Well, it’s happening. The Red Sox just needed one more win to get their spot in the ALCS, and they didn’t waste any times. Boston jumped out to a 5-0 lead in this Game Four, scoring all of those runs in the third off Game One starter Shane McClanahan. That looked like enough with the way Eduardo Rodriguez was throwing, but the bullpen made things interesting as always, and Tampa came back to tie it up. But Boston had one more push in them in the ninth, and Kiké Hernández gave the Sox a second straight walk-off, this one a sacrifice fly to send Boston to the next round.
The Red Sox won a thrilling game on Sunday to take a 2-1 series lead, and at this point in the season they will certainly take wins in whatever form they may come. But at the same time, it did put them in a tough position for this Game Four. Their plan had been to use Nick Pivetta as the starter, but the righty had to pitch out of the bullpen for four innings in Game Three. He pitched spectacularly and was a huge reason they won, but they had to pivot on their plans, instead giving the ball to Eduardo Rodriguez.
The lefty just made a start back on Thursday to kick off this series, and not only was he on short rest for this one but he was coming off a terrible start. Rodriguez had nothing going at all against the Rays for that outing, not even making it through two full innings, and he had to try and get them again in this one. There was valid reason to be nervous about how the pitching would shake out on Monday. But instead, Rodriguez was as good as we’ve seen him this year.
When he’s going bad, his fastball isn’t really jumping out of his hand and he starts to get a little bit nervous with his stuff, living on the edges and just generally nibbling. That was certainly the case in Game One. But this time he had the fastball working right off the bat, and got a strikeout with it against Wander Franco in the second at bat of the game. (He did get some help from the umpire on that K, to be fair.)
He’d strike out two in a perfect first inning, and went on to retire each of the first nine batters he’d face. Over on the other side, the Red Sox were going up against sort of old friend Collin McHugh, and he kept them off the board over the first two innings, allowing just a single.
The Rays are one loss away from being eliminated, so they understandably had all hands on deck for this game, turning to Shane McClanahan — their own Game One starter — to start off the third. The rookie lefty shut down the Red Sox in that first game, though they did hit the ball hard. This time they hit the ball hard, and also put runs on the board.
Things started fairly nondescript, with Christian Vázquez singling and Kyle Schwarber walking, but it was just two on and two out with an injured Rafael Devers coming to the plate. He didn’t look injured here. On a center-cut fastball on the first pitch, he unloaded his home run swing and put it up and over the wall in center field to give Boston a 3-0 lead. Xander Bogaerts kept the inning alive with a base hit, and then came home on an Alex Verdugo double. Boston would get one more on an RBI base hit from J.D. Martinez, and by the time the inning finally ended the Red Sox had a big 5-0 lead.
So now it was just about Rodriguez keeping the momentum on his team’s side and not giving the Rays any of those runs immediately back. He did lose his perfect game to start off the fourth when Randy Arozarena smacked a leadoff single, but that was all Rodriguez gave up in the inning. He had a little more trouble in the fifth when Jordan Luplow snuck a double by Devers, and he’d move up to third on a fly ball before coming in and giving Tampa Bay their first run of the day on a ground out.
Rodriguez was able to keep the damage at one run in that inning, and came back out to start the sixth with 75 pitches. He was just on to face the left-handed Kevin Kiermaier, but the Rays center fielder was able to find some empty space for a bloop double to lead things off. That ended the night for Rodriguez, but he was spectacular given the circumstances.
So now it was up to Tanner Houck, who had just tossed five innings and threw 60 pitches in Game Two. He looked like it, too. He did get Arozarena to start the inning, but after throwing three balls, and his out was hard-hit to center field. Also hard-hit to center field? The next batted ball, which came off the bat of Franco. The Rays budding superstar got a first-pitch fastball up in the zone and he crushed it to straightaway center field for a two-run shot. With that, Tampa Bay was back to within two.
Houck got out of it after that, and his night ended with that inning as Josh Taylor came on in the seventh with the lead still at two. The southpaw got the job done with a perfect inning. And in the bottom of the inning, the Red Sox offense finally started to show some life for the first time since their rally in the third. Kiké Hernández got things started with a one-out base hit, and then Devers got a single of his own to put runners on the corners with one out for Bogaerts. Pete Fairbanks came in out of the bullpen and got exactly what he was looking for: A ground ball to start a 5-4-3 double play, ending the inning with Boston still up 5-3.
Alex Cora opted to go with Ryan Brasier for the eighth, and it got off to a rough start with Mike Zunino sending a double out to right-center field to lead things off. Kiermaier followed that up with a double of his own, and the Rays were within a run, still with nobody out, the top of the order coming up to the plate, and the tying run in scoring position.
Things only got worse, with Arozarena driving in that tying run on a base hit, and even worse moving up to second base when Hunter Renfroe made a mistake by throwing it home with no chance at getting an out. Fortunately, that play didn’t come back to bite the Red Sox as Garrett Whitlock came on and got the final three outs to end the innings and keep the game tied.
Boston then caught a break to start off the bottom of the inning, with Verdugo not only reaching on a ground ball to shortstop, but getting up to second after Franco’s throw sailed way away from the bag. The next two batters followed that up with fly balls, though, and on the second one Verdugo made an ill-advised decision to go to third and was thrown out. To be fair, it was extremely close (and he looked safe on replay, but the original call was out) and took a very good throw from Kiermaier, but it seemed to me to be an unnecessary risk.
Whitlock came back out for another dominant inning, giving the Red Sox a chance to walk it off in the ninth. The Rays had J.P. Feyereisen on the mound, and Sunday’s hero Christian Vázquez led things off. He kept it in the yard this time, but did get on base with a leadoff single. Arroyo then quickly moved him up to second with a sacrifice bunt, putting the winning run in scoring position for pinch hitter Travis Shaw. He didn’t hit it well, but Yandy Díaz made a bad throw after a ground ball to third, and what was ruled an infield single put men on the corners with just one out.
Danny Santana then came in to run for Vázquez at third base with Hernández stepping to the plate. He just needed to get a fly ball deep enough to get the speedy Santana home, and that’s exactly what he did. His sacrifice fly to left field brought home the winning run and punched their ticket to the ALCS.
The Red Sox will be playing again Friday night and heading out on the road, either to Houston or Chicago.