At some point in the next week or so, when I get some time to sit down and really think about things, I’ll probably put together some sort of top moments or top games of 2018 post. If you were to ask me at which point I truly realized that we were watching a special team, however, I don’t have to think too much about it. A few years ago on the ol’ Twitter machine, I started using the hashtag #turningpoint during one of the bad Red Sox seasons — I think 2014? — basically joking that every good thing that happened was going to turn around what was ultimately a massively disappointing year. That’s not really what happened here, as things went well for the Red Sox basically all season long. There was no turning point, because they were facing the right direction the entire time. That said, there was that one series that took the 2018 season to another level. You know the one I speak of. That one weekend in August.
Like I said above, the Red Sox never really struggled in this season and they weren’t really in a tough spot when this four-game set at Fenway against the Yankees began. They had come out of the All-Star break hot, but the Yankees weren’t going away all year and it just felt like one of those series we look back on as the reason the Yankees took the AL East. Boston actually had a 5.5-game lead heading into that series, but the difference between the two teams’ schedules after this weekend made this series important. If the Yankees were able to take three of four, or God forbid sweep, it looked all but sure they’d overtake the division. Even a split would make things uncomfortable for the last seven weeks of the year.
Before I get into the series, I just want to tell a little personal anecdote. For my day job, I work in retail in an environment where I see the vast majority of my customers on a daily basis. I don’t want to say I know them — our interactions range from 10 seconds to maybe two-to-three minutes on the high end — but you become familiar at the very least. Anyway, there is one regular customer with whom I’m particularly friendly who happens to be a Yankees fan. He was my way of knowing how Yankees fans were feeling at any particular moment of the season, and at this point in the year they were feeling good. They felt like their team was ready for a big series that was going to make this division a race again.
You know what happened after that. The Red Sox fell behind 3-0 in the first inning of the first game of this series, and it was 4-2 heading into the third. Then, Boston scored eight runs off C.C. Sabathia and Jonathan Holder — the latter allowed seven runs without recording an out — in the fourth and ended up with a massive 15-7 win. 6.5-game lead.
The second and third games of this series were more straight-forward victory, and all about the pitching. Rick Porcello pitched perhaps the game of the year in that second game. The 2016 Cy Young winner gave up a solo home run to Miguel Andújar in the third inning and, well, that was about it. He retired all of the other 27 batters he faced in the game in a dominant complete game performance to lead the Sox to a 4-1 win. 7.5-game lead.
The third game was the Nathan Eovaldi game, and was an early glimpse at what he could do when the lights were the brightest. In his second start with the Red Sox, Eovaldi was going up against his new team’s biggest rival and his former club. All he did was toss eight shutout innings and totally shut down the Yankees lineup. Craig Kimbrel made things interesting in the ninth, but the Sox held on for another 4-1 win. 8.5-game lead.
The final game of this series was the perfect way for it to end. Obviously everyone wanted the Red Sox to win, but if we’re being honest this game didn’t matter. They’d already taken three games in this series and were going to have at least a 7.5-game lead after things were done. Everything was fine! The offenses took most of this Sunday Night off, but eventually the Yankees took a 4-1 lead. It seemed over. Not with this team, though. Boston scored three runs in the ninth, including the tying run on an error from Andújar, before Andrew Benintendi knocked in Tony Renda (Tony Renda!) to win the game in the tenth. It was unreal. The game felt over, and Boston conquered the Yankees’ feared bullpen. 9.5-game lead.
At the time, you heard the excuses about the series and how it didn’t mean much moving forward. The Yankees were without Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez, which was a valid point! It also didn’t really matter. Fair or not, full-strength or not, the Red Sox had control of the division, and they could look forward to the ALDS from this point on. Obviously, there was still work to do, but they could start to formulate a long-term plan to have their players as prepared as possible for the postseason. Clearly, that worked out. They don’t do that without this series win. It really changed everything. And as for my friend from work? Well, he didn’t have much to say at this point, and I think this was the point when most Yankees fans knew they were dealing with something special too.