BOSTON — For three months, the Boston Red Sox were a fiery enigma, a first-place team thanks to wild-card status that, thanks to its own ragged play and insane inconsistency, fueled suspicion. Was that this club that sent a league-high five players to the All-Star Game could be anything but championship caliber.
Yet if the Red Sox carefully calmed down on the Fenway Park turf for Tuesday night’s American League wild-card game against the similarly fickle New York Yankees, they earned every right to call it off.
and after a major and many more times Electric 6-2 Triumph On their arch rivals, the Red Sox are thinking about something other than their legitimacy.
Specifically, could a 3-hour, 12-minute performance of shocking baseball help them get rid of second-half woes and start a potential championship run?
“We just did something really cool,” says shortstop Xander Bogarts, who made two of the biggest plays of the night – a two-run first-innings home run from Gerrit Cole who threw figurative kerosene at the already lit Fenway Park crowd. Diya, and a perfect relay throw to bite Aaron Judge at home plate and maintain a 3-1 lead in sixth.
Bogarts’ struggle mirrored his team’s struggle. The Red Sox jeopardized their post-season chances when the Yankees leveled them in a three-game sweep at Fenway in late September, with Bogarts’ 1-for-12 performance at the end of the season in a 5-K -32 skins started.
They didn’t make it back to the playoffs—a 1-5 skid halted with a season-saving sweep in Washington, equivalent to the Yankees’ 92 win—but the narrative had been established.
The Red Sox couldn’t find their footing after a COVID-19 outbreak devastated the roster. Many of his defensive and foundational lapses would be his undoing and, of course, he went deep against Stanton and Cole and the imposing Yankees.
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He defeated the Yankees. And maybe it’s not so hard to look in the mirror now.
“Sometimes it looks terrible,” says manager Alex Cora, “but 93 times this year it’s not looking terrible, so we’re going to keep going.”
All the way to Tampa Bay. Game 1 of the AL Division Series is Thursday at Tropicana Field, with the Red Sox awkwardly taking on the role of the underdog. Ace Nathan Iovaldi – who dazzled with eight strikeouts and didn’t play in a 5⅓ innings on Tuesday – will not be available until Game 3 Sunday at Fenway Park.
The Rays seized the AL East lead from Boston on July 31, and the defending AL champions won 100 games for the first time in franchise history.
“To be honest, they are a very clean team,” says the Bogarts. “You see with the pitching staff or especially defensively, they don’t give any extra outs. It’s a team that plays the best.”
It doesn’t get much neater than quarterback Bogarts’ play.
With Eovaldi finally selected for a home run run by Anthony Rizzo, followed by a judged infield single, Cora picked him up for reliever Ryan Brazier. Giancarlo Stanton, who wreaked havoc in that sweep with three home runs at Fenway, put a chill in the crowd with a drive that threatened to clear the Green Monster and tie the game.
Instead, it bounced back to center and to the right of Kike Hernandez, who cleanly collected the carrom and threw a strike to Bogarts.
The three-time All-Star circled and fired to catch Kevin Plewecki, the throw breaking toward the third base side of home plate in a way that would make the pitcher proud.
Outside. Threat cancelled.
“When we play defense,” Cora says, “we’re good. We want to be a good defensive team. We haven’t done that all season.
“But that was a great play.”
Bogarts says: “It was better than a homer for me personally. If he scores the run, it’s 3-2. Stanton is at second base, all the momentum is in his favor.”
Instead, it’s the Red Sox leading the way, with the Rays falling and claiming their second championship in four years, and fifth since 2004.
“Now we move on to the next one,” Cora says, “and we just have to get ready to face a great baseball team. We have a big challenge ahead.”
“But we are ready for it.”