Red Sox' one brilliant trait continues to separate them in AL East

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Tomase: This brilliant trait is fueling Red Sox' AL East success originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Baseball's lexicon is full of inscrutable phrases. The art of false hustle is known as eyewash. Rainouts aren't canceled or postponed, but banged. Home runs are pimped, 2-0 curveballs are backwards, and why call it a fastball when you can say heater?

There's a word for everything, and the 2021 Red Sox are coming to embody a trait once associated primarily with hockey: they grind.

Be it a noun or verb, "grind" is a baseball favorite for its connotations of persistence, effort, and incremental exhaustion. Grinders don't run you off the field, they drag you. Their uniforms are never clean, their victories are often ugly, and they treat mistakes like a necessary part of the journey -- a 162-game journey which they naturally refer to as a grind.

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Grinders overcome a lack of top-flight talent with relentless will. Their starters may be pedestrian and the bottom of their batting order impotent, but they will grind you down like a King Arthur flour mill. And then they'll wake up tomorrow and do it again.

Nearly halfway through this unexpectedly rewarding season, the Red Sox aren't burnishing their resume so much as grinding it. Tuesday night brought perhaps the season's most quintessential victory, a four-hour slog full of errors, baserunning mistakes, and egregious missed opportunities that nonetheless ended with the Red Sox prevailing, 9-5, in 11 innings.

Rafael Devers drilled the decisive double through the wickets of Rays first baseman Yandy Diaz, but only after making an error in the field and running into a horrible out on the bases. Rookie Connor Wong, making his big league debut as a pinch runner, scored the winning run.

Veterans Hunter Renfroe and Kiké Hernández, not particularly wanted anywhere else this winter, delivered insurance RBIs. A previously maligned bullpen hurled five shutout innings and helped the Red Sox overcome an electrifying debut from super-prospect Wander Franco, who doubled and drilled a three-run homer.

When it was over, manager Alex Cora reached for a familiar compliment while saluting his never-say-die club.

"If you take a look at the guys we have on this roster, they have to earn everything that they have," he said. "We have a bunch of grinders, a bunch of guys that on other teams, they didn't play that much, they're getting their opportunities to play here. We just like to play baseball. It's a good baseball team that we still have to get better in certain things.

"I keep saying it, but at the end of the day, you tell us where or when or what time, it doesn't matter if it takes two hours and 45 minutes or whatever it took today. We push to the end no matter the result. It's a testament to who they are. I'm very proud of them."

In a season with no clear favorite in either league -- the all-world Dodgers actually trail the Giants by three games in the NL West -- an ability to grind could take a team a long way. The Red Sox have already beaten Mets ace Jacob deGrom, 1-0, and they found a way to outlast Rays ace Tyler Glasnow early this season, too.

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They opened the season as the consensus third- or even fourth-place team in the AL East, but they're now 7-0 vs. the Rays and Yankees. Tuesday's victory featured all the hallmarks of their surprising run to a 44-29 record and 1.5-game division lead.

They overcame their mistakes, they didn't wilt in the face of Franco's game-tying three-run homer, and they survived failing to score with runners on second and third and no outs in the 10th. They persevered and sent the Rays to their seventh straight loss while widening their lead in the division instead of falling into second place.In short, they grinded. It's what grinders do.

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