How about that for some anxiety-inducing baseball? Boston could have made it stress-free with an easy win, but they’re not about that life. Much of this day looked bleak, with another quiet performance from the offense, but a few relievers came through with big outings and Rafael Devers played the hero. With two homers, including the winner in the ninth, he was most of the offense and the biggest reason there is no Game 163.
In a game that was as close to must-win as a game can be without literally being must-win in the sense that the season is over if they lose, the Red Sox had things set up as they wanted. They were going up against a rookie making his big-league debut against one of the worst teams in baseball, a team they’d beaten each of the previous two days, with Chris Sale on the mound. Nothing is ever close to set in stone in baseball, but this is as well set up as they could be.
So of course you knew it wasn’t going to go as easily as you would think on paper. Sale had a very strange start to his game. He was striking out everyone, but it was taking a whole lot of pitches. In the first inning he did strike out all three batters he faced, and then in the second he struck out three more. The issue in that second was that he faced more than three batters, giving up doubles to the two who did not strike out, which in turn gave Washington their first run against the lefty.
And over on the other side, against Joan Adon — again, making his major-league debut — the Red Sox had some major issues. They did work a one-out walk in the first, but Xander Bogaerts grounded into another inning-ending double play, which has become a habit for him of late.
The second gave them a really good chance to take early control of this game and start to perhaps get into the rookie’s head, as they put the first two on with a single and a hit batter. They squandered the chance, as both Alex Verdugo and Hunter Renfroe struck out before Christian Vázquez grounded out to end the inning. They’d then go down very quietly in the third.
That brought Sale back out for the bottom half of the inning, and it just remained clear that the command wasn’t going to be there for this game. The southpaw issued a walk to start things off, and then gave up two singles with a strike out mixed in to load the bases with only one out. Ryan Zimmerman then stepped to the plate and didn’t get a single strike, walking on four pitches to give Washington their second run of the day. And that four-pitch walk was the end of a very disappointing outing for Sale, who recorded only seven outs, though all were strikeouts.
And he left a very messy situation for Hirokazu Sawamura, who entered with the bases still full, his team trailing by two and only one out. He couldn’t gave come through any better, inducing a huge ground ball to escape without any more damage on a double play.
Moving on to the top of the fourth, the Red Sox immediately responded with a little bit of offense. It was one big swing to lead off the inning as Rafael Devers got a 1-2 fastball up in the zone on the outer half. He blasted it to straightaway center field, cutting the deficit in half. Boston appeared to get a little more momentum in that inning when Alex Verdugo poked a line drive into left-center field with one out, but he was caught between first and second, recording the second out on absolutely atrocious baserunning.
Sawamura came through with another big inning in the fourth, and the offense got some more momentum in the fifth, still trailing by a run. They got two runners on when Christian Arroyo, who was hitting for the pitcher’s spot, drew a one-out walk and Kiké Hernández followed it up with a base hit. They even got some extra help when a wild pitch put both runners in scoring position, but Kyle Schwarber hit a tapper on which the runners had to hold, and Xander Bogaerts grounded out to end the inning with the game still tied.
So it was now a one-run game with the Nationals sending their best hitters to the plate in the coming inning, which to me signaled a good spot to bring Garrett Whitlock in. Instead, Alex Cora went with Garrett Richards, and let him have the whole inning. It was bizarrely non-urgent managing, and it was costly. Richards started off the inning giving up a double, and then intentionally walked Juan Soto before issuing a regular walk to Josh Bell, loading the bases.
Still, no one was so much as warming up. Richards did come back with a huge strikeout for the first out, and then he got a tapper back to the mound. If he fielded it cleanly he probably could have gotten the out at the plate. But he fumbled with it a bit, and had to settle for out at first with a third Nationals run coming in. Even with the run, there was still a chance to escape the jam with the deficit still at two if he could get Alex Avila. He did not get Alex Avila. Instead, the Nationals catcher brought two runs in with a base hit, and suddenly it was a four-run game.
If that weren’t bad enough, that inning started with J.D. Martinez tripping over second base on his way out to right field. Normally that would just be a goofy thing to chuckle at, except he needed to be looked at by the trainer. He stayed in the game for that inning, but was pinch hit for in the next inning.
And in that next inning, José Iglesias hit for Martinez and got things started with a one-out single. That was followed with a single from Verdugo to put two men on, and a fly out from Hunter Renfroe put the runners on the corners. Vázquez followed that up with a soft grounder up the middle, and Verdugo was just barely able to get into second base before the flip to the bag, keeping the inning alive and allowing Iglesias to come in and make it a 5-2 game. Travis Shaw then came up representing the tying run as a pinch hitter, but he went down swinging to end the inning.
In a three-run game, Martín Pérez got the call in the sixth, which seemed like a bad decision from where I was sitting, but it worked. He issued a two-out walk but nothing else to keep the deficit at three. That brought the top of the order back around for the Red Sox, and they got things started with a one-out walk from Schwarber, which was followed by a Bogaerts base hit. That brought Devers back to the plate, and while he stayed in the yard this time around he smacked an RBI single to make it a two-run game. Iglesias couldn’t come through with runners on the corners, popping one up for out number two.
That left things up to Alex Verdugo, who has been great in big spots this year. He came through yet again, making up for the baserunning blunder earlier by ripping a two-run double into right-center field, and we were all tied up at five.
With the tie game, Garrett Whitlock made his first appearance since coming off the IL for the seventh and looked like he hadn’t missed a beat, setting down the side in order on 10 pitches. Unfortunately, he was due up in the next inning and was hit for in what turned out to be a 1-2-3 top half of the eighth.
That meant the game was still tied heading to the bottom half, and Eduardo Rodriguez got the call out of the bullpen. The lefty, who started on Thursday, was lights out, needing only eight pitches to get through a perfect inning of his own to send this one to the ninth with the game still knotted up at five.
The offense now needed to get a run to try and avoid any extra-inning madness, and they got a break to start the inning when a routing ground ball into the shift from Schwarber was bobbled, putting the leadoff man on. Bogaerts followed that up with a strike out, but then Devers came up. It was all about him this entire game, and he did it again, getting a splitter down in the zone and blasting it out to straightaway center field for a two-run shot to make it a 7-5 game.
That was all they’d get in the inning, leaving it up to Nick Pivetta to close this one out. He got the job done in order, finishing off the appearance by striking out Soto, to close out the game.
And with the win, the Red Sox have clinched a very unlikely postseason berth. The Yankees and Blue Jays also won, but it didn’t matter as all Boston had to do was win on Sunday to clinch the top spot in the Wildcard race, and thus the ability to host the win-or-go-home game on Tuesday.
The Red Sox now get to take Monday off as they head back home to take on the Yankees on Tuesday in the Wildcard Game.