The Red Sox are AL East champions...even if they didn’t end up celebrating on the field.
It was a nasty night in New York, with a constant spray of rain and plenty of wind suppressing fly balls and perhaps leading to some difficult defense for both teams. But Clay Buchholz produced an outing that should have Sox fans feeling better about his inclusion in the playoff rotation, and the Sox got all the offense they seemed to need with one big rally in the eighth...right up until things went horribly awry in the ninth.
Clay Buchholz has been in a weird place of late. First, of course, he was awful. Then he was in the bullpen and...eh. The media seemed to deem him a savior before he’d done nearly enough to earn that trust, and he didn’t full follow through. Then, suddenly, he was back in the rotation, and actually looking like his old excellent self. Over his last few starts, though, while the results have been there, little else has. Buchholz had lost the strikeouts, been dodging bullets on long fly balls, and just generally surviving rather than excelling. It was enough to solidify his place in the rotation, particularly with Pomeranz’ injury, but also enough to leave plenty of doubts as to his ability to actually do the job come October.
One start isn’t going to completely fix that, but it certainly helps. Tonight, Buchholz completely earned his six scoreless. The Yankees managed almost nothing against him. The only hit he surrendered was an infield single from Gardner in the fourth. A leadoff walk in the first—again, Gardner—was their greatest threat against him, and that was erased immediately when Hanley Ramirez made a nice play to produce the 3-6 double play.
The Red Sox...well, they were getting a lot of the same against Bryan Mitchell. They played their way out of an inning which saw Mitchell walk Hanley Ramriez, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Brock Holt in order, with Hanley getting himself caught stealing, Andrew Benintendi popping up, and Sandy Leon grounding out to end the threat. And they nearly got a two-run shot from Bradley in the seventh before the wind clearly pushed the ball back over the field. But one way or another, Mitchell got through seven without surrendering a run.
Then Mitchell exited in the eighth, and the Sox got to work. And got lucky. A little of both. Sandy Leon reached base to start the frame when Starlin Castro forgot how defense works on a ground ball into the shift. With Marco Hernandez running at first, Dustin Pedroia tried to make it 1-0 right there with a double into the gap, but the ball skipped up and over the wall to hold the runners at second and third. That looked like it might be a big bounce for the Yankees when Xander Bogaerts proceeded to hit a rocket right to third for an unfortunate out, allowing them to walk David Ortiz to load the bases and get them a double play away from escaping the inning. But where the last big bounce helped New York, the big hop Mookie Betts’ ground ball took over third and into the outfield cost them two runs, and then a third on a wild pitch as noted speed demon David Ortiz made his way home.
And so the Sox were set to take the East with a 3-0 win over the Yankees. All they needed was a good outing from the bullpen. Koji looked a bit sketchy, but got through the eighth without damage. And then Craig Kimbrel looked very sketchy, and didn’t escape even a little bit. Struggling hugely with control, Kimbrel loaded the bases without recording an out, and then walked Brian McCann to bring in a run, and send John Farrell looking for Joe Kelly. Kelly, to his credit, looked very good striking out Starlin Castro, and then got a pop-up back of third in foul territory for the second out with the Sox still ahead 3-1. But that last batter proved a doozy. Mark Teixeira got ahold of an 0-1 fastball, and finally one of those fly balls broke through the wind, getting all the way out to center field for a walkoff grand slam.
So that kind of sucked. But, on the bright side, the Orioles beat the Blue Jays. And while the Red Sox didn’t win yesterday, or tonight, it turns out those 92 victories they picked up on all the other nights this season were enough to take down the East with four games to spare. The Yankees can have their walkoff celebration. The Red Sox will take the division.