Alex Verdugo gets revenge, leads Yankees past Red Sox 8-1 in return to Fenway Park

Alex Verdugo said all the right things pregame. The ex-Red Sox outfielder spoke positively about his time in Boston, downplayed the tumult that occasionally bubbled between him and manager Alex Cora and talked about how tight he remains with his former teammates.

Yet as he rounded the bases, you could tell just how much it meant for him to get one over on his former team.

In his first at bat back at Fenway Park since being traded to the New York Yankees this past offseason, Verdugo crushed the first pitch he saw 404 feet to dead center field for a two-run home run. Even without his trademark beard Verdugo was every bit his old self, celebrating the home run like he’d hit a walk-off in the World Series.

“This is one of the days I had circled,” Verdugo said following the game. “Big to come back against your former team and to come out there the first inning and put a swing out there that helps the team get ahead … it was big man.”

And that was just the start.

Verdugo went 3 for 5 with four RBI, a double and the home run to lead his new team to a 8-1 win over the Red Sox in Friday’s series opener. All three of his hits drove in a run, and thanks to his effort the Yankees are now the first team in MLB to reach 50 wins this season.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox now fall to .500 for the 18th time this season at 35-35.

Originally scheduled to start early at 6:30 p.m. to accommodate Game 4 of the NBA Finals, the start of the game was delayed 1:10 due to inclement weather. Once things got underway Juan Soto introduced himself to the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry by launching a sky-high fly ball that scraped the Green Monster for a stand-up double, and then Verdugo went deep to put the Yankees right out in front.

“Just like Kyle (Schwarber) the other day, I bet he’s been thinking about swinging at the first pitch for a while now,” Cora said, adding later he took no issue with Verdugo’s celebration. “He got a good pitch to hit and he drove it.”

After the homer Boston was victimized by a couple of costly self-inflicted miscues.

The first came later in the first inning after Giancarlo Stanton walked and Anthony Rizzo singled to put two men on. As he attempted to stretch his hit into a double Rizzo was caught in a rundown that should have ended the inning, but Dom Smith anticipating Stanton breaking for home, and instead of taking the out he threw to the plate. Stanton did not break for home, and as a result Rizzo reached second safely.

Brayan Bello was able to escape the ensuing second-and-third jam without further damage, but he didn’t help his own cause later in the third. After allowing a single to Stanton and a walk to Rizzo to start the inning he drew a double play and what should have been an inning ending groundout to first, but as he went to cover the bag Bello dropped the routine throw, allowing Stanton to score and make it 3-0.

Giving away runs to a team with the best record in baseball is never a recipe for success, especially when they have a guy on the mound who ranks near the top of the leaderboard in nearly every category.

Coming into Friday Yankees starter Luis Gil ranked second in the American League in ERA (2.04), third in walks and hits per innings pitched (0.933) and tied for third in wins (8). The 26-year-old right-hander has emerged as an early contender for AL Rookie of the Year, and while Friday wasn’t one of his best efforts of the season, he still largely kept the Red Sox at bay.

Boston got men in scoring position with one out in both the third and fourth innings but couldn’t fully capitalize on either opportunity. In the third Gil got a flyout and a strikeout to escape unscathed, and in the fourth Enmanuel Valdez got him for an RBI double to make it 3-1, but Gil responded by striking out Dom Smith and Ceddanne Rafaela to strand men at second and third.

Gil ultimately allowed one run over five innings, allowing four hits and four walks while striking out six. He finished with 104 pitches, forcing Masataka Yoshida to ground out to second to finish his outing.

Meanwhile, Bello was inefficient and made it through just 4.2 innings himself. He was charged with four earned runs on six hits, three walks and five strikeouts, and his ERA on the season is now an even 5.00 through 12 starts. Verdugo had an RBI double off Bello with one out in the fifth, and after Cam Booser came on in relief with two outs in the inning Rizzo came up with an RBI single.

“He fell behind to nine hitters and I think six or seven of them got on base,” Cora said of Bello. “They have a good offense but with that, we have to be more aggressive in the strike zone.”

Jose Trevino added a solo home run in the top of the ninth, Aaron Judge tacked on an RBI double and Verdugo finished the job with an RBI single to round out the scoring.

Those each prompted loud “Let’s go Yankees!” chants to break out at Fenway Park, a previously unthinkable occurrence but one likely to become more common as opposing fans continue taking over the ballpark.

Ultimately the Red Sox got plenty of men on base, drawing seven walks as a team, but they couldn’t come up with enough big hits when it counted. At one point Boston drew two walks in three consecutive innings but were only able to convert those into one run. Boston collectively struck out 14 times, stranded 11 men on base and went 1 for 11 with runners in scoring position.

Verdugo had three hits in those situations on his own.

“If you’ve been traded you want to get that team back,” Verdugo said. “I had a lot of fun with those guys, those teammates and the staff over there but just competing against them, you want to do your best.”

On some level the way Friday played out was entirely predictable. Verdugo’s time in Boston may have been marked by inconsistency, but the man never lacked confidence and made no secret his willingness to use perceived slights as motivation. Verdugo lives for nights like this, and while the Red Sox likely don’t have any regrets about the trade, he made sure that for one night his former club paid for their decision.

And as he did, Verdugo relished every moment.

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