiftly dived and made the stop, feeding double-play partner Xander Bogaerts at second for a pivotal forceout.

“He took over the ninth inning,” Bogaerts said of Story. “I’m not even worried about him not hitting. He’s going to hit. He’s just making these spectacular plays right now with his defense and his range — everything. He’s got it all locked down now. He’s going to hit. Trevor Story is going to hit.”

The first in Story’s trifecta of great plays took place in the fourth inning, when he ranged up the middle and made a diving catch on Manuel Margot’s lineout.

“He did a great job. Obviously, the athleticism showed up,” said Red Sox acting manager Will Venable. “He made some huge plays, bailed us out of some spots, and it was just a great, great defensive performance by Story.”

But Story wasn’t the only story defensively for the Red Sox.

The most breathtaking play was made by Bogaerts, who got maximum air time to snag a 110.7 mph liner by Yandy Díaz for the third out in the third inning, stranding two baserunners.

“The situation, too, was big, because they had some guys on base, he smoked that ball. It caught my glove,” said Bogaerts. “I just jumped up, and if it’s in, it’s in. I thought that dude was going to the wall on a double, but I got it. It’s a really nice catch.”

It was also satisfying for Story, who made a throwing error earlier in the inning to help create the jam starting pitcher Michael Wacha had to wriggle out of.

“Incredible. He’s the man. He bailed me out because that was the inning I had the throwing error,” said Story. “I was kicking myself for that. He picked me up huge right there, and that’s why he’s Bogey.”

Add in outfield assists by Jackie Bradley Jr. and Alex Verdugo, and this was a night the Red Sox won because of defense, even though they made three errors.

Defense was a weakness for the Red Sox last season, but they are reversing the narrative.

“We’re very fortunate to have the guys we have behind us,” said Barnes.

Thanks to Boston’s glovework, Franco’s big night wasn’t quite enough for the Rays.

“They made some nice plays at really big times for them where we had chances to get a run up there, or multiple runs,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash. “Story made nice plays. I mean, Yandy’s ball that he hits is probably a gapper that scores two. So Bogaerts made some nice plays. So yeah, they made some nice plays at the right time for them.”

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