ALDS Game 3: Sox Walk Off Rays, Everyone Not Already Dead Celebrates
Plus notes on Enrique's silly hot streak, Pivetta's Eovaldi impression, Eovaldi's Eovaldi impression, and of course the Call Of The Century.
This game, especially the last five innings, was both hard to watch and impossible to turn away from. After the Rays tied the Red Sox 4-4 in the eighth of the pivotal ALDS Game Three, the two teams spent five white-knuckle innings throwing perfect pitches, making shoestring defensive plays, and generally threatening to score without actually doing so.
In the end [spoiler alert] the Red Sox finally did it in the bottom of the 13th on the unexpected strength of Christian Vazquez’s utilitarian bat. Vazquez hammered a Luis Patino fastball into the first row of the Monster seats, sending Fenway into bedlam and giving Boston a two games to one lead in the series. If ever there were an argument against Rob Manfred’s runner-on-second rule in extra innings, Game Three of the American League Division Series has got to serve as Exhibit A.
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But none of that is what people are going to be talking about today. Instead, they’ll be talking about the top of the 13th inning, when with two outs and Yandy Diaz on first, Kevin Kiermaier hit a fly ball to deep right center. Right fielder Hunter Renfroe tracked it to the warning track but the ball hit off the short wall by the bullpens, bounced off the ground, then off Renfroe, then back over the wall and out of play. At first it seemed like the Rays had taken the lead on a triple by Kiermaier, but after some conferencing by the umpires, it was determined that it was a ground rule double with the runner being awarded two bases.
By the rule, that is clearly the right call.
The rule states that if a ball is deflected out of play by a fielder, the batter and any runners are entitled to two bases. That’s it. That’s the rule, and it’s very black and white. The umpires applied it correctly and gave Kiermaier second base and Diaz third base. Now, if the ball hadn’t deflected over the wall, Diaz would’ve scored, Kiermaier would’ve been at third base on a triple, and the Rays would’ve had the lead. But the ball did deflect over the wall, so the umpires got the call right. The next batter was Mike Zunino and Nick Pivetta struck him out to end the inning, stranding both runners.
There was much consternation on Twitter about the call. Some said the umpires should’ve applied their discretion and awarded extra bases to the Rays, something the umpires could not do according to the rulebook. Others said the Rays got cheated, though it’s hard to get cheated when both teams are playing by the same rules.
The reality is that the Rays would have scored if A) the ball hadn’t hit off of Renfroe, or B) the wall was slightly higher, enough to prevent the ball from bouncing back over, or C) the rule was written differently, or D) Mike Zunino or whomever pinch hit for Zunino had gotten another hit immediately after Kiermaier’s double. Unfortunately for the Rays and fortunately for the Red Sox, none of those things happened. Perhaps allowing some discretion on the part of the umpires to award bases as they see fit should be written into the rule. That makes sense to me. But that’s not the case now.
What magnified the call was that it seemingly took a run off the board and then the Red Sox snuffed the Rays rally and then immediately scored to end the game. It was hard to miss the juxtaposition between the two. It was a tough call for Tampa, but it was the right call and it didn’t end the game or even that half inning. The Rays had another at-bat to go after that call. Heck, they had as many more innings as they could hold the Red Sox scoreless.
As it turned out though, after Zunino struck out, the Rays were out of chances. That’s because in the bottom of the 13th, Christian Vazquez did this:
Will you look at that.
That happened about six hours ago as I type these words and that replay is still in doubt every time I watch it. It’s like a smaller version of The Steal, where Dave Roberts stole second base in the bottom of the ninth inning of the fourth game of the 2004 ALCS against the Yankees. The play was so close! Roberts was safe, but in the days before replay you never knew what the call would be. Every time I watch that play I think they’re gonna call Roberts out. That’s how close the Red Sox were to never mounting that historic comeback that changed their franchise. One lousy Joe West call on the bases. Think about that the next time you argue for the human element in umpiring. But I digress.
Where was I? Oh yeah. Christian Vazquez did it, and hours later I still don’t believe it.
