October 11, 2021

ALDS 4: Red Sox 6, Rays 5

Rays    - 000 012 020 - 5  7  1
Red Sox - 005 000 001 - 6 12 0

Kike Hernández's sacrifice fly scored pinch-runner Danny Santana from third and gave the Red Sox their second walkoff win over Tampa Bay in 24 hours and sent them to the American League Championship Series. 

Boston won the series three games to one over the Rays, the defending AL champs who won 100 games this season for the first time in their 24-year history. The Red Sox have had two walkoff victories within 24 hours in the postseason before, of course. In the 2004 ALCS (October 18, to be exact), David Ortiz won both Games 4 and 5 against the Yankees with extra-inning hits.

The Red Sox will play either the Astros or the White Sox in the ALCS, beginning on Friday night. The Houston-Chicago ALDS Game 4 on Monday was rained out and will be played Tuesday at 2:00 PM ET. The Astros lead the series 2-1.

Boston scored five runs in the third inning, but the Rays chipped away, finally tying the game in the eighth. The Red Sox could not take advantage of a man on second with no outs in the eighth, but the ninth was a different story.

Christian Vázquez, facing J.P. Feyereisen, the Rays' eighth pitcher of the night, grounded a single into left, as Yandy Diaz dove to his left but could not glove the ball. Christian Arroyo bunted Vázquez to second. Travis Shaw hit for Bobby Dalbec, who had taken over for Kyle Schwarber at first base. Shaw fell behind 0-2 but was disciplined, laying off two high pitches for balls. Then he grounded to third. Diaz came in to field the ball, and his throw to first was low. It bounced off Ji-Man Choi's chest and fell to the dirt. Vázuqez advanced to third, where he was pulled for Santana before Hernández stepped in. The Rays brought the infield in to the lip of the grass. On Feyereisen's first pitch to Hernández, Shaw took second uncontested (removing the possibility of a double play with a force at second). That point immediately became moot as Hernández lifted the next pitch to left. The ball was not going to reach the Monster Seats, but the Red Sox started celebrating anyway. It was a fly ball and it was deep enough to most likely get Santana home. Austin Meadows made the catch and threw to the plate, but the ball was off target, up the first base line, and too late. Santana scored standing up.

Eduardo Rodriguez (5-3-2-0-6, 78) was a different and much-improved pitcher than he was in Game 1. He retired the first nine Rays batters and 12 of the first 13. (The last Red Sox pitcher to retire the first nine batters in a postseason game was Jon Lester, against the Rays in 2008 ALCS Game 7.) Hunter Renfroe made a remarkable catch for the first out of the game, running to deep right-center, lunging for and catching Randy Arozarena's drive back-handed and with his glove down around his knees.

Rodriguez struck out the next two hitters to end the first and then struck out the first two hitters in the second. He also fanned Meadows to start the third, but he needed 17 pitches, which set a postseason plate appearance record - a record since (at least) 1988, that is, when pitches began to be officially tracked. Meadows fouled off 14 pitches: Foul, foul, foul, ball, ball, ball, foul, foul, foul, foul, foul, foul, foul, foul, foul, foul, swinging strike three.

Jayson Stark reports that Meadows's at-bat lasted 7 minutes and 36 seconds. The longest at-bat during the regular season was 16 pitches, by Pavin Smith of the Diamondbacks against the Mets' Jacob Barnes on May 9. Also, Meadows never had a single game all season in which his two longest at-bats added up to 17 pitches.

Rays manager Kevin Cash relied on starter Collin McHugh (2-1-0-0-0, 18) for only two innings. I'm sure he wishes he had opted for a third. Shane McClanahan was the first reliever out of Tampa Bay's pen and he gave up a single to Vázquez to start the bottom of the third. Arroyo flied to right, Schwarber walked, and Hernandez flied to left. Devers clobbered the first pitch, sending it 404 feet to center for a three-run homer. Xander Bogaerts singled and scored on Alex Verdugo's opposite-field double off the Wall. And he scored on J.D. Martinez's single off the Wall in left-center. McClanahan's replacement, JT Chargois, was hit for another double, also off the Wall, by Hunter Renfroe. However, Vázquez, the inning's tenth batter, struck out.

In the regular season, McClanahan allowed only five runs to the Red Sox in four starts. In Game 4, he allowed five runs in 0.2 innings (eight batters).

The Red Sox managed only one baserunner over the next three innings. Meanwhile, the Rays started to come back. Rodriguez surrendered a double to Jordan Luplow, who lined the ball over a leaping Devers and into the left field corner. It was a bit of a mystery how Devers missed catching the ball; it glanced off the tip of his glove. Luplow took third on a fly out to center and scored on Meadows's groundout to first.

