Sunday, December 5

Red Sox small ball rally saves a sloppy pen and takes out the best lightning bolts

After blowing a five-run lead, the Red Sox relied on some old-school fundamentals to save a sloppy bullpen and eliminate the top-seeded Tampa Bay Rays.

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BOSTON – The game was tense, peppered with moments of carelessness, bordering on what would have been a notable advantage. But none of that mattered in the end for the Red Sox. All that mattered was the incremental work to advance a starting running back in a tying game in the bottom of the ninth: first a sacrifice bunt, then a dose of push to overcome a ground ball to third, a trade for a quick pinch. -Runner and finally, to win it all, a sacrifice fly by Kiké Hernández.

“Old school baseball right there,” said Boston manager Alex Cora. “Fundamental baseball, and we won the ALDS by playing good fundamental baseball.”

That wasn’t exactly a typical path to success for this slugging team. (Only three clubs attempted fewer sacrifice touches this season.) But it worked. The ninth-inning small ball gave Boston its second win on the walk in as many nights to knock out Tampa Bay, three games to one, and advance to the American League Championship Series.

Red Sox center fielder Enrique Hernandez throws his bat after landing a sacrifice fly against the Rays in Game 4.

David Butler II / USA Today Sports

It was far from a smooth ride there. In the third inning, the Red Sox jumped to a 5-0 lead, highlighted by a three-run homer from Rafael Devers. However, the Rays continued to fall throughout the night. Against Boston reliever Ryan Brasier in the eighth, they were finally able to tie the game with an RBI single from (who else?) Randy Arozarena. This set in motion a familiar story for Boston: Their bullpen had just blown a save opportunity. But he was about to turn to his most stable reliever and his most unlikely hero this season, rookie Garrett Whitlock.

Whitlock needed just 15 pitches to record the last six outs. He didn’t allow a single runner to get to first base.

“People still call it the secret weapon,” Hernandez said. “It is no longer a secret. Garrett Whitlock is legit. That’s an electric arm with more than three pitches. “

The result was a remarkable 100-win Rays dismantling. After losing Game 1 with mediocre play across the board, Boston came back with a wild brawl in Game 2 and tough performances in back-to-back nail biting of Games 3 and 4. It was a combination that showed what the El The team will need as it tries to play even more in October: lots of home runs, the ability to rely on starters like Nathan Eovaldi and Eduardo Rodriguez, and a bit of luck.

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Perhaps most revealing was the Red Sox’s ability to leap over the Rays’ praised pitching staff. (Particularly his bullpen: Tampa Bay’s 3.24 ERA as a reliever in the regular season was the lowest in the American League.) That was partly a benefit to the series sequence: A 13-inning marathon following a blowout loss meant significant work for every pitcher on the Rays’ roster. He left the club with no choice but to make a bullpen day with few rested options for a game of life and death. But the Red Sox’s ability to exploit that situation was their own.

“They had a pretty relentless approach at the plate,” Tampa Bay captain Kevin Cash said. “We just couldn’t create the swing-and-miss we’ve done so well during the regular season. They really had a good focus. It felt like there was constant pressure. There were no easy ways out. ”

Rays designated hitter Nelson Cruz reacts after rolling to end the eighth inning.

David Butler II / USA TODAY Sports

The Rays were able to strike out the Red Sox only three times on Monday. There were only three games all season in which Tampa Bay struck out less.

It means a trip to the ALCS for a Boston team few thought would be here in March. The roster had obvious weaknesses: The bullpen could be unstable and the rotation also lacked a clear leader, with ace Chris Sale out until the middle of the season as he recovered from Tommy John surgery. The defense was generally a weak point – they ultimately led the AL in errors with 108 – and so was the base run. Only three teams in MLB had more outs on the bases; Boston had the lowest stolen base percentage in the American League at 66% and stole the fewest bags at 40.

But there were also clear strengths. I mean, this was one of the most powerful lineups in baseball, second in slugging percentage only behind Toronto. Rafael Devers solidified his place among the best young hitters in baseball, Xander Bogaerts continued his routinely stellar production, and Hernández demonstrated just how effective he could be as an everyday starter, rather than the game utility as needed that he was in his years. with the team. Dodgers. It all fell into place to lead the Red Sox here.

“We always said we had a good baseball team that had some holes, and we still have some holes, but in the end, because of how bad it looked at times, we’re still here,” Cora said. “We are still at the dance. We are still in the tournament and we are moving towards the ALCS ”.

More MLB coverage:
• Inside Kris Bryant’s trip from Chicago to San Francisco
• Red Sox walk on Rays to advance to American League Championship Series

• Why the Astros are so dangerous in the postseason

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