They didn’t win their division, suffered a grim second-half collapse, did little to improve their club at the trade deadline and are comprised of parts gathered over three front office regimes.
Yet the more warts the Boston Red Sox accumulate, the prettier their roller-coaster 2021 season becomes.
The latest frameable moment came Monday night, after the Red Sox blew a five-run lead but, befitting their resourceful ethos, got a ninth-inning sacrific fly from Kiké Hernandez to defeat the Tampa Bay Rays 6-5 in Game 4 and capture their American League Division Series.
The taut victory vanquished the Rays in the ALDS, 3-1 and sends the Red Sox to the AL Championship Series. They will travel to face either the Houston Astros or Chicago White Sox. Game 1 is Thursday.
The Red Sox got there in a manner befitting their slugging lineage, breaking open a scoreless tie in the third inning with a lightning-strike five-run rally off Rays rookie and Game 1 starter Shane McClanahan, all the runs scoring with two out and three of them coming home on Rafael Devers’ three-run home run.
Yet they won it with the sort of execution that’s often eluded them this year.
After the Rays methodically clawed back against Boston’s bullpen with five runs between the fifth and eighth innings, Boston struck back in the ninth. Game 3 hero Christian Vazquez led off with a single, was bunted to second advanced to third on an error before Hernandez’s high fly to right easily scored pinch runner Danny Santana to send Fenway Park into relieved delirum.
“Not too many people gave us a chance from the get-go, but we believed,” says Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who’s won every postseason series he’s managed and returned to the Red Sox after a one-year ban for his role in the Astros’ sign-stealing scheme.
“We always said we had a good baseball team that had some holes, and we still have some holes, but at the end, for how bad it looked sometimes, we’re still here. We’re still in the dance. We’re still in the tournament, and we’re moving on to the ALCS.”
The victory capped a series in which the Red Sox, by virtue of finishing eight games behind the 100-win Rays in the AL East, were playing from behind from the jump, having to burn ace Nathan Eovaldi to eliminate the Yankees in the AL wild-card game. Tampa Bay dominated them 5-0 in Game 1 and took an early lead in Game 2, but the Red Sox stormed back from there.
They blew leads in both Game 3 and 4, needing 13 innings and a Vazquez walk-off homer to take a 2-1 series lead and then seeing the Rays erase that 5-0 advantage in Game 4.
It could have been worse. Tampa Bay used consecutive doubles from Mike Zunino and Kevin Kiermaier and an RBI single by Randy Arozarena to tie it 5-5 in the eighth – the second consecutive game the Rays erased a two-run, eighth-inning deficit. There were no outs and a runner at second.
But de facto closer Garrett Whitlock calmed the seas as he did in Game 4, getting a pair of groundouts and a fly out to keep the game level.
Hernandez’s heroics sent Boston onward and Tampa Bay – the best and most consistent team in the AL this season – home for the winter.
For the Red Sox, it is a deep playoff run coming less than two years after trading franchise player Mookie Betts to the Los Angeles Dodgers, precipitating a dismal, pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
But despite Betts’ loss, plenty of holdovers from their 2018 championship team – Eovaldi, Devers, Vazquez and others – combined with new blood to form a cohesive unit. Hernandez, signed away from the Dodgers this winter, had nine hits in 20 ALDS at-bats and drove in six runs, including the series-ender. Alex Verdugo, acquired in the Betts trade, has eight hits already this postseason and six RBI.
Now, onward to their next step, where they’ll be underdogs starting on the road again.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Red Sox reach ALCS on Kiké Hernandez’s walk-off sac fly vs. Rays
Source: Yahoo Sports