Rodriguez's last pitch was hit by Kevin Kiermaier for a leadoff double in the fifth. Tanner Houck got Arozarena to fly to center, but Wander Franco hit a two-run homer to center.

MLBTV's option of a different audio overlay has spared me the ear-bleeding lecturing of John Smoltz filling every crevice of the TV broadcast. That's the good news. The bad news is that WEEI's Will Flemming's non-stop adoration of Wander Franco was quite possibly worse than Smoltz's lecturing. Franco is precociously talented player, yes, we all agree on that, but for Christ's sake. A newcomer to baseball listening to Flemming's gushing could be forgiven for thinking the young, highly-touted shortstop had batted .935 this season and bashed upwards of 200 home runs. The Franco worship got so bad (did Flemming forget he's actually a Red Sox announcer?) that, coupled with his chronic habit of explaining every possible aspect of the game (it turns out both teams were "all in" on this game, meaning both of them were trying very hard to win; how about that!), we were forced to mute the feed when the Rays were batting. Flemming's habit of using his very loud and sonorous Announcing-The-Second-Coming voice for any run being scored or even an extra base hit was a bit much.

Also: Flemming and Joe Castiglione are deathly afraid of Mike Zunino. God only knows why, but every time the Rays catcher came to the plate, or loomed ominously on-deck, they painted a picture of an absolute beast of a hitting machine who was ready, willing, and extremely able to destroy any Red Sox pitcher. They carried on this way throughout both Games 3 and 4. Never mind that The Mighty Zunino was 1-for-14 in the series as he prepared to leadoff the top of the eighth. Zunino hit a career-high 33 home runs this year, but his .216 average was his best in the past four seasons (2018-20: .201, .165, .147). His 2021 on-base barely cracked .300. There are many good reasons why he usually bats 8th or 9th. One of those reasons is that it's impossible to bat 10th.

So . . . Josh Taylor pitched a clean seventh and I expected to see Garrett Whitlock for the last two innings. However, it was Ryan Brasier on the mound in the eighth. This, it turned out, was a mistake. Zunino doubled to right-center, as Hernandez and Renfroe converged on the ball but neither one really made an attempt to catch it. Kiermaier also doubled to right-center and Boston's lead was cut to 5-4. Arozarena singled to right, tying the game, and taking second on Renfroe's late throw to the plate.

Now Whitlock entered the game - to face the fearsome Franco . . . who lifted a routine fly ball to right for the first out. Yawn. Whitlock got two groundouts and Tampa's go-ahead run was stranded at second.

In Boston's eighth, Verdugo grounded to shortstop. Franco went to his right, backhanded the ball, and fired extremely wide of first base, to the right field side. Choi chased after the ball as Verdugo took second. (I did not hear what Flemming had to say about this strange turn of events.) Martinez flied to right. Renfroe flied to center and Verdugo tried for third. Kiermaier made a high throw from center, but umpire Dan Bellino felt Diaz tagged him in time and called him out, ending the inning. The Red Sox challenged the call and at least one replay seemed to indicate Verdugo got his oven mitt on the base before the tag. The question was whether his mitt came off the bag at any time. It looked like it might have come off from some angles and it looked like he kept it on from other angles. The call was upheld.

Whitlock breezed through the top of the ninth on seven pitches, getting two groundouts and a fly to left. Retiring six batters on 15 pitches made me wonder what would have happened if he had begun the eighth inning. Fortunately, that became irrelevant a few minutes later as the Red Sox won the game, avoiding extra innings and also avoiding a trip to "Champa Bay", as the city was called in a premature (and ridiculous) commercial celebrating the exploits of TB's football and hockey teams and noting that no city has won those championships and the World Series in the same year. Well, that is still true.

In ALDS Game 4, the Red Sox will go with Plan B.

Alex Cora's original idea had been to start Nick Pivetta in Monday's game, but the 28-year-old Canadian threw four shutout innings (all in extras) yesterday. Now, Eduardo Rodriguez will return on three days rest, after facing only nine batters and throwing 41 pitches in Game 1 on Thursday night.

Collin McHugh starts for the Rays, but will likely only face the Red Sox lineup once. He has not pitched more than three innings in a game this year. He gave up three runs in 1.2 innings in Game 2.

Monday's Other Games (ET):
Brewers at Atlanta, 1:00 PM (Tied 1-1)
Astros at White Sox, 3:30 PM (Astros lead 2-1)
Giants at Dodgers, 9:30 PM (Tied 1-1)

1 comment:

Zenslinger said...

Smoltz became intensely painful. Could not stop commenting on the difference in mentality between starting a game and relieving. Obviously a result of trauma we as Red Sox fans are familiar with in a similarly painful way.

I couldn't understand for the life of me why we didn't pinch run for Vasquez earlier.

And who will be our color commentator for the ALCS? Yes. John Smoltz.