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9 thoughts on the Red Sox’ Wild Card Game win over the Yankees

Boston
Boston
 2021-10-06

Nathan Eovaldi stepped up again in another big game for the Red Sox.

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Kyle Schwarber (left) gave the Red Sox a lift with a solo homer in the third inning.

Playing nine innings (wild card edition) while wondering if Bucky Dent will ever see the Yankees beat the Red Sox in a big game again …

1. No matter what happens the rest of his career – or, for that matter, the remainder of the four-year, $68 million contract signed before the 2019 season, which once looked like a mistake and now looks like a bargain – one thing is certain about Nate Eovaldi’s future. Whenever he returns to Fenway Park, whether it’s for another team someday or as a retired ballplayer waving from a luxury box while his highlights play on the big screen, he is going to get a hero’s welcome, every single time. Eovaldi already owned a secure place in Red Sox lore with his staff-saving six-inning, 97-pitch effort in relief on one day’s rest in Game 3 of the 2018 World Series. But he added to that legacy Tuesday night, and in victory this time, pitching 5 1/3 superb, almost entirely suspense-free innings in the Red Sox’ 6-2 win. Eovaldi delivered a masterclass in power-pitching, throwing untouchable 99 mile-per-hour darts, grunting with each pitch like fellow Alvin, Texas native Nolan Ryan, and basically doing what Gerrit Cole was supposed to do for the Yankees but most certainly did not. Eovaldi was a rock in a big moment again, and it’s not going to be forgotten.

2. Xander Bogaerts is about as dependable as a ballplayer gets, which is why it was so concerning that he couldn’t seem to dig himself out of a late-season ditch. Bogaerts hit .255 with just eight homers and a .761 OPS in the season’s second half. He got hot at the beginning of September, but struggled over the last two weeks, hitting .216 with one homer in the final 11 games. He shed all of his recent struggles in his first at-bat against Cole, the Yankees’ hard-throwing starter and Cy Young candidate, crushing a tone-setting two-run homer in the bottom of the first. Bogaerts’s blast was a message to Cole that Red Sox were not going to go quietly. Instead, it was Cole who went quietly, and quickly, lasting just two-plus innings, or as long as Roger Clemens did in the “Where is Roger?” Game 3 of the 1999 ALCS.

3. Kyle Schwarber was the second Sox hitter to take Cole deep, clobbering a 435-foot blast leading off the third that may well have landed in someone’s ice cream helmet in the concession line beneath the bleachers. Schwarber entered the game with six homers and a .981 OPS in 24 postseason games, and his homer Tuesday was his second playoff homer off Cole, the first coming in the 2015 NL Wild Card Game when he was a Cub, Cole was a Pirate, and we were all so much younger then. It did not go unnoticed that Schwarber (the then-injury hitter the Red Sox acquired at the trade deadline) and the Yankees’ Anthony Rizzo (the hitter and defensive whiz most Red Sox fans wanted at the deadline) both homered Tuesday. But Schwarber plays on. I think that means the Sox won the trade deadline, right?

4. The only moments of true uh-oh tension showed up in the top of the sixth, when with one out Anthony Rizzo clubbed Eovaldi’s 68th pitch for a solo home run, cutting the Red Sox lead to 3-1. Asking this often flammable Red Sox bullpen to get 11 outs seemed like a lot, but Cora did not hesitate in pulling Eovaldi after 71 pitches, fearing that Yankee familiarity would bring success the third time around the order. (Opposing batters hit .281 with a .780 OPS against Eovaldi the third time they faced him in a game this season.) When Cora signaled to the bullpen for Ryan Brasier, I fired off a quick Twitter poll giving readers five minutes to answer whether it was the right or wrong move. Seventy-nine percent of you Negative Nomars voted wrong … and you were wrong. Brasier, Tanner Houck, Hansel Robles, and Garett Whitlock combined to allow just two hits and one run in relief.

5. The excellent relief work was a surprise, but not the biggest one of the night. A defensive play possibly saving their season? Now that was a surprise, given that the Red Sox probably fielded their worst defensive team since 1996 this season. It happened in that same sixth inning, when Giancarlo Stanton cranked a wall-assaulting liner with Aaron Judge on first. Judge, who is much faster than a ballplayer his size should be allowed to be, turned the corner at third as Xander Bogaerts collected Kiké Hernández’s one-hopped throw. Wheeling and firing home almost casually – Bogaerts’s throw was as smooth as that viral Trea Turner slide from a few weeks back – he nailed Judge by less than an arm’s length. If Derek Jeter had made a similar play, there would have been poems written about it by the seventh-inning stretch. I say it was the Red Sox’ best and most important defensive play of the season.

6. If Stanton played for the Red Sox, as some of us may have pondered as a possibility in years past, he’d hit something like .389 with, oh, seven homers and 100 absolutely crushed singles at Fenway every year. He launched a rocket off the wall in the first inning as well, one sent ESPN play-by-play voice Matt Vasgersian into Overdramatic And Almost Immediately Regrettable Home Run Call Mode. “Oh, he got another one!’’ said Vasgersian, referencing Stanton’s home-run assault at Fenway the last time the Yankees were in town. “He got another one! … No, it’s off the monster.” Stanton ended up with a majestic single. To be fair, it did look like Stanton annihilated the baseball into a fine powder.

7. I think we all knew, or at least most of us, that when the Red Sox drafted Garrett Whitlock from the Yankees in the Rule 5 draft that the young righthander with the Tommy John surgery scar on his elbow would be closing out the Wild Card Game against his former organization come October. Oh, and we also knew, without a doubt, that he would have long since won Red Sox fans’ trust and be the obvious, comforting choice to do it. Yep, all knew it. Pretty obvious. Whitlock gave up a cheapie solo homer to Stanton in the Pesky Pole neighborhood to make it 6-2 – the Yankees slugger probably deserved that one – and allowed a long fly ball to Joey Gallo, but closed it out with only a slight hint of drama.

8. Little-known unwritten rule about baseball and 1970s middle infielders. Ever since October 1978, the presence of Jerry Remy at Fenway fully negates the presence of Bucky Dent. Go look it up; I bet it’s explained on Fangraphs somewhere. It was heartwarming to see Remy, absent from NESN’s Red Sox broadcasts since early August as he battles cancer, throw out the first pitch, then embrace his longtime teammate on the Red Sox and at NESN, Dennis Eckersley. Besides collective well-wishes for Remdawg, I suspect everyone watching shared another thought at that moment: What I would give to hear these two call this game rather than A-Rod.

9. Well, you know what they say, at least in the Yankees’ broadcast booth: “You can’t predict baseball, Suzyn.” Which is why baseball is so damn irresistible, especially this time of year, and sometimes – often — in spite of itself. Between the we-can-all-move-on-now happy catharsis of Tom Brady’s return to Foxborough and now this, a Yankee Elimination Party that confirms beyond a doubt that this Red Sox season is a success, it has been a satisfying couple of days in Boston sports. Not sure about you, but I’m going to sit back and rehash this game, over and over again, right up until the next one is due to begin.

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