After the Red Sox Game One loss, I wrote about how Boston’s star players needed to show up. After the Game Two win I wrote about how Boston’s stars had showed up. I wrote about Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, and JD Martinez. But I didn’t write about Enrique Hernandez who had also had a great game. I got rightly taken to task a bit on Twitter over it. It was fair criticism and I stand corrected. Enrique deserved a sentence at least, if not his own paragraph.
Well, he’s getting it now, because the dude is nails and fire and clutch as all heck. Hernandez picked the ALDS to get welding-torch hot, somehow getting hits in eight straight at-bats between Games Two and Three before lining out in the seventh inning yesterday. And they weren’t cheapies, either. Line drive after deep fly after deep fly after line drive. Just a ridiculous display of hitting at the highest level.
The rest of the team followed Hernandez’s lead, if not quite exactly. Eighteen balls were hit at 100 mph or more during the 13 innings of play. Twelve came off the bats of Red Sox hitters. The Red Sox out-hit the Rays for the second straight game, and I don’t mean just by counting the hits. The Red Sox have been clearly the better hitting team in this series, which is a strange thing to say about a team that got shut out in Game One.
For once in this series a Red Sox starting pitcher reached the third inning. It’s not exactly Vasco da Gama, but it’s something. You wonder if Eovaldi went back to the dugout after pitching the fifth, gathered all the starters around him, and said, “Guys! I have discovered something!”
Eovaldi did far more than just reach the third though. He pitched well and with a purpose through five full innings. His only blemish was a two run homer to Austin Meadows in the first inning, which came right after a single. Eovaldi only gave up three hits in total, with one walk and eight strikeouts. He was a breath of fresh air. Hopefully he tells the others about the wonders of the middle innings.
On Saturday I wrote, “It’s not hyperbole to say Houck saved the Red Sox season.” I wasn’t wrong then, but it brings to mind something else that I wrote that evening, late into the night: It takes a village. To win in the baseball playoffs it really does take a village, and Nick Pivetta reminded me of that again last night. Pivetta was supposed to start today’s Game 4, but instead he came into Game 3 in the 10th and pitched the next four innings. He struck out the side in the 11th and two of three outs by way of the K in the 12th. He got two more in the 13th as well, though sandwiched around the controversial Kiermaier double.
The end result was something amazing from someone who wasn’t scheduled to participate yesterday. Like Houck before him, Pivetta took the team on his back and gave them chance after chance to get the bats going and get the win.
The obvious comparison is to Eovaldi’s turn out of the bullpen during Game 3 of the 2018 World Series. The ALDS isn’t the World Series, so pump the brakes a bit there, but Pivetta was every bit as great as Houck had been a game earlier.
Sometimes Nick Pivetta has that competitive anger, that serious drive, and on those days he’s tough to beat. You see him glaring in at the hitter, focusing, and then stomping off the mound when he’s done his job. Last night he was that way but even more so. He was dominant on the mound if a bit lucky with the Kiermaier play. But it’s not hyperbole to say Pivetta saved the Red Sox season. He did.
Red Sox fans could be forgiven if they’ve already developing a bit of a tic when Wander Franco’s name is announced over the PA. The kid is 20 years old and already virtually owns the Red Sox. Call him John Henry’s kid. He had two more hits yesterday including a homer, which was announced as his first ever post-season homer, which was a strange announcement to hear because it felt like he’s already got around 350. The thought that he’s going to be in Tampa for another five seasons at least isn’t a pleasant one.
There’s so much more to talk about, but it’s very late and the end result is the same: the Red Sox are going into today’s Game 4 with a chance to close out the Rays at home at Fenway Park. That’s a thing I just wrote and you just read. It looks like Eduardo Rodriguez is going to get the ball for Boston. We’ll see how far he goes. Houck should be the piggy-back. Manager Alex Cora said just about everyone short of Eovaldi and Pivetta would be available. In the words of Kevin Millar, the Red Sox have a chance to shock the United States. When a reported asked him, “What about the world?” Millar smiled and said,”Okay, we’ll shock them too.”
Game time is 7:07 pm EST today. Prepare to be shocked.
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