It’ll go down as one of the luckiest breaks in postseason history, and the Red Sox weren’t going to waste it.
Tied 1-1 in the American League Division series and 4-4 in Game 3, the Rays appeared to take a lead in the top of the 13th inning, when Kevin Kiermaier hit a shot to the right-field wall that would’ve scored Yandy Diaz easily, but the ball bounced off the wall, ricocheted off Hunter Renfroe’s leg and hopped over the wall as a ground-rule double, by MLB rule, keeping Diaz at third base.
Extra-innings hero Nick Pivetta escaped the jam to keep the game tied, then the Red Sox took advantage in the bottom of the inning.
Renfroe drew a one-out walk and then Christian Vazquez, who didn’t even start the game, mashed a two-run homer off Luis Patino over the Green Monster to walk it off with a 6-4 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.
Afterwards, manager Alex Cora said the star of the game was Pivetta, who threw 67 pitches on three days’ rest to get the win.
“We were all in, and they know it,” Cora said. “We texted all the starters yesterday, and we put spikes on, and they understand what that is. We might do it differently than other teams, but when you get to that stage, you take it day by day.
“Nick understands that, and he did an amazing job in Tampa. Today he was amazing. Very, very similar to Nate (Eovaldi) in Game 3 of the World Series a few years ago. He was locked in, good fastball, good breaking ball, with traffic, with no traffic, very emotional. These people, wow, that was better than Tuesday, to be honest with you. That was fun.”
The win put the Red Sox ahead, 2-1, in the ALDS with a chance to win the series in Fenway Park at 7:07 p.m. Monday night.
Vazquez’s two-run shot in essence negated the run that Diaz would’ve scored in the top of the 13th, since the Sox would’ve won the game regardless, though the loss of momentum certainly has to be taken into account.
“Christian, he works so hard on his craft,” Cora said. “He cares so much about this organization that for him to be in that spot and put a good swing and hit the ball out of the ballpark, I know it means a lot to him. It means a lot to us. It was a big swing, but we’re up 2-1. We’ve still got work to do.
“We’re in a great spot, but that’s a good baseball team. Let’s be ready for tomorrow.”
Nathan Eovaldi started the game and brought his best in the postseason once again.
It was one of those nights Eovaldi needed an inning to settle in. He hung an early curveball to Wander Franco, who smoked it for a single. And a first-pitch fastball on the inner half to Austin Meadows was hit a long way over the right-field fence for a two-run shot that gave the Rays a 2-0 lead in the first inning.
But that was all the Rays could do against the Red Sox ace.
The first six outs he recorded were all strikeouts. The Rays worked his pitch count, but Eovaldi put them away when it counted and made it through five innings with just the two runs allowed, striking out eight. He threw 85 pitches, 58 for strikes.
In two starts against the Yankees and Rays this postseason, Eovaldi has fanned a remarkable 16 batters over 10 1/3 innings.
After scoring 14 runs on 20 hits on Friday, the Sox offense came down to earth in this one, doing most of their damage early in the game.
Kyle Schwarber is looking like a natural hitter for the confines of Fenway Park. He got a hanging breaking ball and, rather than trying to crush it 500 feet to right, stayed back and hit a chip shot over the Green Monster for a leadoff home run in the bottom of the first.
The Sox used four singles, including a pair of RBI singles by Kiké Hernandez and Rafael Devers, to move ahead, 3-2, in the bottom of the third.
There isn’t a hotter hitter in baseball right now than Hernandez. His final four at-bats in Tampa on Friday and first three at-bats in Boston on Sunday went as follows: home run, double, double, single, single, single and home run. He finally hit a lineout in the eighth inning to snap his streak, but his eight hits in two games are the most ever by a player in consecutive postseason games.
The surprise of the third inning was when Devers tried dropping a bunt down on the first pitch. He looks to be in a lot of pain whenever he swings and misses, but the bunt play surely confused the Rays, too. Two pitches later, they threw him a fastball down the middle and Devers smoked it to center for the go-ahead RBI single, making it 3-2.
Hernandez then destroyed one over the Monster for a solo shot in the fifth to give the Red Sox a 4-2 lead.
“We’re going to grind it out, we’re going to be relentless, we’re going to do whatever it takes to win a ballgame,” Hernandez said. “We’ve been able to do that, and we’re sitting here in a really good spot to win a series against one of the best teams in the American League, if not the best team the last two years.”
With the left-handed hitting Meadows due up to start the sixth, it was an easy call for Cora to replace Eovaldi with lefty Josh Taylor.
Taylor, Ryan Brasier and Austin Davis maneuvered their way to the eighth inning with the Red Sox in front.
It got interesting in the eighth, when the red-hot Hansel Robles entered the game having not allowed a run since Aug. 29, a span of 17 consecutive scoreless appearances. But Franco led off and Robles started him with three straight balls to fall behind 3-0. He threw two straight fastballs down the pipe and Franco, a Rookie of the Year candidate who has looked every bit as good as he was projected to be, hammered the second one into the Monster seats to cut the deficit to one.
Robles left because he was ill, not injured, Cora said afterwards.
Meadows then doubled to put the tying run on second, and Robles was seen clutching his right arm and stretching out his shoulder after the at-bat. But he stayed in to face Nelson Cruz, got a weak groundout, then Randy Arozarena, the Rays’ other Rookie of the Year candidate, doubled to left-center to tie the game, 4-4.
Cora called on his own rookie sensation, Garrett Whitlock, to clean up the inning and pitch a scoreless ninth, giving the Sox a chance to walk it off in the bottom of the frame.
Schwarber hit a one-out single to put the game-winning run on base and was replaced by Bobby Dalbec as a pinch-runner. But neither Hernandez nor Devers could come through to push him across.
At that point, Cora turned the game over to Pivetta.
Back in February, it wasn’t even certain that Pivetta would have a spot on the Red Sox’ roster, much less become a key contributor.
But he became a key member of the Sox’ rotation all year and on Sunday, on just two days rest after throwing 73 pitches in Game 1 on Friday, the 28-year-old right-hander was electric, holding the Rays quiet in the 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th to earn the win.
“I just gave it my all, to be honest with you,” Pivetta said. “I just competed with the strike zone, competed with those guys, and my energy just shows what this means to me and means to our team. It’s really exciting. It’s fun to be here. It’s a moment in time for me and for our team.
“So I think it’s just me showing my emotions. It’s just excitement, and that’s just the way it goes.”