The 2021 season was an absolutely wild one for the Boston Red Sox, with some almost literally unbelievable highs and crushing lows. The second half had more of the bad than the first, so it can be easy to forget just how wild this team was for so much of the season, and how seemingly every game was a thrill ride, often ending with a win. Today, we’re going to look back at the biggest plays of the season in terms of win probability added on the play. WPA data comes from Baseball-Reference’s Stathead tool.
Considering the fact that the Red Sox made the playoffs by just one game, all of these swing moments were extremely important in getting the Red Sox to where they ended up. We’ll look at the top 10 regular season plays by WPA with video for each as well.
10. Kyle Schwarber Homer, August 25 vs. Twins
We had to wait a few weeks to begin seeing the impact of Schwarber after his acquisition at the trade deadline, but once he got on the field it was clear how important that bat was in the lineup. This was only his ninth game with the Red Sox, and it was also his first homer with his new team. Boston was trailing the Twins for most of this game and were shut out until the seventh. They entered the bottom of the ninth trailing 4-2, but Enrique Hernández led off the inning with a double before Schwarber smashed a two-run shot against Alex Colomé to tie the game and send things to extras. The Red Sox actually ended up losing that one in extras when Hansel Robles allowed five runs in the tenth, but it was a preview of Schwarber’s presence in big moments.
9. Xander Bogaerts Single, June 6 at Yankees
Things changed as the year went on, but one of the big themes of the first half for the Red Sox was their utter dominance against the Yankees, with some of the wins being like the one here on June 6. After Boston came back and took the lead in the eighth, Matt Barnes blew it in the ninth to send it to extras, but Bogaert salvaged the day. After a walk and a bunt, he came to the plate with two men in scoring position and brought them both home on a base hit off Luis Cessa. Phillips Valdez did give up one run in the bottom half, but hung on to give Boston a 6-5 win.
8. Rafael Devers Double, August 23 vs. Rangers
Yeah, late-August was a particularly wild time, and two of our first three come within a three-day span. This one was almost a disaster of a game with Barnes blowing a two-run lead in the ninth, but Garrett Whitlock came on to limit the damage. Texas would get one in the 10th, and Boston seemed to suffer a major blow in the bottom half when Christian Arroyo was thrown out at home on a ground ball. But Devers saved the day, smacking an RBI double, bringing home the tying run on a two-out double. The Red Sox would eventually win on a Travis Shaw walk-off grand slam.
7. Alex Verdugo Home Run, July 26 vs. Blue Jays
The wildest time in what was a roller coaster of a season for the Red Sox was in the latter half of July, right before they collapsed for a bit. They were winning games in wild fashion seemingly every night, and this was one of them. Trailing Toronto by one entering the bottom of the eighth, Hunter Renfroe got on with a one-out walk, and then Alex Verdugo stepped up and hit a big two-run homer against Trevor Richards to put the Red Sox ahead. Barnes was able to close this one out, and the Red Sox won 5-4.
6. Christian Arroyo Home Run, June 16 at Braves
This was one of those wild games that gets lost in the shuffle of the season, and one that I personally had forgotten. Taking on the eventual NL champs, the Red Sox were trailing Atlanta by a run heading into the seventh. Boston loaded up the bases in that inning against Shane Greene, and when Atlanta went to left-handed A.J. Minter, Alex Cora countered with Christian Arroyo. The latter smashed a 467-foot grand slam to put the Red Sox up 10-7, and they’d eventually win 10-8.
5. Enrique Hernández double, July 22 vs. Yankees
This game was one of the most memorable of the season, the one in which Brooke Kriske melted down for the Yankees and tossed three huge wild pitches that led to a Red Sox win. But before he came into the game, Hernández had the biggest hit. With his team down by two, he came up in the bottom of the ninth with two men on and two outs. A double brought them both home to send the game to extras where Boston would win thanks to all the wild pitches.
4. Enrique Hernández outfield assist, July 2 at Athletics
This is the lone play on this list with the Red Sox in the field, but it sure was a big one. Barnes had blown a one-run lead in the ninth to send the game to extras, but the Red Sox quickly got back in front thanks to a Hernández single in the top half of the 10th. That was all they got in the inning, though, and in the bottom half Hernández came through on the other side. After the automatic runner moved over to third on a base hit, it looked like Oakland tied it up on a sacrifice fly, but Hernández threw a strike from center field to cut down the runner. Boston would get one more out to finish out the win.
3. Hunter Renfroe Home Run, September 8 vs. Rays
This is a game that is still relatively fresh in the mind as it wasn’t even two months ago at this point. It was a pitching dominated night, with neither side scoring a run through the first seven innings before the Rays finally broke the scoreless tie in the top of the eighth when Nelson Cruz hit an RBI single against Garrett Richards. It looked bad for a quiet Boston offense, but Hunter Renfroe smashed a two-run show with two outs in the bottom half to give Boston a lead. They would hold on in the ninth to finish off a 2-1 win, with the game ending on a Renfroe outfield assist.
2. J.D. Martinez Home Run, May 20 at Blue Jays
We’ve gotten through this list so far without seeing Martinez, but he makes an appearance here right near the end of the list. In a wild game down in Florida before the Jays had even relocated to Buffalo, Boston scored five runs in the second but that was all through the first eight innings. Toronto, meanwhile, scored seven runs over that span to hold a two-run lead heading into the ninth. Boston put two in scoring position with one out, and brought themselves to within one on a ground out. That left it up to Martinez with one on and two out, and he came through with a huge home run to put the Red Sox back out in front. They’d hold on and win the game 8-7.
1. J.D. Martinez Double, April 6 vs. Rays
Martinez lays claim to the top two spots on this list, and for number one we go way back to the beginning of the season. This was just the fifth game of the season, and Boston had three of their first four. We know what ended up happening, but at that point it still very much felt like 2020 all over again. This game helped turn that tide. Trailing 3-1 in the eighth, they made it 3-2 in the eighth before Christian Vázquez homered in the ninth to send this game to extras. Both sides went scoreless in the 10th, then both scored int the 11th before Tampa Bay scored one in the 12th. In the bottom of the inning, Martinez would have two on with two out, and he walked it off with a double to push the Red Sox record to 2-3. Things would continue to get better from there.