Cleveland - 000 202 000 - 4 7 0 Red Sox - 000 011 010 - 3 8 0After David Ortiz's remarkable, record-setting batting performance in the final year of his legendary Red Sox career, it would have been a storybook ending for Boston to win the pennant and possibly win a fourth championship during Big Papi's tenure. It wasn't supposed to end like this, abruptly and frustratingly, with Cleveland celebrating a Division Series sweep on the Fenway infield.
After the victors retired to their clubhouse to celebrate, a tearful Ortiz came back out on the field and tipped his cap to the remaining fans, who had been chanting "Thank You, Papi!" and "One More Year!" since the end of the game.
The Boston bats were held quiet by Josh Tomlin (5-4-2-1-4, 68) for four innings, but they finally stirred in the fifth. It was in the eighth inning, however, when they made their move. Trailing 4-2, down to their final six outs and facing Bryan Shaw, the Red Sox brought up the top of their batting order. Dustin Pedroia was called out on strikes. He protested the call, but the strike three pitch was called correctly. Pinch-hitter Travis Shaw grounded a single into right field. Mookie Betts scorched a grounder to third. Jose Ramirez backhanded it and got the force at second. Cleveland manager Terry Francona then called on his closer Cody Allen. Ortiz, who had driven in a sixth-inning run with a line drive sacrifice fly to center, walked on four pitches, putting the potential tying runs on base.
At first base, Ortiz motioned to the crowd several times to get up and make some noise. (But why did they need to be prodded?) Hanley Ramirez looked at two balls and then drove a hard grounder into left. Betts scored and it was 4-3. Marco Hernandez went in to pinch-run for Ortiz at second base. Xander Bogaerts, with two singles in three earlier trips, hit the ball very hard, but right at second baseman Jason Kipnis, for the third out.
After Craig Kimbrel made quick work of Cleveland in the top of the ninth, the Red Sox came up for what would be their last inning of the season. Chris Young flied to left and Sandy Leon struck out for the third time in the game. Jackie Bradley (0-for-9, with 7 strikeouts to that point) was Boston's last hope. Allen fell behind 3-0, but fought back to a full count before Bradley lined a single to right. Allen fell behind Pedroia 3-1 and ended up walking him, also on a full count pitch. Allen also fell behind Shaw 3-1, the crowd roaring on each wayward pitch, but after Shaw fouled a pitch off, he lifted a routine fly to right. Lonnie Chisenhall squeezed it - and the ALDS was over.
Boston starter Clay Buchholz (4-6-2-1-4, 75) worked most of the time with at least one opponent on base, but he kept Cleveland off the board until the fourth. In that frame, he allowed a single to Ramirez and a walk to Chisenhall. After Coco Crisp sacrificed the runners to second and third, Tyler Naquin brought them in with a single to right.
Boston closed the gap to 2-1 in the fifth. With one out, Bogaerts singled to center. Andrew Benintendi lifted a fly to deep left that scraped off the Wall on the way down. Bogaerts read the play perfectly and scored all the way from first, sliding across the plate head first.
Drew Pomeranz, who had retired the side in the fifth, walked Ramirez to start the sixth and then gave up a one-out home run to Crisp. It was a crushing blow, especially since the Red Sox had just scored in the previous inning. (Crisp was actually Cleveland's last base runner of the night, as Joe Kelly, Koji Uehara and Kimbrel retired the last 11 men to come to the plate.)
Tomlin allowed a leadoff single to Pedroia in the bottom of the sixth and was pulled. Andrew Miller struck out pinch-hitter Aaron Hill (who was batting for Brock Holt). Betts doubled off the Wall and Pedroia went to third. Ortiz lined out to center, scoring Pedroia. Hanley Ramirez struck out.
Boston managed only a one-out walk in the seventh. Then came the rallies in the eighth and ninth, when the AL East champs very nearly pushed this series to a fourth game. Instead, it is Cleveland who will host Game 1 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays.
Despite its sudden ending, the 2016 season was far from a disappointment. After two last-place finishes, this season ranks as an unqualified success. David Ortiz turned in one of the best seasons of his soon-to-be-Hall of Fame career, we witnessed the emergence of Mookie Betts, and we won the goddamn division. While we will no longer have the pleasure of watching #34 spit in his big mitts and get in the box, ready to put a hurting on some opposing pitcher, the future looks extremely bright.
Pedroia, 2BDespite the Sunday rainout, both managers are staying with the same starting pitchers. (Interesting: Buchholz and Tomlin were teammates at Angelina College, a community college in Lufkin, Texas.)
The Red Sox got off to a slow start in this series, but:
Don't let us win tonight!