It was a hell of a night at Fenway. The home park was rocking in a way I’m not sure we’ve seen in 15 years, and it sure seemed like the Red Sox players fed off that energy. Nathan Eovaldi was electric, and Boston chased Gerrit Cole out of the game with no outs in the third thanks in part to two homers. Things got a little dicey in the middle as the Red Sox offense stalled out a bit, but big performances from Boston’s bullpen held the ship steady until the Red Sox broke it open with a couple of big hits from Alex Verdugo, and that was that. The shockingly magical season continues.
One of the big storylines coming into the game on Tuesday was the battle of the teams’ respective aces, with Gerrit Cole taking on Nathan Eovaldi. A lot of that attention, though, went to the other guy. To be fair, it’s not a ridiculous concept, as Cole has the contract and the track record to back it up. But Eovaldi still had the best season for a playoff team, and has a track record of domination coming into the game. Those who were surprised by what they saw perhaps should not have been.
It was especially refreshing to see this version of Eovaldi after his last time out against New York when he didn’t make it through three innings. In that outing, he had none of his secondaries working and he couldn’t miss bats. This time? This time he had all of his pitches working, and he had it all working as he was working in different arm angles and changing the speed of his delivery. The Yankees had no answers.
The one time where it did look like he may have been getting into a little bit of trouble was in the first, as Anthony Rizzo started the inning off with a hard-hit out and then Giancarlo Stanton put one off the Monster a couple batters later. That said, Stanton thought it was gone, watched it out of the box and only got to first, and Eovaldi was dialed in from there.
He’d strike out the next batter he faced after Stanton to end the inning, and then only allowed a single in the second, this one hit just a few feet in front of the plate on a swinging bunt. And then he really buckled in, tossing perfect frames in the third, fourth, and fifth innings.
And then there was the other side of things, with Cole on the mound. The Yankees ace is obviously one of the best pitchers in baseball — probably the second best in the world right now — but the Red Sox have had a little success against him this year, and they got to him in this one again. It looked a little troublesome right off the bat with two quick outs and Cole looking great, but Rafael Devers extended the inning with a big walk to bring Xander Bogaerts to the plate.
The Red Sox shortstop had a tough second half, and had an especially bad second half of September to close out the season. They say the slate is wiped clean when the postseason starts, and Bogaerts certainly took that to heart. For come reason Cole threw a 2-1 changeup and it stayed right over the plate, and Bogaerts crushed it. The ball flew 427 feet out to center field, and the Red Sox struck first with a 2-0 lead.
Kevin Plawecki added a double to the tally in the second, but that was all they got there, with the top of the order coming back around in the third. Kyle Schwarber led off the inning — and hit leadoff in this game — and Cole tried to get a 1-2 fastball by him above the zone. Schwarber was sitting all over it and blasted it out to right field for a solo shot, putting the Red Sox up three.
Boston would get two more runners on with the next two batters, and that was it for Cole. The Yankees ace couldn’t record an out in the third inning, and the Red Sox had a big chance to break this one open with Clay Holmes coming in. Unfortunately, Holmes has been electric for New York since he came over at the trade deadline, and he got out of that third inning before coming back out for a scoreless fourth.
After Luis Severino gave New York’s bullpen another scoreless inning in the fifth, Eovaldi was back out for the sixth. We knew Alex Cora was going to be more aggressive given the stakes of this game, and we saw it at the first sign of trouble since the first for his starter. Eovaldi got a quick first out to start the inning, but then Rizzo stepped in. Eovaldi went with a first-pitch curveball, but he caught a little too much of the strike zone and Rizzo curled one around the pole in right field to put the Yankees on the board. Aaron Judge then reached on an infield single, and that was all for Eovaldi.
It was certainly a controversial choice with the righty pitching so well all night, sitting at only 71 pitches. It was even more controversial when Ryan Brasier came on to face Stanton. And sure enough, the Yankees slugger hit an absolute bullet, but it was saved by the Monster from being a home run. And then the Yankees got aggressive on the bases, trying to get Judge home from first, but Bogaerts was on the back end of a perfect relay and they cut down the runner at the plate. Joey Gallo then popped one up, and the Red Sox escaped with the 3-1 lead.
So now the Yankees had a little momentum, and the Red Sox were looking to get it right back. Bogaerts started things off well, drawing a one-out walk in front of Verdugo. We talked on Monday about the clutch hits from Verdugo this year, and we got another one here. He put a ball into the right field corner on which Bogaerts made it all the way around to score from first, putting Boston right back out in front by three.
The Yankees then turned to Jonathan Loaisiga, who walked Hunter Renfroe to put two on with one out, but then struck out pinch hitter Travis Shaw and did the same to Bobby Dalbec to end the inning.
So it was a 4-1 game heading into the seventh, and Cora again turned to a new pitcher, this time calling upon Tanner Houck. After tossing five perfect innings in Washington over the weekend, he came out for this one and tossed a perfect seventh.
The Red Sox then had a huge chance to change the landscape of this game in the bottom of the inning, with Schwarber and Kiké Hernández drawing back-to-back one-out walks. That gave Devers a big chance with two on and one out, and while he did hit it well it went to center field and didn’t carry far enough, turning into out number two. Bogaerts then followed it up with another walk to load the bases, and Verdugo had another clutch moment. This time he ripped a liner into left-center field to bring home two more and extend the lead to five. He did get thrown out at second on the play with some super dumb baserunning, but the hit made up for it.
So now the Red Sox had to record just six more outs to get out of it, and they turned to Hansel Robles for the eighth. He came through with a perfect inning. That just left one more inning with a five-run game, and Garrett Whitlock got the call against his former organization. He let them go for nothing in the Rule 5 Draft, and while he did give up a solo homer to Stanton, he shut the door otherwise to end the game and send Boston to the Division Series.
The Red Sox now head, like the headline says, on to Tampa Bay. The Division Series starts Thursday, though the schedule is not yet known as of this writing.