Mitch's Sports Report: Red Sox Are Done Despite Ninth Inning Inside The Park Home Run
Trailing in the bottom of the ninth, the Red Sox season hanging in the balance, 3rd baseman Rafael Devers sent a ball deep towards the Green Monster that just got over the glove of the center fielder and struck the wall, caroming off at an angle that sent it past the the right fielder as he ran in to back up the play.
Devers rounded second and took off for third, and it became clear that no one would get the ball back into the infield in time, and the 20-year old rookie was waved home for an inside the park home run, as Fenway Park exploded in celebration.
It was a celebration that would be short-lived. Devers' electrifying trip around the bases became no more than a last gasp, too little too late footnote to mark Boston's 5-4 loss to the Houston Astros, part of a three games to one series defeat that knocks the Red Sox out of the playoffs in the best of five ALDS for a second straight year.
What makes yesterday's elimination so painful is how primed the Red Sox were to force a deciding game five, battling back from a 2-1 deficit to take a 3-2 lead on a home run by another rookie, Andrew Benintendi, who launched a two-run shot off Houston ace Justin Verlander, brought into the game in relief for the first time in his career to maintain Houston's 2-1 edge.
Benintendi's bomb in the fifth gave Boston the lead, and with their own ace Chris Sale also pitching in a long relief role, and throwing like the Cy Young candidate fans saw for most of the year, it looked like a game five in Houston would be necessary. But with memories of Grady Little leaving Pedro Martinez in too long against the Yankees in 2003, Sale was perhaps allowed one batter too many, and that batter, Alex Bregman, took Sale yard for a solo home run in the 8th that tied the game at three, and the stunned silence from the Fenway Faithful after that tying homer was nothing compared to the disbelief at seeing closer Craig Kimbrel, who was so magnificent at mowing down hitters all year long, cough up two more runs to give Houston a 5-3 lead heading into the 9th, which made Devers' sprint around the diamond amount to nothing more than a bit of extra exercise.
For a little extra lemon juice in the paper cut, the RBI single that proved to be the eventual game winning hit that Kimbrel yielded was to former Red Sox outfielder Josh Reddick.
But the ultimate truth is that the Red Sox were simply beaten by a better team. A deeper team with a more prolific offense, and while the Red Sox showed a lot more fight in this series than they did in last year's three game sweep at the hands of Cleveland, their structural flaws were revealed, mainly a tiring of their best pitchers like Sale and Drew Pomeranz, who pitched so poorly in the first two games of the series that drastic measures were needed to stay alive when the series moved to Fenway. Injuries didn't help either. Dustin Pedroia had a horrific series, frustrated no doubt by the knee injury that had him less than 100% and you could see his frustration boil over in the second inning when he was called out on a questionable third strike and went ballistic on the umpire, needing manager John Farrell to emerge from the dugout to intervene so his second baseman wouldn't get thrown out of the game. Farrell suffered that fate instead. The loss of Eduardo Nunez was also a big blow, and of course, Kimbrel's inexplicable implosion in such a critical spot will be a difficult subject over the winter for fans who wonder what might have been.
It was a good year for a good team. But the Red Sox were not a great team, and the greater team in Houston moves on to the American League championship series.
Meanwhile, the NY Yankees aren't ready to make plans for next season just yet. They've tied their series with the Cleveland Indians at two games apiece after a 7-3 win in the Bronx last night, aided mightily by shoddy defense from the Indians, who committed a season high four errors at the worst time. Gary Sanchez went deep for New York, Aaron Judge had an RBI double, and Luis Severino gave up just four hits on the night to rebound from a poor start in the wild card game. Trveor Bauer was pitching on three days rest and was gone by the second inning, and now game five features CC Sabathia, who pitched brilliantly in game two and should have been the winner but for the Yankees blowing a five run lead after he left, will get the ball in game five against Cleveland ace Corey Kluber, who got knocked out early in game two. The Indians are really missing DH Edward Encarnacion, who hasn't played since game two when he injured his knee. Cleveland has scored just three runs in the two games since. I think the Yankees are going to take that game five.
In the National League, the L.A. Dodgers are moving on after completing a sweep of the Arizona Diamondbacks with a 3-1 win. Cody Bellinger homered and drove in two runs for L.A., making a winner of Yu Darvish, and the Chicago Cubs have jumped out to a two games to one lead over the Washington Nationals with a 2-1 win last night. Anthony Rizzo had the game winning hit, breaking a 1-1 tie when he blooped a single in the eighth inning, and if you no longer see the Cubs as the lovable losers they were for more than a century after winning the World Series last year, your opinion won't change after hearing how Rizzo yelled "respect me" at the top of his lungs after the hit, apparently feeling slighted that Nats manager Dusty Baker elected to pitch to him with first base open and a man on second rather than face Wilson Contreras. Rizzo was also thrown out after his hit to end the inning when he made too big a turn at first, but all he could talk about afterwards was how disrespected he felt not being walked in that situation. These Cubs are are a team hard to love now unless you live on the north side of Chicago.
In the NHL the Boston Bruins turned in their first dud of the season, shut out 4-0 by the Colorado Avalanche. The Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 on an overtime goal by Auston Matthews.
In Monday Night Football the Minnesota Vikings edged the Chicago Bears 20-17. Kai Forbath's 26 yard field goal in the closing seconds after an interception sealed the win for the Vikings.
Congratulations to Iceland, which yesterday became the smallest nation ever to qualify for the world cup of soccer. Iceland will play in the 2018 World Cup in Russia.