October 2, 2021

G161: Red Sox 5, Nationals 3

Red Sox   - 000 100 004 - 5  7  0
Nationals - 000 000 012 - 3 5 0

Tanner Houck pitched five perfect innings, Ryan Brasier got a huge strikeout to end the seventh and strand three Nationals and preserve a 1-0 lead, Christian Vazquez's triple to deep right snapped a 1-1 tie in the top of the ninth, Enrique Hernandez homered two batters later for some absolutely necessary insurance runs, and Hansel Robles nailed down the three-out save (and walked only one batter) as the Red Sox beat Washington 5-3 in 3:53 on Saturday afternoon in 2021's penultimate regular season game.

The Yankees were clobbered 12-2 by the Rays, so the Red Sox and Yankees are tied atop the Wild Card standings. Boston owns the top spot, however, thanks to their 10-9 record against the MFY. The Blue Jays beat the Orioles 10-2 and the Mariners topped the Angels 6-4. And so . . .

Red Sox    91-70   ---
Yankees    91-70   ---
Mariners   90-71   1.0
Blue Jays  90-71   1.0

Houck (5-0-0-0-8, 53) was on a short leash because he had thrown 41 pitches on Tuesday and Cora said he had no reservations about pulling him even though he retired all 15 batters he faced. Houck's pitch count in each inning was low (11-11-10 13-8) and he did not throw more than five pitches to any batter.

Rafael Devers ended the first inning by grounding into a double play, stranding a runner at third, but he pounded his 36th home run to right-center in the fourth, giving Boston a 1-0 lead. (That home run was the Red Sox's only baserunner in a span of 15 batters from the end of the first into the sixth (and the only baserunner in a span of 30 batters for both teams.)

Garret Richards took over for Houck and got two groundouts to begin the sixth, thanks to sparkling plays from Xander Bogaerts and Devers. Gerardo Parra, Washington's 18th batter of the game, lined an opposite field single to left, but one pitch later, he was forced at second and the inning was over.

Ryan Brasier, pitching for the fourth consecutive day, retired the first two Nats in the seventh, as Hunter Renfroe ran in and made a sliding catch on Alcides Escobar's sinking fly ball in short right-center and Juan Soto struck out on a high slider (Soto had struck out only 10 times since August 28, but he fanned twice today). Josh Bell chopped a single up the middle on which Bogaerts, playing in a shift on the right side of the bag, could not make a timely play. Brasier worked Keibert Ruiz steadily away, going to 3-1 before jamming him with an inside fastball that was fouled off. After another foul, Ruiz walked. 

Andrew Stevenson grounded a 1-0 pitch to first. Kyle Schwarber ended up trying to shovel the ball to Brasier at the bag, but when he did, he was only about a foot or two away from the pitcher, and the ball handcuffed Brasier, hit his chest, and dropped. Brasier was initially charged with an error, but it was changed to a single.

Jordy Mercer, batting with the bases loaded, took a low fastball on 2-2 that plate umpire Phil Cuzzi called strike three. Cuzzi blew plenty of ball-strike calls in the game (as he always does), but this pitch was called correctly. Mercer vehemently bitched about it and was ejected.

In the top of the eighth, just as the Nats had done in the previous half-inning, the Red Sox quickly had two outs, as Vazquez and pinch-hitter Brandon Arroyo struck out against Kyle Finnegan. (Cuzzi rang Vaz up on a ball that was outside.) But then Hernandez walked on four pitches. Schwarber also walked, though Finnegan's 2-2 pitch could have gone either way (Cuzzi flipped his coin and opted for "ball"). Finnegan departed and Tanner Rainey missed with his first four pitches to Bogaerts, loading the bases for Devers. Cuzzi called an incorrect strike on Rainey's sixth ball in a row, making what should have been a 2-0 count 1-1, and undoubtedly changing the dynamics of the at-bat. On 2-2, Devers swing and missed a low fastball.

With one out in the bottom of the eighth, against Adam Ottavino, Ryan Zimmerman hit a high fly to center. Renfroe seemed to have a bead on it, but he had actually lost sight of it. Hernandez tried to direct him and Renfroe started running in, but the ball fell well in front of him and Zimmerman hustled into second with a double. As a "Yankees Suck" chant rang out (there were a lot of Red Sox fans at Nationals Park), Lane Thomas walked. And then so did Escobar. Ottavino was making me want to guzzle some vino.

