Rodriguez

Boston's Eduardo Rodriguez delivers a pitch on Wednesday night against the Twins. Rodriguez got the win, his 17th of the season.

WHEN EXAMINING the Red Sox’ precarious playoff chances — most folks think the chances are slim and none — stop and think about where this team would be without Eduardo Rodriguez.

The left-hander formerly known as enigmatic has done more than his share to keep this repeat thing at least flickering.

The Red Sox have a ridiculous 21 pitchers on the roster for the stretch run. None has been as good as E-Rod.

Rodriguez pitched seven shutout innings against the potent Twins Wednesday night for his 17th win, allowing the Sox to even the series as they scratch and claw to try to stay alive in the wild card hunt.

The numbers are there as Rodriguez is in position to win three times in his last four starts and get to 20 wins. Yes, I know wins have been deemphasized in this analytic world, but 20 wins is 20 wins.

The Red Sox starters, as a group, entered Wednesday’s game with a cumulative 5.03 ERA. Rodriguez dropped that lousy number to 4.96 as he continued an impressive run.

The numbers are there. He had a 5.43 ERA in his first time starts, but has delivered a 3.95 over his last 19. That’s 2.58 in his last 13.

So, in a year when Chris Sale went 5-11, David Price has won seven games and is hurting again, Rick Porcello is 12-11 with a terrible ERA and Nathan Eovaldi has been hurt most of the year, Rodriguez has thrived — and developed into a true ace.

“We knew stuff-wise he was up there with the other guys,” manager Alex Cora said. “I do feel, fair or not, I was very hard on him in spring training letting him know, this is what I need from him. That’s not an easy lineup. Pitching in Coors Field (last week) is not easy.”

From our pal Chris Smith of MassLive: “Red Sox’ Eduardo Rodriguez pitched 7 or more innings in six starts as a rookie in 2015. He recorded at least an out in the seventh inning in eight of his 21 starts. But he pitched 7 or more innings in just five starts from 2016-18. This year, he has done it 8 times.”

The Red Sox have struggled at Fenway this season. But they are 12-1 in Rodriguez’ 12 home starts, 23-32 when all the others start (through Wednesday night).

“Potential is great. We know that. That’s great,” said Cora. “But there are a lot of people who just stay with that and they don’t take the next step. He took the challenge, he made some adjustments and now he’s doing what he’s doing.”

Finally, we give you these E-Rod notes from the Red Sox after Wednesday’s game:

“Threw 7.0+ scoreless innings for the 3rd time in his last starts, going 4-0 with a 1.03 ERA (3 ER/26.1 IP) during that span; has thrown 7.0+ scoreless IP five times in 2019...In the last 10 seasons, the only other Red Sox with 5+ such starts in a season is Chris Sale (8, 2017); Is 9-1 with a 2.52 ERA (21 ER/75.0 IP) in 12 starts since the beginning of July; This season, has set career highs in games (29), starts (29), innings pitched (172.2), wins (17), and strikeouts (168).”

Beyond absurd

Next year, baseball rosters will be at 26 throughout the season and then add just two players on Sept. 1. So now, to celebrate the coming change, the Red Sox have the aforementioned 21 pitchers. Yes: 21!!!

‘We’re going winter ball-style,” said Cora. “Games, instead of going four hours, are going five hours.’”

Seriously, he added, “Our starters are not giving us enough ... We need outs ... We’re not waving a white flag. We’re going to keep on pushing.”

But the times of game? From Alex Speier of The Boston Globe the other day: “The Red Sox currently have a 21-man pitching staff, and the average MLB time of game this year is the longest in history at 3 hours, 9 minutes. The Red Sox have had the longest games at 3 hours, 24 minutes.”

Yankees in town

Complete with the usual Sunday night game, which will go directly up against (and get hammered by) the Patriots-Steelers opener, the Yankees are at Fenway for four games this weekend. These old friends are both fighting for something, the Yankees for home field throughout the playoffs and the Sox … well, you know. The Yankees, having won another home series (18-0-3 in their last 21), switched sports for their flight to Boston.

From Lindsey Adler of The Athletic: “Yankees wore NFL jerseys for their trip to Boston. Cameron Maybin had a Randy Moss Vikings jersey, Mike Tauchman had a Khalil Mack jersey, and Clint Frazier had an Antonio Brown jersey. But half the room was in Eagles jerseys, thanks to the private collection of Tommy Kahnle.

Bill loves his job

With the quest for No. 7 officially starting Sunday night, Bill Belichick makes in abundantly clear he’s exactly where he wants to be.

“I like football. I like football season and all of the things that go with it,” he said.

No shock there. This man LIVES football — and no one is going to argue with the results, right? Asked to compare the growth of rookie Jarrett Stidham to the Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett starts in New England, Belichick said, “All players are different. Jarrett’s worked hard. He’s made progress. He’s got a long way to go. We’ll see how it goes.”

Speaking of quarterbacks, this from “Proud Bostonian” Will D. on Twitter: “Career Earnings To Date: Matt Cassel, $65,494,057; Jimmy Garoppolo, $63,408,637; Brian Hoyer, $21,171,470. It pays to play well as Tom Brady’s backup quarterback.” And he didn’t even count Brissett’s new two-year, $30 million ($20 million guaranteed) new deal with the Colts.

Thomas honored

He has disappeared from the Boston sports scene ever since skating away from the game, but Tim Thomas actually spoke, via conference call, to the media after being selected to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.

“Everybody probably knows nowadays I don’t actually have all that much to say, at least publicly,” he said. “Obviously I’ve decided to keep what I’ve been doing with my life and learning to be myself at this point, for sure, and probably forever.”

Asked about not returning to Boston, he said (and read into this what you will), “With the state of my nervous system since I retired, I wouldn’t be able to hardly handle the energy of the crowd in Boston. So it isn’t as simple as it may seem. Having said that, you never know what the future may hold. I’m just taking life as it goes.”

Even though he’s not around, there will again be a Thomas connection to the Bruins: his daughter landed an internship with the club.

With Jayson Tatum nursing an ankle sprain, Team USA meets Giannis Antetokounmpo and Greece Saturday.

“He’s going to come out to kill us, there’s no question,” said Team USA’s and Freak NBA teammate center Brook Lopez. “He’s going to want to tear our heads off. I wouldn’t expect anything otherwise.”

Finally, Connecticut Sun star Jonquel Jones, a native of the Bahamas, has donated $10,000 and the team has started a GoFundMe on its website to assist the storm-ravaged country. Others around the WNBA had already chimed in on the first day of Jones asking for help.

Mike Shalin covers Boston pro sports for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is shalinmike@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @mscotshay.