Game 153: Red Sox at New York Yankees (September 20, 2018)

See? I told you this wasn't a repeat of 1978, didn't I? While the angst over how poorly the Red Sox have played over the past month was completely warranted, there was no reason for anyone to worry about them letting the division lead slip away. With a 9.5 game lead and ten games to play, it was only a matter of when, not if, the Sox would clinch. However, after blowing the opening game of this series and getting shellacked in the second game, a sweep at the hands of the hated Yankees looked like a real possibility. With another tough series in Cleveland immediately following the sojourn in the Bronx, it behooved Boston to wrap up the division as soon as they could so that they could rest players and tinker with the bullpen to see if they could patch something together that might be halfway effective in the postseason.

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Things got off to a good start in the first inning when JD Martinez drove in the Red Sox first run with an RBI single. In the second, Mookie Betts drove in two with a single of his own and the Sox raced out to a quick 3-0 lead. However, the suddenly pesky Luke Voit (who hit two home runs on Wednesday night) struck again when he hit a two run homer to shave the lead to one run. Brock Holt answered in the third with a solo shot to put Boston back up by two runs and it looked like the Sox had finally broken out of their scoring doldrums. And then...(if you didn't watch the game, have you guessed what happened next?)...the bullpen struck again. In the fourth inning Heath Hembree (there's nothing more I can say about this guy that I haven't already said that would be appropriate for a family website such as this) came in with the bases loaded and had the very first pitch he threw launched into the center field seats by Giancarlo Stanton for a grand slam. Just like that, the Yankees were up 6-4. With one pitch, Hembree managed to drain the blood from every Red Sox fan's face and conjure up the very real spectre of getting swept in New York. Even on a night where the team finally scored some runs, the bullpen (read: Hembree) seemed destined to derail it. Unlike in recent weeks, though, the Red Sox responded and kept on hitting. There was a prime opportunity in the fifth inning to put a lot of runs on the board with runners at the corners and no outs, but JD grounded into a double play. It drove in Mookie from third base but snuffed out any further potential rally. In the seventh, Jackie Bradley crushed a ball into the second deck in right field to tie the game at six and give the Sox some life. Later in the inning with the bases loaded, Xander Bogaerts lofted a fly ball to center field that looked like it would be a routine sacrifice fly. It did indeed bring in Tzu-Wei Lin from third base, but Aaron Hicks' throw skipped into the stands which allowed Andrew Benintendi to score. Just like that, the Sox had a two run lead. While Steven Wright held down the fort beautifully out of the bullpen, the team added some insurance runs in the eighth when Mookie crushed a ball into left field with two outs for a three run homer and an 11-6 lead. All that was left was for Craig Kimbrel to seal the deal and he did. Even though he gave up a lead off triple to Andrew McCutchen, he managed to induce two quick outs via a strikeout and a foul out before whiffing Giancarlo Stanton and getting him to swing at three pitches that all bounced in front of the plate. That gave the team the victory and clinched the AL East for the third consecutive season (a franchise record).

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The Sox bashed their way to this win, outhitting the Yankees 13-7 and finally hitting some home runs (three in this game). Mookie was a beast and went 4-5 with five RBI, three runs scored, and a huge home run late in the game. Benintendi and Rafael Devers both had nice nights with two hits each and Bradley went 1-3 with two runs scored, an RBI (off his big game-tying homer), and a walk. On the pitching side, Eduardo Rodriguez was awful in only lasting 3.2 innings. He was charged with five earned runs and walked seven batters while only striking out four. Some of that was the inconsistency of the home plate umpire, but he also just looked out of sorts the entire time. Hembree was vintage Hembree (i.e. awful)...this guy is the opposite of what they used to call a "fireman" in baseball parlance. Instead of putting out fires, Hembree pours gasoline on them (metaphorically speaking, of course). Wright and Ryan Brasier were much better, only allowing one hit between them in their combined four innings of work. This was the first game in a while where the bats were able to pick up the pitching on a night where the starter stunk...hopefully it won't be the last (and hopefully the starting pitching will get back to where it was for most of the summer). For now, the team and all of Red Sox Nation can bask in the victory and the added bonus of clinching at Yankee Stadium. Then, it's off to Cleveland for the next series where Chris Sale will continue his conditioning toward October when he goes up against Trevor Bauer in the opener. Hopefully the hangover (which I mean in both the figurative and literal sense) won't be too much for the Sox to overcome and they can continue to tune up and get back to playing better baseball before the postseason. With the division wrapped up, the most important thing now is making sure the team is at peak performance come October.

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