The Red Sox, when they needed wins the most, had run headfirst into a buzzsaw. First Pomeranz’ bad outing on Tuesday, then Kevin Guasman on Wednesday, and Masahiro Tanaka on Thursday. Mixed in with all of that, a tepid offense that just could not get the job done.
That, at least, was the story for 26 innings. Eight of them tonight. The last one...not so much.
So, those eight innings first. Masahiro Tanaka didn’t have his swing-and-miss stuff, exactly, but he also didn’t need it. The Red Sox were topping off everything that came their way, spraying ground balls all over the infield to no great effect. He did have one wild inning in the third, walking a pair and letting the Sox load the bases with one out. But even then the Red Sox failed to take advantage beyond a sacrifice fly from David Ortiz.
Eduardo Rodriguez, meanwhile, was giving up line drives where Tanaka was surrendering ground balls. The results were, as you might expect, poor. The Yankees managed to score two in the first, then chased Rodriguez from the game with another pair on four straight one-out hits in the third. It was one big disaster, with the Yankees even managing to immediately erase the run the Sox got back in the fourth against Heath Hembree (though the run may well never have scored but for a passed ball).
As with Drew Pomeranz’ disaster start, though, the bullpen was there to keep things from getting completely out of hand even as the lineup languished. Junichi Tazawa struck out the side around a hit in the fifth, and Robby Scott turned in three strong innings to get the Sox to the bottom of the eighth, where David Ortiz provided the first sign of life by eclipsing Mickey Mantle with career homer number 537. Joe Kelly nearly let things get completely out of hand in the ninth, but snared a line drive screaming straight towards his head with the bases loaded to end the inning.
Then came the bottom of the ninth...and a pinch-hit strikeout from Aaron Hill against Tommy Layne. Not terribly inspiring. Nor was the first baserunner of the inning, with Chris Young—also pinch-hitting—taking a glancing blow off the top of his helmet from Blake Parker to earn first base. Not wanting to take any chances, Joe Girardi turned to Dellin Betances. And oh boy, was that the wrong decision.
Four of Betances’ first five pitches would miss wildly, letting Dustin Pedroia take first base free-of-charge. A double steal put both men in scoring position or Xander Bogaerts, but Betances got back under control, took an 0-2 lead, and got Xander to almost accidentally make contact on an outside pitch, hitting a dribbler back to the mound that let Betances catch Young in a rundown, replacing the man at third with one at first.
It also left the Red Sox with just one out to go, but also the best part of their lineup coming up. Ortiz waited on some outside pitches to run the count to 3-1, then smacked a single into right field to bring a run home, and letting Marco Hernandez take his place as the tying run at first. One ground ball single from Mookie Betts later, and the Sox were within one, and that one was in scoring position.
As it happened, though, where Hernandez started from didn’t make much of a difference. With Craig Kimbrel getting warm just in case, Hanley Ramirez stepped up to bat as one of the hotter hitters in the lineup, but thus far with nothing to show on the night. A passed ball gave Hanley the chance at a walkoff on any base hit, but he decided to ignore all that. Behind 3-1, Betances finally gave in and gave Ramirez a fastball in the zone. Hanley did not miss the opportunity, turning Ellsbury around to watch the walkoff shot drop into the bleacher seats.
Some wins are big because of the surrounding situation, others because of the way they play out on the field. Tonight was the rare intersection of both. A massive comeback in a game that was, at one point, 98% lost to keep the competition at bay and move back up to two games ahead in the division.
There’s a little over two weeks to go—plenty of time to make other great wins (and perhaps some frustrating losses, but let’s not go there). We’ve had a few very winnable bad games that get cited as the ones we’ll remember if the Sox don’t manage to pull this thing off. Tonight, we had the opposite. The L was all but in the books, and now it’s a W. If they get to the playoffs—if they get to avoid that one-game wild card? This game should get a lot of the credit for that.