The last few months for the Boston Red Sox have been filled with challenges, injuries, and underwhelming performances. Down the stretch, most every member of the offense had (or is having) a dry spell and the pitching staff has been a bit all over the map. The Red Sox season came down to game 162 and thanks to some timely hitting leading to a big comeback, postseason baseball is back in Boston. After the high of the win, reality sunk in that their triumphant return to the postseason would be shaped by a 1-game wild card showdown with none-other-than their bitter rivals, the New York Yankees.
As a Red Sox fan, last night’s AL Wild Card game was a thing of beauty. With a battle of the two staff aces, Gerrit Cole for the Yankees and Nathan Eovaldi for the Red Sox, you knew runs would be at a premium. Thankfully, one of the slumping Red Sox bats, Xander Bogaerts, turned the page and crushed a 2-run HR in the 1st inning to give the Sox an early lead. Not to be forgotten was the Rafael Devers walk, battling back from a 1-2 count, in the at-bat before to keep the inning alive. When Xander hit the HR, his reaction said it all. I haven’t seen him that excited in a loonnnggg time and it absolutely set the tone for the entire game. Xander is generally a quiet leader who lead by example. Last night, he led by example, but was anything but quiet.
There were so many important performances and moments in this one game that there isn’t time to recap them all (and there are plenty of other places to get that coverage), but the thing that impressed me the most about last night was the players resilience and belief. It sounds cheesy, but every time the Red Sox got in a jam, or a pitcher gave up a run, the players seemed to rally behind each other and believe in each other. They limited damage and extended the lead when the Yankees put pressure on, which is something they struggled with most of September.
The best example of limiting damage and playing together was in the 6th inning right after Eovaldi was replaced by Ryan Brasier and Giancarlo Stanton crushed his 2nd ball off the monster in the game (despite what John Sterling thinks, they both went OFF the monster, not OVER). Alex Verdugo misplayed the carom angle (which to be fair is a near impossible read), but Kike Hernandez was there to back him up, got the ball quickly in to Bogaerts and X-man threw an absolutely perfectly placed laser to home where Kevin Plawecki beautifully tagged Aaron Judge to cut down the run.
If that play doesn’t happen, then the score is 3-2 with a runner in scoring position and just 1 out. Momentum, if not the lead, would likely have shifted to the New York dugout and the intensity, and pressure, would have risen. The Red Sox needed everyone to be alert and play their positions in perfect harmony and when they did that, they finally succeeded in the elusive area of defensive fundamentals. I’ve been harping on their lack of defensive consistency all year and the numbers show they are one of the worst defensive teams in baseball and frankly, I don’t fully understand why. They have some weaker spots on the field but for the most part, they have talented players who should be at least average at their positions. All can be forgiven if they turn the page in the postseason and play clean, smart baseball.
If the Red Sox are confident and can consistently hit, pitch pretty well, and play solid defense, they have the talent to make a deep run in the playoffs, but those are big ifs. They passed their first test on Tuesday, now they have an even bigger test upcoming with the 100 win Tampa Bay Rays.
And hey, if you’re a Yankees fan, don’t get too sad because there is still something to look forward to. On Valentines Day, February 14th 2022, pitchers and catchers report.