October 3, 2021

G162: Red Sox 7, Nationals 5

Red Sox   - 000 101 302 - 7 13  0
Nationals - 011 030 000 - 5 7 1

Rafael Devers crushed a two-run home run with one out in the top of the ninth, snapping a 5-5 tie, and  allowing the Red Sox to clinch the first wild card spot. It was Devers's fourth hit of the day and his second home run. He scored three runs and drove in four.

Equally important was Alex Verdugo's two-out, two-run, game-tying double in the seventh, a rope that split the gap in right-center and complete the Red Sox's comeback from a four-run deficit.

The Red Sox's 92nd victory of the season spared them the prospect of hosting a tiebreaker against the Blue Jays on Monday for the right to play a do-or-die game at the Yankees in the WC game. Instead, Boston will host the Yankees in the Wild Card Game at Fenway Park on Tuesday evening (Gerrit Cole vs Nathan Eovaldi).

A look at the box score shows Eduardo Rodriguez with the W and Nick Pivetta with the save. Chris Sale was pulled after only 2.1 innings, not an indefensible move, as Sale had allowed four hits and three walks by that time (2.1-4-2-3-7, 62), but it obligated manager Alex Cora to to steer the bullpen through at least 20 outs.

Which he was able to do, with only one bad inning, when Garrett Richards allowed two doubles, two walks (one intentional), and three runs in the fifth. Alex Avila's double put Washington up 5-1, but it turned out also to be the Nationals' final hit of the season.

Sale struck out the side in the first inning, but he needed 18 pitched to do so. 

Boston squandered an early chance to score off Nats starter Joan Adon (making his major league debut, with only four innings pitched above AA) in the second when Devers led off with a single and J.D. Martinez (who later left the game after tripping over second base while jogging out to his position in the middle of the fifth) was hit by a pitch. Two strikeouts and a force at third ended that threat.

Josh Bell opened the home second with a double off Sale and scored on Jordy Mercer's one-out double to left-center. Sale began the third by walking Lane Thomas. Alcides Escobar dropped a single into short center and Thomas (who misread the play) advanced only to second. Juan Soto struck out looking, but Bell lined a single to left, loading the bases. Plate umpire Fieldin Culbreth appeared to squeeze Sale on the first pitch to Ryan Zimmerman (who is expected to retire after this season and got a lengthy standing ovation) and then a check-swing was not called a strike. the play-by-play will show that Sale  eventually walked Zimmerman on four pitches, forcing in a run, but he perhaps should have been ahead 0-2. After that walk, Hirokazu Sawamura came in and got an inning-ending double play.

Devers led off the fourth with a solo home run. Verdugo singled through the infield into left with one out, but he got stupid, rounding first and thinking about a double and was tagged out retreating to the bag 8-4-3-4-3-6. In the fifth, the Red Sox had runners at second and third with one out, but Schwarber grounded weakly to first and Bogaerts grounded to third.

Escobar started the fifth off by hammering a high changeup from Richards down the left field line for a double. Soto was walked intentionally and then Richards unintentionally walked Bell (with some possible assistance from Culbreth). Bases loaded, no outs, Nats up 2-1. Richards struck out Zimmerman on a 1-2 fastball. Mercer grounded back to the box. Richards bobbled the ball, did not have a play at the plate, and threw out the batter at first. 3-1. Then Avila ripped a double past first base and towards the right-field corner for two more enemy runs.

The Red Sox trailed by four runs with 12 outs remaining. They got one run back right away. With one out, Jose Iglesias, batting for JDM, singled into left and Verdugo grounded a hit into right. That ended Adon's day, which went far better (5.1-6-2-3-9, 93) than I had expected (he has a dynamite curveball). Patrick Murphy recorded the second out, but Christian Vazquez grounded a pitch up the middle. Escobar grabbed it behind the second base bag and flung the ball to Mercer, trying to force Verdugo at second. The call was "safe" and it was upheld after Washington challenged. NESN did not have a decent replay, from any angle, and perhaps there was no evidence to clearly dispute the original call. It was for naught, though, as Travis Shaw was rung up by third base umpire Phil Cuzzi on a check swing (Eck: "Phil's gonna get ya.")

