Heading into Tuesday night's game four, I wanted the Red Sox to win so badly to end the series there in New York. Even though game five would be in Boston, it would be a typical all-hands-on-deck postseason game and with the dangerous Houston Astros waiting for the winner of this series in the ALCS, it would behoove Boston to end it in game four and allow Alex Cora to align the rotation (not to mention the extra days of rest it would give the team). Winning two games in a row on the road is a tall task in the postseason, especially at Yankee Stadium, although heading into game four the Red Sox were riding a three game postseason winning streak in the Bronx (games six and seven of the 2004 ALCS and game three of this series). With Rick Porcello on the mound, they looked to have a good chance to make it four as long as they played a nearly flawless game...
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...and for eight innings, they did just that. Porcello was masterful (and incredibly efficient) in this game. It took him just eight pitches to get through the first inning and only sixteen to get through the first two. His final line was five innings, four hits, one run, one strikeout, and no walks, all on only 65 pitches (more on this in a bit). The Sox were scoreless against CC Sabathia for the first two innings, but they were hitting him hard and it felt like only a matter of time before they'd get to him. That came in the third inning when Boston put three runs on the board. After CC hit Andrew Benintendi with a pitch on the triceps, Steve Pearce singled to put runners at the corners. JD Martinez lofted a sacrifice fly to center field which brought Benintendi in and was followed by Ian Kinsler ripping a double to left field over the leaping Brett Gardner to push Pearce across. Eduardo Nunez finished the scoring off with a single which drove in Kinsler and made it 3-0. That was enough to knock Sabathia, who hadn't looked sharp at all, out of the game. Boston had made him work to the tune of 59 pitches in just three innings. They picked up another run in the fourth when Christian Vazquez poked a fly ball over the comically short right field fence at Yankee Stadium to make it 4-0. You could see and hear the fear in the crowd as the game went on. The only run the Yankees got was in the fifth when Brett Gardner drove Gary Sanchez in with a sac fly. Otherwise, the New York hitters couldn't do anything all night. Curiously, Alex Cora didn't send Porcello out for the sixth and instead opted to go to the bullpen. Even though the Yankees had started to hit Porcello a bit in the fifth, he'd been rolling to that point and in my opinion I would've sent him out for one more inning to minimize the bullpen's exposure. Cora had his reasons, though, and in the end it paid off. He got scoreless innings from Matt Barnes in the sixth, Ryan Brasier in the seventh, and (shockingly!) Chris Sale in the eighth. When I saw Sale warming up in the bullpen, I knew that meant that Cora absolutely did not want this series to go back to Boston and that he was serious about ending it then and there. Heading into the bottom of the ninth, the Sox had a 4-1 lead, but I had the nagging feeling they should've put a few more on the board. Their best chance came in the eighth when Benintendi came to bat with the bases loaded and two outs. He was rung up by an atrocious call from home plate umpire Angel Hernandez, who continued his brutal series after botching three calls at first base in game three. Benintendi could be seen saying quite clearly "that wasn't a strike!" as they argued after the at bat. In any event, Craig Kimbrel began the ninth with a three run lead yet what followed was a horror show that gave me flashbacks to game six of the 1986 World Series. Kimbrel quite literally could not throw a strike. After getting one out by whiffing Giancarlo Stanton, he loaded the bases and then surrendered a run when he hit Neil Walker in the leg. 4-2, Boston. Kimbrel then gave up a long fly ball to Sanchez that nearly ended the game; instead it was caught at the warning track for out number two as a sac fly that drove in Didi Gregorious. 4-3, Boston. The game finally ended when Eduardo Nunez made a great charging play on Gleyber Torres' weak dribbler and threw him out at first as a stretching Pearce corralled the ball for the final out. The Yankees challenged it, but replay clearly showed the throw beating the runner by a step. Game over, series over, and the Sox commenced to celebrate on the field at Yankee Stadium...could you ask for a sweeter way to defeat your fiercest rival?
As stated above, Porcello was fantastic and I have to single out the bullpen for special praise, too. Barnes, Brasier and Sale were phenomenal in relief, retiring every Yankees batter they faced and getting the lead to Kimbrel in the ninth. Craig, though, was another story. Other than striking the free-swinging and flailing Stanton, his inning was a trainwreck. He gave up a hit, two walks, and two runs and nearly cost the team the game. If it weren't for the incredible play Nunez and Pearce made to end the game, we'd be gearing up for a do-or-die game five on Thursday night. Kimbrel has been shaky for most of this season and it's got worse toward August and September. I don't know if it was nerves or what, but hopefully he's gotten it out of his system now because moving forward an inning like that absolutely cannot happen if the Sox are going to have a chance to advance further. Fittingly the Sox threw the postseason monkey off of their back at Yankees Stadium by advancing to the ALCS for the first time since 2013. Interesting, in this game it was the bottom of the order that did the most damage. Mookie Betts finished off his miserable series with an 0-4 night and looked awful at the plate, but he made some fantastic plays in right field to compensate. The damage in this one came from Pearce, Kinsler, Nunez, and Vazquez and shows how deep and talented this team is on a night when the top of the order did nothing. It was a great way to finish off the Yankees and the series and now gives the Red Sox until Saturday to rest, set up the rotation and bullpen alignment, and prepare to take on the defending champion Astros. Yankees fans wanted Boston after they won the play-in game and they got them. The damage, as they say, is done.
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