Tuesday, October 9, 2018

ALDS Game 3: Red Sox at New York Yankees (October 8, 2018)

I don't think I've ever been so happy to have been wrong about something as I was about these Red Sox.  I was really down on the team after their lackluster performance in game two and thought we were seeing a replay of the last two postseasons (and really, a replay of all of the bad times pre-2004). They weren't pitching well, they were barely hitting (only two runs after the third inning of game one), and they just seemed overmatched and almost scared by the end of game two. Even the game they'd won had been a nailbiter that didn't inspire much confidence. Heading into game three at Yankee Stadium, the Yankees had a swagger and confidence while the Red Sox seemed almost subdued. What I and every other Red Sox fan was reminded of was that baseball is an unpredictable game and that the smallest adjustments often pay the biggest dividends.

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The clamor from most of Red Sox Nation after game two was for Alex Cora to make some changes to the roster. As I mentioned in my recap of the second game, Brock Holt should be playing in place of Ian Kinsler right now and Rafael Devers should be back in the lineup for his bat. At catcher, I was fine with Sandy Leon being in for his defense although if they were going to make a change I wanted it to be Blake Swihart, who has some power and also speed on the bases. I also lamented the fact that through the first two games of this series the Red Sox had barely stolen any bases. Gary Sanchez has a good arm, but he's a terrible defensive catcher (I mean, really terrible) and I thought the Sox should be running wild on him every time. Now, I'm not saying Alex Cora heard me (but I'm not saying he didn't, either...), but the Red Sox made all of these changes in game three and the results were spectacular and certainly beyond what anyone expected.

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Boston had Yankee-killer (and former Yankee) Nathan Eovaldi starting and really needed him to eat up some innings after how much the bullpen had been taxed in the first two games. New York countered with their ace Luis Severino. From the beginning, though, it was a one-sided matchup. Believe it or not, it was the bottom third of the Sox lineup that got things started for the Sox in the second inning when Christian Vazquez' infield single drove in Rafael Devers for the first run of the game. The Sox picked up two more in the third, first when JD Martinez hit a sacrifice fly to push Mookie Betts across and then when Rafael Devers drove Andrew Benintendi in with a fielder's choice. Those runs were set up by some incredibly astute and aggressive baserunning which I need to point out. Mookie had singled and was at first when Benintendi lined it to left field. Incredibly, Mookie made it to third base and Benintendi to second, unheard of when you've just hit to the left side. Heading into the fourth inning with a 3-0 lead, it still didn't feel comfortable. Up to that point all but one of the Red Sox hits had been singles and while they were getting to Severino, they hadn't done too much damage. That all changed in the fourth. Severino was pulled after loading the bases with no outs. It felt like the Sox were about the blow the game wide open with Mookie up and they were, but not quite yet. Mookie walked off of reliever Lance Lynn to drive in the first run of his postseason career and make it 4-0. Benintendi followed by ripping a double down the right field line to clear the bases and instantly swell the lead to 7-0. The Sox kept pouring it on that inning when Steve Pearce singled to drive Benintendi in off of Chad Green and was himself driven in via Holt's triple. By the end of the inning it was 10-0 Red Sox and the Yankee Stadium crowd was dead silent...I've been to funerals that were more lively than that ballpark! The Yankees avoided the shutout by scoring a run in the bottom of the inning off of a Didi Gregorious fielder's choice, but that was all they'd get the entire night. The Red Sox, however, weren't finished. JD singled in a run in the seventh and Holt hit a ground rule double in the eighth to make it 12-1. Later in the eighth, Kinsler (in for defensive purposes) scored on a wild pitch and then Mookie drove in his second run of the night with a single. It was 14-1 heading into the ninth and by that time, everyone was ready to move on to game four. Everyone except Brock Holt, that is, who crushed a two run homer to right field to not only make it 16-1 Boston, but completed his hitting for the cycle. It was, in fact, the first cycle in postseason history (something I was stunned to learn given Major League Baseball's long and rich history). The fact that Holt was hitting off of a position player pitching (Yankees catcher Austin Romine) made it even more fun. The 16-1 drubbing was the worst postseason loss in Yankees history and, in putting Boston ahead in the series 2-1, puts the Bronx Bombers on the brink of elimination.

Before I get to the offense, I have to single out Nathan Eovaldi for some serious praise. On a night when the team needed a strong and long performance from their starter, he delivered and then some. He went seven full innings and only gave up a single run while allowing five hits. Those were the only hits the Yankees had for the entire game. He struck out five batters and didn't walk a single one, and his final pitch of the game touched 100 mph. He did it all on less than a hundred pitches (the final total was 97) and was, simply put, masterful. Heath Hembree and Eduardo Rodriguez each pitched scoreless innings to finish off the game, but with a lead that big even Hembree couldn't screw it up (sorry, I couldn't resist). As for the hitting, the Sox pounded out their sixteen runs on eighteen hits with everyone contributing. Benintendi broke the game wide open in the fourth and finished 2-3 with three RBI and two runs scored to go along with two walks. It was nice to see Mookie finally get on track with a couple of hits, a couple of runs, and (finally!) some postseason RBI. The other usual suspects (Xander Bogaerts, JD, Bradley) all had nice nights, but it was Cora's substitutions who stole the show. Devers went 2-6 with an RBI and two runs scored, Vazquez (this one shocked me) actually swung the bat and went 2-6 with an RBI and a run scored, but how can Brock Holt not be the hero of the game? He was 4-6 with three runs scored, five RBI, and he hit for the cycle...not to mention some stellar defense at second base. If I had told you in July or August that Eovaldi and Holt would be the two who pushed the Yankees to the brink of elimination, you wouldn't have believed me; I wouldn't have believed me. October is often when the unlikeliest heroes emerge, though, and that was certainly the case in this one.

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Game four is Tuesday night and pits Rick Porcello against CC Sabathia. With the Yankees on the brink and the Red Sox finally hitting and running wild on the bases like they did all season, I think I speak for all Red Sox fans when I say I would love for them to wrap up the series and celebrate on the field in New York. In addition to the aforementioned aggressiveness on the bases, I want them to bunt, bunt, bunt until Sabathia begs for mercy. The old, fat, cranky pitcher with bad knees has complained repeatedly over the last few years that it's "disrespectful" for hitters to try and take advantage of him by bunting, so if I were Alex Cora I'd bunt until he shouts "no mas!" from the infield grass. Hey, who knows? Cora listened to me with his substitutions and more aggressive baserunning, so maybe he'll listen to me on this, too, right?


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