Trying to hold onto to a razor-thin (and suddenly slippery) 1-0 lead, lefty Austin Davis, who had not worked in 11 days (and only once in 16 days), was called upon to deal with Juan Soto with the bases loaded. A mere bag of shells. Soto took a ball and then cranked a fly ball to deep center. (Vazquez admitted afterwards that "was scary".) Renfroe caught the ball on the warning track and Zimmerman easily scored from third. Tie game, yes, but much preferred to a number of other scenarios. Bell lined Davis's first pitch to Bogaerts to end the inning.

Rainey was still on the mound for the Nationals in the ninth. He battled J.D. Martinez for 10 pitches before walking him. (Martinez had barely fouled off Rainey's fourth pitch, on 1-2, avoiding what would have been his fourth strikeout of the game.) Jose Iglesias pinch-ran and watched as Rainey got punchouts of Alex Verdugo and Renfroe. With two outs, Vazquez went the other way with Rainey's first offering, hitting it to deep right. It sailed over Soto's glove and hit the base of the wall. Iglesias scored the go-ahead run and SNCV had his first triple of the season and only his second three-bagger since July 29, 2017!

Travis Shaw lined a single to left that fell in, scoring Vazquez. 3-1.

Mason Thompson came in from the Nats pen and Hernandez cracked his second pitch over the left field fence for a two-run dong and a 5-1 lead!
Thompson must have been supremely rattled because he walked Davis, who had not batted since late July 2018 and had struck out in all three of his major league plate appearances, on four pitches that avoided the strike zone so well, even Cuzzi could not mis-call them. Bogaerts poked a single into right-center and it looked like the Red Sox might not be done scoring, but Ryne Harper retired Devers on a grounder to the second baseman, who was actually well out in right field, thanks to the shift.

Davis began the bottom of the ninth, tasked with safeguarding a four-run lead, but things refused to go easily, as things are wont to do. Ruiz walked and Stevenson homered. Hansel Robles was called upon, his fourth appearance in the last five days. He got a fly out to left and a strikeout without any trouble, but then he fell behind Zimmerman 3-0. NESN's Dennis Eckersley noted Robles had "walked two last night with two outs . . . made it interesting. . . . We don't like interesting."

Indeed, we do not. Robles got a called strike and Zimmerman fouled off three pitches before drawing ball four. And so Thomas walked to the plate as the potential tying run. Fortunately, there was no drama on this evening. Called strike one, foul strike two, and then a routine fly to right.

And in a game that ended seven minutes shy of four hours, the Red Sox had their 91st win of the season. A victory on Sunday will assure Boston of playing the AL Wild Card game on its home turf.


Paul Hickman said...

IF it ends up with a 3 or 4 way tie - then this is an example of what I reckon is potentially the future of the Playoffs - the Team with the "best" tiebreaker should be able to choose who they play

I genuinely have the idea that The Manager at the Top of the Pile in the Playoffs should be able to choose who they play - I think that is an Advantage that would be worth playing for - of course by choosing a team, they set up the other matchups too.

As an example, would SF (assuming they win ? ) choose to play LA or St L ? I think not & therefore the "advantage" of finishing Top is not what it once was !

It's brings strategy into play & enables a Manager to pick a Team they match up best with - of course, it could totally backfire & they could get thumped, but it would make those choices fascinating.

Paul Hickman said...

According to this MLB piece I just read, in the event of a 4 way tie :

Sox with the best record between the 4, will pick A & host a game.

Tor with 2nd best record, will pick C & host the other game

MFY with the 3rd best record then gets to CHOOSE !!!!!!!!!! who they play

Seattle goes to the other !


Absolutely Stupid Stuff

Surely IF anybody is gonna have a choice it should be the Team with the Best Record ? Or nobody does & it's drawn out of a hat

Personally, I am not sure the Home Field is such a Massive Advantage in a 1 Gamer & you wonder whether choosing the Matchup might actually be more advantageous ? Certainly I can imagine a few Managers would much rather choose the opponent than worry about where it was played

Assuming that is all correct, MFY face a fascinating choice & may ultimately have to beat both to advance anyway !