Buoyed By a Break, Red Sox Win ALDS Game 3 With Walk-off Blast

BOSTON — It’s a shame that one team had to lose. In a game that will go down as a postseason classic, the Boston Red Sox walked off the Tampa Bay Rays, 6–4, on a 13th-inning home run by Christian Vázquez to win Game 3 of the ALDS and take a 2–1 series lead.

Now, on to what transpired.

The eventful first inning epitomized modern-era baseball. Red Sox right-hander Nathan Eovaldi fanned three Rays batters in the top half but also gave up an Austin Meadows home run — a 406-foot shot off the back wall of the visiting bullpen — that followed a Wander Franco single. In the bottom half, Rays right-hander Drew Rasmussen was taken deep by Kyle Schwarber — this one at 390 feet — but then fanned Rafael Devers after giving up a 104.8-mph single off the Green Monster by Enrique Hernández.

Eight batters into the game, we had four strikeouts, two home runs, and a pair of singles, one of which would have been a double in 29 other ballparks. Moreover, all four batted balls were hit with triple-digit exit velocity. Again, modern-era baseball: whiffs, dingers, and Statcast readings to measure it all. A three-strikeout, one-walk top of the second only added to the three-true-outcome mix.

Then there is bull-penning. What happened in the bottom of the third arguably doesn’t fit that definition — the Rays had hoped for more from Rasmussen — but it did qualify as a willingness to go to the bullpen early and often. A trio of Boston singles knotted the game at two runs apiece, prompting Kevin Cash to lift his starter and bring in left-hander Josh Fleming. A run-scoring knock by Devers gave the Red Sox the lead, and two outs later, Andrew Kittredge was summoned to face J.D. Martinez. The bearded righty with the 1.88 ERA proceeded to strand a pair of runners with a timely strikeout, keeping the score 3–2.

Eovaldi dodged a bullet in the fifth. A one-out double by the ever-dependable Joey Wendle put the tying run in scoring position with the top of the order coming up. With his pitch count climbing — he finished the frame with 85 — Eovaldi retired Brandon Lowe on a line drive to center and wünderkind Franco on a roller to first.

Schwarber’s clean handling of Franco’s routine grounder came after he made an error on a similar play in the third inning, when he launched an underhand flip well over the head of Eovaldi, who was racing to cover the bag. Essentially learning on the job — he has 11 career games at the position — he responded with self-deprecating celebration this time around, pumping his fist and doffing his cap to an appreciative Fenway Park crowd.

Hernández greeted Pete Fairbanks, Tampa’s fourth pitcher of the night, in the bottom of the fifth with the game’s hardest-struck and farthest-driven ball — a moonshot onto Landsdowne Street that was hit at 109.8 mph and traveled 424 feet. That doubled Boston’s lead to 4–2.

Now it was Alex Cora’s turn to go the bullpen. Not wanting to push his ace any further, he turned to lefty Josh Taylor to start the sixth, then to righty Ryan Brasier with a man on and two out, who got Randy Arozarena to tap a soft grounder back to the mound. The pitcher parade wasn’t done. J.P. Feyereisen tossed a scoreless sixth for the Rays, and Austin Davis replaced Brasier with two out in the top of the seventh. After issuing a four-pitch walk to Jordan Luplow, who was pinch-hitting for Wendle, the lefty then retired the dangerous Lowe, who hit 39 home runs in the regular season, on a fly ball to center.

What didn’t project as a bullpen game for either team became just that, and it wasn’t done yet. Matt Wisler blanked Boston after the crowd sang “Take Me Out To The Ballgame,” followed by Cora calling on Hansel Robles to handle the eighth. It didn’t go well. Leading off, Franco took the former Twins closer deep to make it 4–3, and Meadows followed with a double off of the centerfield fence. An uneasy Fenway Park crowd that has seen an inconsistent bullpen blow numerous leads in recent months reacted with boos; a mound visit came next.

A swinging bunt by Nelson Cruz advanced Meadows to third. The speedier Manuel Margot came on as a pinch-runner — a sacrifice fly clearly on Cash’s mind — and Cora, hoping for a ground ball, kept the strategic wheels spinning by playing the infield in. Neither ploy mattered, as Yandy Díaz swung through a 98-mph Robles fastball for the second out.

