A Wild Finish Sets Up a Rivalry Grudge Match

Everyone take a breath. No really, it’s ok the breathe now. That was one of the wildest final few days of the regular season I’ve ever seen in the MLB and the every-team-starts-at-3pm-on-the-final-day-of-the-season was intense and absolutely amazing. Going into game 162 there were a half-dozen scenarios involving the 4 teams fighting for the 2 AL Wild Card spots, including a potential for a 4-way tie. As the games began, all Red Sox needed to host the AL Wild Card game was a W, but the anxiety increased for Red Sox fans pretty quickly.

With the 4 games that impacted the AL Wild Card all happening simultaneously, there was no time to sit back and relax. I was watching the Red Sox at Nationals and checking in on Rays at Yankees, Orioles at Blue Jays, and Angels at Mariners. Thankfully, for my sanity not for the wild card race, the Blue Jays jumped all over the Orioles early making that a game I didn’t have to keep checking. As time ticks on, the Rays and Yankees are still scoreless and Chris Sale is, well, not Chris Sale-ing, my anxiety level rose. Once Sale walked in a run and was pulled in the 3rd inning, doom and gloom began to overtake me. The Red Sox were guaranteed a game 163, but no one wanted it to be a tie-breaker game.

Once Garrett Richards gave up the 2-run double to retiring catcher Alex Avila, I thought that was it. It was 5-1 Nationals and I was figuring out my schedule for a potential tie-breaker game on Monday and running through all the potential scenarios once again. As the game progressed, my anxiety grew even higher the longer the Rays and Yankees remained scoreless. The Red Sox got one back in the 6th, then down 3 in the 7th, three straight singles makes in 5-3 and Alex Verdugo has one of the biggest hits of the season with a 2-run double to tie the game. For those who are keeping track, the Red Sox and Nationals are tied 5-5 and the Rays and Yankees are tied 0-0, both in the very late innings.

Then, the pressure grew to new heights when Aaron Judge had the softest walkoff hit I’ve ever seen (bunts not withstanding) to give the Yankees a 1-0 victory. The Red Sox’s chances of hosting the wild card game were slipping, but there was still time. Eduardo Rodriguez shutdown the Nationals in the bottom of the 8th and then the Red Sox get their chance to bat in the top of the 9th with the heart of the lineup scheduled to bat (2-3-4). Kyle Schwarber led it off with a ground ball to the shifted 2nd baseman on the outfield grass and he couldn’t play it cleanly so the Red Sox have some life for Xander Bogaerts. Unfortunately X-man continued his awful stretch with a K, bringing Rafael Devers up to bat.

Devers swung at the first pitch splitter and missed, then watched 2 more splitters to move the count to 2-and-1. The Nationals pitcher Kyle Finnegan then made a critical error, throwing Raffy a 4th straight splitter on the inside part of the plate and Devers crushed it. A 447-foot HR to give the Red Sox their first lead of the game and put them in a position to host the AL Wild Card game on Tuesday night. In the all-hands-on-deck game 162, starter Nick Pivetta came in to close the game out in the bottom of the 9th and retired the Nationals in order, including an impressive strikeout of Juan Soto to end the game.

It wasn’t easy, but nothing has been since June. This team was one of the best in baseball for the first 3-months of the season but has struggled and had to fight and claw for everything since that point. The fact they needed 162 games to get into the postseason is hard to swallow, but if you compare that to the pre-season expectations for this team, the postseason is an accomplishment to celebrate. The Red Sox officially finish the year 92-70, which is a great record in any situation. Before the season, Sports Illustrated predicted the Red Sox would finish 80-82 this season, 17 games behind the Yankees and 4th place in the AL East and the betting over/under on wins for the Red Sox was 80.5.

I know this team almost collapsed and may bow out of the playoffs before getting into a series, but big picture, this has been a successful season for the Boston Red Sox to this point. It’s really hard to see that when watching day-in and day-out, but to be as competitive as they have been in a division stacked with 4 playoff-worthy teams. The Red Sox played nearly 1/3 of their games (57) against the Tampa Bay Rays, New York Yankees, and Toronto Blue Jays, all 90+ win teams and 2 of the 3 are in the postseason and 1 missed the postseason by a single game. The Red Sox won the season series with the Yankees and Blue Jays, albeit by 1 game, but it’s why they are hosting the AL Wild Card game on Tuesday.

There is a lot to unpack about the 2021 season for the Red Sox and thankfully there is an offseason for that, but for now, I’m just looking forward to a single-elimination game between two storied rivals at America’s Most Beloved Ballpark on Tuesday night at 8:08pm EST.

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