That, my friends, is how you win a playoff series. For the first time since 2013 the Red Sox are moving beyond the American League Division Series, and they’ll be taking on the defending world champion Houston Astros in the ALCS starting Saturday night. To get there, the Red Sox got more great pitching. Mostly, it was from Rick Porcello who made easy work of New York’s lineup in all but one of his five innings. The bullpen, much-maligned over the last couple months, was no slouch either. Well, mostly Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier, and Chris Sale combined for three perfect innings. Craig Kimbrel....well, he made it way too close for comfort, but all’s well that ends well, right? Add in just enough offense that made Alex Cora look very smart, and baby you got a stew goin’. Time to pop champagne.
For the second consecutive night, the Red Sox got exactly the kind of pitching performance they needed. Rick Porcello, who was expected to take the ball for Game Three, got the start in the potential series-clincher and we saw (mostly) the best version of himself. There were some weird stretches in the second half this year in which the righty lost his typical pinpoint control, and if he doesn’t have that control he can get into some serious trouble. On Tuesday, he was hitting the zone with everything, and he was also mixing his pitches about as well as I’ve seen him do this year. The latter ended up being a huge part of his success because Porcello did miss a bunch of spots in some very hittable zones, but the Yankees offense was off-balance enough (and feeling some elimination-game pressure, to be sure) that the location issues never quite came back to bite him.
Early on, it was all about efficiency for Porcello against the Yankees. He only needed one pitch for his first out, in fact, though it was a 400-foot fly out from Aaron Hicks. As we saw from the Red Sox on Monday when their night started in just about the same fashion, sometimes that kind of hard contact can be an early sign of coming trouble. That wasn’t the case here, as Porcello came back strong and needed only seven more pitches to get out of the inning.
He did allow his first baserunner of the game in the bottom half of the second when Neil Walker ripped a line drive into right field, but other than that it was smooth sailing and the Red Sox righty had his second consecutive single-digit-pitch inning. Porcello looked good in the next couple of innings as well, setting the side down in order in the third before allowing just a double in the fourth.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox offense was rewarding their starter with a bit of a cushion, albeit not one nearly as large as they gave Nathan Eovaldi about midway through Monday’s game. They did threaten to break the game open right off the bat, though. After a couple of quick outs to start the game against CC Sabathia, Steve Pearce extended the inning with a single. Then, J.D. Martinez reached on an infield single against the shift before Xander Bogaerts drew a walk. Suddenly the bases were loaded and Ian Kinsler, who most Red Sox fans didn’t want to start, had a chance for a huge swing before the Yankees even had a chance to bat. It looked like he might have done it off the bat, but his fly ball down the left field line came up just short of the wall and Brett Gardner made the catch to end the inning with no runs coming across the plate.
After the bottom of the order managed just a walk in the second, the Red Sox really got to work against Sabathia in the third. They had made the veteran southpaw in the first two innings, making him throw about 20 pitches in each frame. That caught up to him here. Andrew Benintendi led off the third by getting hit with the first pitch, and then he moved over to third on a bloop single. With runners on the corners, Martinez put a charge into one but it was to the wrong part of the park, settling for a sacrifice fly. Still, it was 1-0. After Pearce moved over to second on a ground out and then to third on a wild pitch, Kinsler again had a chance for damage. This time he did it, ripping a line drive out to left field that just got over Gardner’s glove for an RBI double. 2-0 Red Sox. Along with Kinser, Eduardo Núñez was another option to take a seat in this game for Holt, but he of course got the start and shortly after Kinsler cashed in Núñez would do the same. The infielder smacked a line-drive single into left field to knock in Kinsler, and the Red Sox had themselves a 3-0 lead after three.
That third inning would also mark the last bit of action for Sabathia in this game, as Aaron Boone wasn’t abut to let a struggling pitcher enter the fourth for a second consecutive night. Instead, it was Zach Britton on to face Christian Vazquez and, well, it didn’t go as expected. The Red Sox finally took advantage of that short porch in right field as Vazquez popped one just over the wall and just like that it was a 4-0 lead.
So, from here we fast-forward to the bottom half of the fifth when Porcello coming back out after rolling to that point. He stopped rolling here and got into his first bit of a trouble of the night. Gary Sanchez started that rally with one out, smacking a groundrule double into left-center field. Gleyber Torres came up next and he tapped a slow roller down the third base line. Núñez had no chance at a play at first so he tried to let the ball roll foul. Instead, it stayed fair all the way and suddenly the Yankees had runners on the corners for their best chance of the night. Gardner cashed one run on a sacrifice fly, bringing Hicks up with one on, two outs and a three-run game. The outfielder, who missed the last two games, put up a tough at bat but Porcello eventually came through with the right pitch to induce a pop up and keep the score at 4-1.
After Boston failed to score in the sixth, Porcello was lifted with just 65 pitches and Matt Barnes came on to face the heart of New York’s order. His control wasn’t perfect but his stuff was good enough to get the job done. The righty set down Aaron Judge, Didi Gregorius and Giancarlo Stanton in order, sending the game to the seventh.
Rather than leave Barnes in to start the seventh with just 15 pitches, Alex Cora went with Ryan Brasier. That was entirely the right call as Brasier was nails. He threw strikes and his fastball was working to perfection, and the Sox got another 1-2-3 inning.
Boston had a chance to break the game open a bit more in the top half of the eighth when Núñez ripped a one-out double and Jackie Bradley Jr. joined him in scoring position after reaching on an error and swiping second base. They couldn’t come through, though, and settled for the three-run lead with six more outs to record.
Heading to the mound for the bottom of the eighth? Chris. Sale. The Red Sox ace came out of the bullpen and he looked like, well, the Red Sox ace. He dominated for an easy 1-2-3 inning that was punctuated by a strikeout of Hicks. Three more outs to go.
The man called upon to get those final three outs? Of course, it was Craig Kimbrel, and he did not make it easy. The closer walked Judge on four pitches, then Gregorius hit a single. Kimbrel followed that up with another walk and a hit by pitch, and suddenly it was a two-run game with Gary Sanchez coming up. The catcher hit one well, but it died in front of the wall and the Yankees settled for a sacrifice fly, cutting the lead down to one with two on for Gleyber Torres. Finally, a weak ground ball to third base ended the game and the Red Sox celebrated. ALCS. Here. We. Come.
So, the Red Sox have some well-deserved celebrating to do tonight before getting back to business as they prepare for the team many believe to be the best in all of baseball. The ALCS will kick off Saturday night at Fenway, with first pitch coming at 8:07 PM ET. No starters have been announced, but presumably it will be Sale taking on Justin Verlander.