NEW YORK — Kutter Crawford, who emerged from the roster bubble of Spring Training, found himself on the big stage of Yankee Stadium on Sunday Night Baseball.
The 26-year-old rookie stood up to the challenge and became the first winning pitcher for the Red Sox this season, notching his first Major League victory in the process.
After two tightly contested losses to their forever rivals, the Sox salvaged the finale with a 4-3 victory in the last contest between the clubs until July 7.
“It was a pretty awesome moment,” said Crawford. “You know, to do it in Yankee Stadium, Red Sox-Yankees rivalry and Sunday Night Baseball is really special.”
It was sweet redemption for Crawford, who made just three pitches on Opening Day — the third of which Josh Donaldson sent to a patch of grass in the outfield to score the automatic runner and give the Yankees a walk-off win in 11 innings.
“Yeah, it felt really good after [Friday],” said Crawford. “Kind of made a pitch, ground ball, found a hole and they won. So tonight felt good after going two scoreless. That was a good feeling.”
Such a performance was worthy of a souvenir.
“I got the lineup card over there sitting on my chair,” Crawford said. “I’ll hopefully get it framed and put it on the wall.”
Meanwhile, manager Alex Cora’s club successfully avoided starting 0-3 for the second straight season, though they bounced back nicely from that bump in the road last season.
With the game locked in a 3-3 tie entering the bottom of the fifth, Cora turned to Crawford, the team’s No. 25 prospect as ranked by MLB Pipeline.
Immediately, there was some trouble for Crawford. As in runners at second and third and one out. The right-hander wiggled out of that jam.
Even more impressive is what he did in the sixth, striking out Anthony Rizzo, who tormented the Red Sox all weekend, and then the always-dangerous Aaron Judge. Both K’s, fittingly, were on cutters for the man named Kutter.
“It was huge,” Crawford said. “It definitely helped the confidence, knowing how good of hitters they both are. But I try to attack everybody with what I’ve got.”
Given the unsettled state of the Boston bullpen, an abbreviated start by Tanner Houck (3 1/3 innings) and another non-descript game by the offense, the two bridge innings by Crawford were particularly significant.
A starter as he worked his way through the farm system, the Red Sox made the decision to convert Crawford into a reliever this spring.
His velocity ticked up notably in the new role, and Cora and Boston’s other decision-makers gained confidence throughout Spring Training that they found someone who could make an impact.
That confidence was rewarded Sunday night.
“Kutter, we like him,” said Cora. “He has good stuff. He commands the strike zone, he’s really good at it, and he did an amazing job for us tonight.”
There were a couple of other big moments that led to a happy flight to Detroit.
Diekman: ‘Closer for today’
Cora’s bullpen moves paid off throughout the contest, as his relievers got the final 17 outs to hold off the heavy-hitting Yankees.
The biggest and most drama-filled of those outs? The 11-pitch at-bat that Jake Diekman had against Judge to open the ninth, which ended with a punchout on a 94.7 mph heater.
Diekman carved up recent Red Sox nemesis Giancarlo Stanton on a four-pitch K and capped his 15th career save by finishing off Joey Gallo for a swinging strikeout on a slider.
Cora has yet to name a closer and might not for a while. Was Sunday a hint that Diekman could get the nod?
“He was the closer today,” Cora said. “He’s done it before. I remember in 2019 he pitched against us at home and J.D. [Martinez], it was July or around that time, and he was like, ‘We need to get this guy.’ The angle on the fastball and the slider [is tough].”
In the first two games of the series, the Red Sox generated offense early, but hardly anything late. This time, Bobby Dalbec came through with the clutch knock necessary for victory, clubbing an opposite-field homer to right to lead off the sixth that broke the tie. It was the last run for either side.
In his rookie season of ’21, Dalbec started with 58 homerless at-bats before snapping the drought with a big homer at Citi Field that helped support a win over the Mets.
“I remember,” quipped Dalbec, who went on to hit 25 homers for the season.
This time, Dalbec’s first dinger came on his 10th at-bat of the season in another borough in New York.
“It just frees you up a little,” Dalbec said. “I was more pumped up about my [walk in the ninth inning] than the home run, honestly.”
Dalbec walked just 28 times last season, but was known for having a good eye in the Minors.