The Boston Red Sox have a chance to do what seemed impossible three days ago with a 13-inning win, an unstoppable run from its indispensable player, and the fortuitous rebound only Fenway Park can provide.
These can make meaning of the 100 well-crafted wins the Tampa Bay Rays had this season.
The Red Sox won a rolling Fenway Park Classic. They defeated the Rays in the final inning and took control of this American League Division Series. Christian Vazquez scored a run-scoring homer in the bottom 13th for a Game 3 win of 6-4.
Vazquez’s blast off Rays reliever Luis Patiño gives Boston a 2-1 series advantage and a shot to close out the Rays on Monday at Fenway. The Rays’ win in Game 4 will force Tropicana Field to host a decisive Game 5, Wednesday.
The game was tense and many of the players were pushed to the role of hero, but Nick Pivetta from Boston kept the Red Sox alive. He pitched four innings, struck out seven, and maintained the Red Sox’s viability.
The Rays won’t forget Fenway’s ineptness that kept them from the top of the 13th.
YandyDiaz was running on the pitch. Rays outfielder Kevin Kiermaier hit a ball right to the warning track. By the time Hunter Renfroe neared the ball, Diaz was just a few feet from third base — and an easy trip home to score the go-ahead run and give Tampa Bay a 5-4 lead.
But the ball spun funkily off the dirt and the wall and richocheted right into and off Renfroe’s hip area.
He hopped over the wall, which was approximately 4 feet high.
Ground rule double.
An aghast Kiermaier and Rays manager Kevin Cash had no argument for Major League Baseball’s rulebook, which hews strongly that a ball that deflects off a player and into foul ground is a ground rule double —and just two bases, regardless of whether that occurs 40 or 400 feet from home.
Rule 5.05a(8) states: “Any bounding ball on fair territory is deflected into the stands or over or under the fence by the fielder. In which case, the batter and all runners are entitled to move two bases.”
Moments later, Vazquez crushed a Patiño pitch to tilt the ALDS strongly in Boston’s favor.
“THAT’S A HEARTER”:Ground rule double-call by Rays, MLB Rulebook, after bad bounce, shocks team
It’s a sudden reverse of fortune for the Red Sox, in both the immediate and bigger picture. A 5-0 throttling by the Rays in Game 1 surprised few – the Red Sox finished eight games behind Tampa Bay in the regular season and staggered into Tropicana Field after an emotional wild-card vanquishing of the New York Yankees.
Yet these 92-win Red Sox – far less distinguished than their 118-win 2018 edition or the other three World Series titlists this century – showed they at least have the quick-strike firepower of their predecessors.
In a 14-inning stretch spanning the first inning of Game 2 through the fifth inning of Game 3, the Red Sox scored 17 runs and tallied a run in at least every other inning, blitzing Tampa Bay rookie starters Shane Baz and Drew Rasmussen. The Game 3 starter, Rasmussen was chased after allowing three batters to reach in the third inning, including Kiké Hernandez’s RBI single, without recording an out.
That wasn’t even the apex of Hernandez’s historic run, during which he banged out hits in seven consecutive at-bats – that stretch would culminate with a solo home run over the Green Monster off Rays reliever Pete Fairbanks to give Boston a 4-2, fifth-inning lead.
However, darkness fell upon Fenway as the game continued to grow. The Red Sox weren’t content with assuming they were safe.
Tampa Bay had 12 wins in this year’s season, including one in the eighth or later inning. It tied that game with laser precision.
The game began with an impressive opposite-field hit by Wander Franco (20 years old), who was among five of the youngest to reach a playoff homerun.
Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who’s largely burnished his reputation as a big-game manager this October, would then commit a rare tactical error, leaving in reliever Hansel Robles after an Austin Meadows double, even as de facto closer Garrett Whitlock readied in the bullpen.
Randy Arozarena, the playoff wrecking ball made Cora pay. He doubled to dead center to tie it.
But that was not enough to retake control of the ALDS from the Red Sox. Pivetta was able to land his devastating curveball quickly, with his skips and roundhouse punches becoming more intense with each passing day.
It brought back memories of Nathan Eovaldi’s relief performance in six innings in 2018, which culminated in a walk-off homer from Max Muncy in 18th inning.
Eovaldi pitched five solid innings in Game 3. He struck out eight. Pivetta was also able to repay his effort.
“He was amazing,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “Very, very much similar to Nate from Game 3 of World Series a few year ago.”
Now it’s time to make a decision for each manager. Cash had to burn his likely Game 4 starter – Patiño – in Sunday’s 12th and 13th innings; it’s possible reliever Collin McHugh could open the game, potentially covering multiple innings.
Cora will have to decide whether she wants to return to Eduardo Rodriguez or Chris Sale, ineffective lefties. Or a complete bullpen effort for Game 4.
In Game 5, Shane McClanahan, a Rays rookie, and Tanner Houck (Red Sox right-hander), would be likely to dominate. However, there could be many twists and turns by that point.
The Red Sox are currently writing the preferred script.
“I don’t want that play to take away from what this game was on both sides,” says Hernandez. Both teams had a great game. This is what October is all about.”