The Red Sox faced Erick Fedde (a starter who had moved to the pen) in the seventh. Hernandez whiffed, but Schwarber singled to center and Bogaerts singled to left. Devers took a massive cut on 2-1 and missed a curveball. He got another bender on 2-2 and he grounded it into right-center, scoring a run. Iglesias was jammed and fouled out to first. Verdugo barrelled a 1-1 pitch and shot it into right-center. It rolled to the wall and both baserunners scored, tying the game at 5-5.

Martin Perez had pitched the sixth, issuing a two-out walk but nothing else. Rookie Garrett Whitlock, just off the IL and out of action since September 19, turned in a clean seventh, striking out two and throwing only 10 pitches.

The Red Sox went in order in the eighth. During that inning, it was learned the Yankees had scored in a run in the bottom of the ninth and beaten the Rays 1-0. The Blue Jays were already cruising to a 12-4 win over the Orioles, so the stakes were now clear. A win would place the Red Sox as the home team for the WC game against New York and a loss would force them to play Toronto in a tiebreaker, hoping for a shot at going to New York for the one-game WC game.

Eduardo Rodriguez came out of the pen to face the bottom third of the Nats' lineup. He got two fly outs on three pitches and then struck out pinch-hitter Riley Adams.

Kyle Schwarber opened the ninth by grounding Kyle Finnegan's 1-0 pitch into the shift. Second baseman Mercer was back on the right field grass. He bobble the easy grounder twice, made no throw, and was charged with an error. Bogaerts struck out. Devers swung at missed the first pitch before looking at two pitches in the dirt. Finnegan hung a splitter on 2-1 and Devers took full advantage. He crushed the ball 447 feet to dead center for his 38th home run of the season, and he knew it as soon as he made contact. (One kid in the picture above knew it was gone about the same time Raffy did!) Thank goodness for the Nationals' chronically porous bullpen (5.05 ERA after 161 games).

Nick Pivetta was tasked with the bottom of the ninth. For some reason, it felt perfunctory. Thomas got ahead 3-0, but took a strike, fouled another pitch off, and then popped to second. Escobar grounded to third. Pivetta got two strikes on Soto before dropping a 78 mph knuckle-curve into the heart of the zone. All Soto did was watch it before turning around and walking away from the Red Sox's celebration!


Dave O'Brien had been off on Saturday, which was a blessing. He returned to the booth today, which was a curse. In the third, as Nationals leadoff man Lane Thomas batted for the second time, he said: "He whiffed to begin the ball game." To my knowledge, 108 years have passed since a home team batted first in a game. Although it was regularly done in the 19th century, the last time was reportedly in 1913. A formal rule designating that the visiting team bat first was made in 1950. I guess what I'm trying to say is: Try to keep up, Dave.

In the top of the first, Dennis Eckersley noted that if batters have never seen a pitcher (like newcomer Joan Adon), they "have no idea" what he throws, despite having told viewers exactly what Adon threw (and what his better pitches are) only a batter or two earlier.

They were not all bad, though. O'Brien said that Culbreth had "granted a strike" to Adon on a questionable 3-0 pitch to Verdugo in the sixth, a nice choice of words and a change from the usual "gift". As Mercer swung and missed a pitch in the fifth, making the count 2-2, Eck said: "This guy wants to strike out!" Mercer did not whiff, but it was still a funny line in the moment.

Also, Eck turned 67 today. Happy Birthday!!

2021 Postseason Bracket (with advertisements erased):


Paul Hickman said...

Again, I suggest that IF both TB & SF were given the "choice" of Opponent then the Playoff Bracket might look a little different ?

It's the very least they deserve for finishing Top

allan said...

Chris Sale is the first pitcher in Red Sox history to record 7+ outs in a game with ALL of them being strikeouts.

allan said...

The Blue Jays are the first team to miss the postseason with a +180 run differential since the 2002 Red Sox.