That brought up Arozarena. Analytics have largely laid waste to the idea that there is such thing as a clutch hitter, but if a modern-day argument exists, it’s because of him; he came into the game with a 1.233 OPS in 100 October plate appearances. He came through again on Sunday, doubling to center to tie the game. Garrett Whitlock, Boston’s sixth pitcher of the night, replaced Robles and issued an intentional walk, then fanned Mike Zunino to end the inning.

Amid tension that you could cut with a knife, a 4–4 game headed to the ninth, but both teams proceeded to go down without a threat; Whitlock held down the fort in the top half, and JT Chargois, the seventh Rays pitcher to toe the rubber, did the same in the bottom half. For the first time in 2021, a postseason game was headed to extra-innings.

Fate demanded that Arozarena would bat in the 10th, and the baseball gods decided that there would be a tinge of controversy. With two outs and the 26-year-old Cuban at the plate, Margot, on first after a single, swiped second base… only to be tagged out after coming off the bag. The ruling went to replay review, and the call on the field stood; a veritable coin-flip special, it just as easily could have been reversed.

Nine pitches into his at-bat against Tampa’s eighth pitcher of the game, J.D. Martinez nearly walked it off. Facing David Robertson with Alex Verdugo on first base, the slugger skied a ball to deep center, only to have it land in Kevin Kiermaier’s glove, just in front of the 375-foot sign. A Renfroe pop-up later, and it was on to the eleventh.

Back at the dish due to Margot’s failed steal attempt, Arozena led off the 11th, and for the second consecutive inning, base-running mayhem was at hand. After a walk, he swiped second, and when the throw caromed off Devers’ glove — the third baseman covering second because of a defensive shift — in the direction of center-field grass, he turned the bag and headed for third, which had been left uncovered. It was a mistake, but it didn’t cost him: The ball was quickly retrieved and fired back in, temporarily trapping the aggressive Arozarena between the two bags, but Boston botched the short rundown, and he scampered safely back to second. He was ultimately stranded there, though, as Nick Pivetta, who had been expected to start Monday’s Game 4 but had come out of the bullpen to start the 11th, struck out the next three Tampa batters.

Tampa Bay dodged trouble again in the 11th thanks to Luplow, who saved the Rays from a game-ending error. Playing first base, a position he’d manned just 17 times previously, he scooped a two-out, one-hop throw from Franco that would have scored Christian Arroyo from second had it skipped past. Pivetta followed with a second scoreless frame, and the game moved on to the 12th, which went by uneventfully for both sides.

Thirteen proved to be the unlucky number for the Rays. and in more ways than one. The top half featured a play that was even more controversial — and ultimately more meaningful — than the reviewed stolen-base decision. With Diaz on first, two outs, and a 3–2 count, Kiermaier launched a shot off Pivetta into the right-center gap that hit the short wall in front of Boston’s bullpen and caromed off of Hunter Renfroe and over the wall. Diaz, who was running on the pitch, raced home with what looked like a Tampa Bay run.

Then came confusion. The umpires huddled and, much to the dismay of Rays fans everywhere, ruled that Kiermaier had hit a ground-rule double, and that Diaz therefore had to return to third base. It was the correct ruling. Per the MLB rule book: “If a fair ball not in flight is deflected by a fielder and then goes out of play, the award is two bases from the time of pitch.” The rule also states the runner shall only advance two bases. Had the ball remained on the field of play, Diaz would have scored easily; instead, Zunino fanned to end the inning.

Thanks to that good fortune, the Red Sox came up in the bottom of the 13th with yet another a chance to win. They did just that, with Vázquez as the hero. Facing Luis Patiño with a man on and a man out, the veteran catcher drove a pitch over the Monster, sending Fenway Park into euphoria. Five hours and 14 minutes after the first pitch was thrown — there were 389 thrown in all — the Red Sox had won a classic. Game 4 is Monday night.

