We know a thing or two about long postseason baseball games here in Boston.
There was Game 6 of the 1975 World Series when Carlton Fisk famously turned on a Pat Darcy pitch and drove it deep to Fenway’s left-field wall in the bottom of the 12th. The ball clanged off the foul pole and into Good Will Hunting. After midnight.
Just three years ago, there was a 7-hour-20-minute special in the 2018 World Series when the Sox and Dodgers played 18 innings before Max Muncy won it with a walkoff homer. It was after 3 in the morning in Boston when that one ended.
Sunday at Fenway, the Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays dueled to the death for 13 innings before Christian Vázquez’s one-out, first pitch shot into the Monster Seats delivered a 6-4 win, and put the Sox in a two-games-to-one lead in a best-of-five ALDS that resumes Marathon Monday at 7:07 p.m.
This one lasted 5:14.
Vazquez was not the only hero. Sox righty Nick Pivetta — who pitched 4⅔ innings Thursday — and was scheduled to start Game 4 Monday — came on in relief and threw four innings of shutout ball. Pivetta struck out seven. He’s thrown 140 pitches since Thursday.
“We were all in and they know it,’’ said Sox manager Alex Cora. “We text all the starters yesterday and we put spikes on, and they understand what that is. [Pivetta] understands that and he did an amazing job in Tampa. Today he was amazing. Very similar to Nate [Eovaldi] in Game 3 of the World Series a few years ago.’’
Referencing the support of the 37,224 who stuck around for the walkoff — a crowd that was every bit as good as the one that greeted the wild-card win over the Yankees, Cora added, “These people, wow, that was better than Tuesday, to be honest with you. That was fun.’’
The Red Sox got the biggest of breaks in the top of the 13th when a long fly ball by Kevin Kiermaier banged off the right-field bullpen wall, then banged off Sox outfielder Hunter Renfroe, and popped into the bullpen for a ground-rule double. Yandy Díaz, who was on first base when the ball was struck, would have scored easily, but was forced to stop at third.
It’s certainly not the spirit of the rule. What would stop any outfielder from directing any bouncing ball out of play to keep a runner from scoring? The Rays were ripped off big time. If a call like that went against Boston, Sox fans would riot. Think of it as the Red Sox version of the Tuck Rule, which launched a football dynasty 20 years ago.
“That’s just the rule, that’s the way it goes,’’ said Tampa manager Kevin Cash. “It was very unfortunate for us. I think it was fairly obvious that Yandy was going to come around to score, but it didn’t go our way.’’
It’s moments like that that make you wonder if this might be the Red Sox’ year. There is still much work to be done, but there was no doubt about Sox Magic in the ancient yard Sunday.
“I think we play for these emotions,’’ said homer-hero Vázquez. “It’s October, and anything can happen in October. It’s fun for me.’’
Emotions? Try this: In the top of the third inning, iron-mitt Kyle Schwarber gloved a routine grounder by Brandon Lowe, then Wilt Chamberlain’d the throw to first, heaving an underhand toss far over the head of the 6-foot-2-inch Eovaldi. E3. But Eovaldi got out of the inning.
In the fourth, Tampa’s Ji-Man Choi hit another routine grounder to first. This time, Schwarber fielded the ball cleanly and made a perfect feed to Eovaldi, who was covering first.
Routine. No big deal. Except for Schwarber’s reaction. Totally secure in his own skin, and aware of his defensive non-skills, the Schwarb celebrated his simple play, raising both arms over his head (Dick Radatz fashion), punctuated the moment with a Ray Bourque fist-pump, then tipped his cap as the crowd roared.
The Schwarbs also had a homer and two singles in this classic.
He’s the Cave Man. The Dirt Dog. He’s the pure hitter, slow-pitch softballer who crushes homers and embraces the postseason moment in the spirit of Dalton Jones, Bernie Carbo, Trot Nixon and Jonny Gomes. He’s the son of an Ohio cop, and a brother to three sisters.
Give me nine Schwarbs and I’ll win every big game. He’s a blue-collar, tone-setting Cam Neely, on this suddenly-likeable Red Sox team. He typifies this Boston baseball team.
“That was awesome,’’ said Cora. “That’s who we are. That’s what we do . . . he did what he did, and I think it was great. Sometimes we take this game too seriously, and you can actually not enjoy it. Although we take it seriously, we also have fun with it.’’
“You’ve got to be able to make fun of yourself every once in a while to loosen the situation up,’’ said Schwarber. “I think I got a laugh out of almost everyone.’’
There you go. Fun. Good fortune. Walkoffs. Mound heroics. Great managing. It’s a formula for October success.
Who will start for the Red Sox Monday? Cora would not commit, but said, “Most likely it’s going to be Eddie.’’
The way things are going for these Red Sox, Eduardo Rodriguez will probably throw a perfect game.
Wearing a yellow City Connect Marathon jersey of course.