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The path to the Wild Card Game: The 10 games and series that defined the Red Sox’ season

No game meant more to the Red Sox' season than the last one, capped off by Rafael Devers's go-ahead, postseason-clinching homer.Nick Wass/Associated Press

The Red Sox will host the Yankees at Fenway Park for Tuesday’s Wild Card Game. The path here was somewhat unprecedented given the lows and how much they had to grind out wins.

“It hasn’t been easy the whole season,” manager Alex Cora said.

But the Red Sox are playoff contenders, through some tough losses and exhilarating wins.

Here are 10 key games and series — both good and bad — that led the Red Sox to this point.

Opening weekend

It seems as if it was ages ago, but the Red Sox were swept by the lowly Orioles over opening weekend at Fenway. Their 0-3 start, punctuated by an 11-3 shellacking, sent Sox fans into panic mode. Garrett Richards started the game and yielded six runs in just two innings, exiting to a cascade of boos.

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J.D. Martinez waits on a pitch during the 2021 opener against the Orioles.Maddie Meyer/Getty

Yet the Red Sox remained confident

“If we invested our entire take on three games, I don’t know that anybody would be able to predict a World Series winner,” Richards said. “This is one series. Everybody knows what they’re capable of.”

After that, the Red Sox rattled off nine straight wins, sweeping the Rays and Orioles before taking 3 of 4 from the Twins.

April 19: Red Sox 11, White Sox 4

The Red Sox offense wasn’t a question coming into the season. But this game showed how potent they could be.

White Sox starter Lucas Giolito lasted just an inning-plus. He yielded six straight hits, including a Kiké Hernández leadoff homer. J.D. Martinez homered against in the second, followed by a Rafael Devers walk that chased Giolito. He surrendered eight runs on eight hits.

“It started with Enrique,” Cora said at the time, “and then the line kept moving. Probably the best inning in this short season. Line drive after line drive against a good pitcher. One of the best in the big leagues. It was fun to see.”

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The Red Sox won, 11-4, to split the four-game series.

Sweeping the Yankees

The Red Sox didn’t host the Yankees until June 25. A convincing 9-2 win in which Boston tagged Gerrit Cole for six runs (five earned) on eight hits.

July 25: Red Sox 5, Yankees 4

Domingo German carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning until Alex Verdugo doubled off the base of the right field wall. Yankee manager Aaron Boone yanked German with a 4-0 lead, but a five-run inning led to one of the best Sox comebacks of the season.

Alex Verdugo celebrates after breaking up Domingo German's no-hitter on July 25.Steven Senne/Associated Press

“It was a huge win,” said Hérnandez. “One of the biggest comebacks of the year, if not the biggest comeback.”

Said Verdugo: “That was one of the craziest wins I’ve been a part of.”

Aug. 8: Blue Jays 9, Red Sox 8

The Red Sox brought a five-run lead into the fifth inning just to see it squandered. After being one of baseball’s more dominant closers in the first half, Matt Barnes began to falter. The Sox still held a two-run lead in the eighth before Barnes gave up a three-run blast that led to the 9-8 loss.

“It’s definitely been tough,” Barnes said. “I’ll just be frank. In a game in which we score eight runs, we got to win that ballgame.”

Aug. 27: Red Sox 4, Indians 3

Hernández had tested positive for COVID-19 and Christian Arroyo was considered a close contact, so the Sox called up Jonathan Araúz and Yairo Muñoz from Triple A Worcester for theseries. The two players took a team bus to Cleveland so they could make it in time. With his team trailing, 3-1, in the top of the eighth, Araúz belted a three-run shot to givethe Sox a one-run lead and, ultimately, the win.

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“I feel I’ve prepared myself,” Araúz said. “It’s been an up and down year for me. I’ve had some things not go my way. But I continue to keep my focus on what I can do today to help the team and how I can fit within a lineup to help the club.”

Sept. 1: Red Sox 3, Rays 2

It was a four-game set and the Red Sox had already lost the first two. Chris Sale was on the mound, but their lineup was decimated because of COVID-19. Xander Bogaerts, Hernández, and Arroyo were among eight players and two staff members testing positive or deemed a close contact during that series.

Chris Sale came up big on Sept. 1 against the Rays.Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

The Red Sox had to rely on Jack López and Jonathan Araúz up the middle. The duo was a combined 0 for 6 at the bottom of the batting order, but they contributed on defense with the leather.

Sale, recently returned from Tommy John surgery, faced his first real test. His three previous starts came against the Orioles, Rangers, and Twins, all of whom finished well under .500. Sale navigated his way through six innings, yielding two runs on six hits, including a Wander Franco homer. Rookie Jarren Duran, who had a forgettable year at the plate, delivered the go-ahead RBI single in the ninth as the Sox squeaked by. A strong start from Eduardo Rodriguez the following night salvaged a series split.

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Sept 6: Rays 11, Red Sox 10

Labor Day got laborious for the Red Sox. They were ahead, 7-1, against the Rays in the second inning only to see it evaporate. With Sale on the mound, a lost fly ball in center field led to a four-run inning and an eventual extra-inning loss that highlighted the Sox’ flaws on defense. Cora, a manager who prides himself on attention to detail, had a team that did not.

“It was a great, bad game, all the way to the last hitter,” said Cora “It wasn’t great as far as throwing to the bases, backing up guys, putting guys away. It was great that we had a chance to tie the game or win it at the end, but at the same time, we can’t give a big league team more than 27 outs, and we did.”

Swept by the Yankees

Last month. the Red Sox suffered their second straight series sweep at the hands of the Yankees, the last two games particularly gut wrenching. They led, 2-1, in the eighth against New York in Game 2 but a grand slam by Giancarlo Stanton cemented a 5-3 loss.

Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge after a Stanton helped beat Boston on Sept. 26.Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

Stanton struck again in the finale, blasting a two-run shot off Adam Ottavino as part of a four-run eighth inning. A one-run lead turned into a sixth straight loss for the Red Sox.

“You can make a bad pitch, it doesn’t mean he’s going to hit it 1,000 feet,” Ottavino said in regards to the Stanton homer. “It takes two to do that. That’s credit to him there. But that was a bad pitch.”

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Oct. 3: Red Sox 7, Nationals 5

The Red Sox controlled their own fate. The Yankees had just completed a 1-0 win over the Rays to punch their ticket to the Wild Card Game. A Red Sox win meant they would host the game at Fenway. A loss, and they would have to play a one-game tiebreaker. In a 5-1 hole after five, the latter seemed more likely. But the Red Sox scraped together a run in the sixth and three more in the seventh, which included a Verdugo two-run double.

Rafael Devers then sealed the Sox’ trip to the postseason with a two-run blast in the ninth.

“We blocked out all the haters. Blocked out all the outside noise,” Verdugo said. “Because at the end of the day, we could be the best team expected to win or the worst team expected to lose. You still got to go out there and play for 27 outs.”


Julian McWilliams can be reached at julian.mcwilliams@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @byJulianMack.