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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8 months ago

A few things about Rasmussen. His stuff is awesome and it is definitely good enough to start. Despite how he was used by the Rays, I am skeptical Rasmussen is going to last as a traditional starter because of the double TJ. It’s just really risky. But the Rays almost certainly wanted him to go longer than 2 innings tonight because he pretty regularly went 4 or 5 in the regular season. When a guy gets chased after 2 innings (and it was the right decision to pull him, he was getting hit) and the game goes 13 innings…that is the kind of game that will wreck your bullpen. It’s just brutal. Wisler being hurt isn’t really that big a deal by itself but it does kind of compound the problems they’ll face in Game 4 even with McHugh being back.

8 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Rasmussen’s counterpart in this game has had two TJs and was neck and neck with Gerritt Cole for the AL lead in pitcher WAR this year

8 months ago
Reply to  rhswanzey

If you really want to start comping you can’t just pick the single most successful starter who has had double TJ.

Here are the list of double-TJ pitchers (leaving off Jason Isringhausen and Josh Johnson who had it three times and some guys who had it in the last couple of years like Clevinger and John Curtiss).:
Brian Anderson
Brandon Beachy
Matt Beech
Doug Brocail
Chris Capuano
Todd Coffey
Greg Colbrunn
Tim Collins
Rubby De La Rosa
Joey Devine
Darren Dreifort
Nathan Eovaldi
Pete Fairbanks
John Farrell
Caleb Ferguson
Jason Frasor
Eric Gagne
Joel Hanrahan
Jeremy Hefner
Daniel Hudson
Hong Chih Kuo
Jacob Lindgren
Andrew McKirahan
Kris Medlen
Joe Nathan
Steve Ontiveros
Jarrod Parker
Al Reyes
Joakim Soria
Jameson Taillon
Shawn Tolleson
Edinson Volquez
Brian Wilson
Vance Wilson
Mark Wohlers
Randy Wolf
Blake Wood
Tyler Yates
Victor Zambrano
Jeff Zimmerman

Okay, so with that list, here is the question we’d need to answer: Can a guy who has had double-TJ hold up under a starter’s workload long-term?

8 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Looking at this: This is tough because almost everyone on that list was either a marginal pitcher or returned as a reliever after the 2nd TJ. Joakim Soria has been a fine reliever, but that doesn’t really help us understand the question. Jameson Taillon and Nathan Eovaldi are probably the most positive points of reference, but Taillon just returned so it’s unclear how far he can go. Kris Medlen and Jose Rijo (mistakenly left off the first list) are probably the worst case scenarios. Volquez and Wolf were already kind of marginal pitchers and they were older so it’s hard to say they make sense as a reference.

From this, I am going to conclude that there’s no way to answer this question with comps, because after 1 TJ almost all of these guys get moved to the bullpen or were already in the bullpen to start (Joe Nathan, for example). But so far it looks like some do and some don’t.

Two other related questions that are also worse thinking about:
1) Is this actually worse than single-TJ or is it just the last TJ that matters?
2) Is there a certain amount of time you’re in the “danger zone” after a double TJ or is the risk permanent over time?

8 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

How many pitchers on this list had their second TJ before turning 22?

8 months ago
Reply to  rhswanzey

Not many but I legitimately don’t know if that is better or worse!

8 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Where’s Jonny Venters?

8 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Game 4 will also likely involve a lot of the Rays’ RP facing the same batters they faced in Game 3 not even 24 hours ago. Really interested to see if familiarity plays to the Sox’s advantage. Whatever the case, Boston needs to end it in Fenway. If the Rays tie it 2-2 and get a day off for the pen before Game 5, they’re far more dangerous.

8 months ago
Reply to  mariodegenzgz

Yeah, the Rays are extremely vulnerable tonight compared to game 5. In addition to the fact that almost all of the Rays relievers will have been seen by the batters / gassed (with the exception of McHugh and Wacha) the Rays were already planning for a bullpen game today with Patino as the opener. And they used him last night.

I’m not 100% certain who the Rays are going to start but it sounds like they think McClanahan would only be ready to go in Game 5, so in that case Game 5 really would be them rolling out their strongest possible pitching group. In Game 4, if one of Wacha or McHugh struggles they’re in a whole lot of trouble.

The Red Sox aren’t in fantastic shape either since they’ll have to start Eduardo Rodriguez on short rest after using Pivetta last night but compared to the Rays, it’s a much better position. The Rays are clearly the better team at full strength but they won’t be at full strength until Game 5.