Even when these Red Sox shouldn’t win, they still do
Even when the Red Sox do it wrong, they can do no wrong. It has been that type of season. They secured a decisive four-game sweep of the New York Yankees with a 5-4 walkoff win in 10 innings Sunday night in a game that took 4 hours and 39 minutes — and several twists and turns — before finding its way into the win column for the good guys.
What was shaping up as another classic Red Sox-Yankees divisional race now has the Sox separating like Secretariat, ballooning their lead to 9½ games in the American League East over a Yankees team that looked feckless and fundamentally unsound.
The dejected Yanks showed their most alacrity of the series when they exited the field posthaste after Andrew Benintendi delivered a two-out, seeing-eye single to center field to plate the winning run and push the Sox to a remarkable 79-34.
Nights like Sunday convince you that the 2018 Red Sox are a team of destiny and dominance, like Boston’s last World Series winner in 2013. That was also the last Sox team to enjoy a 9½-game lead in the AL East.
Great teams can win games in a multitude of ways and can find a way to win games they don’t deserve to. The Sox did both in this series. They deserved to sweep the Yankees. Paradoxically, they didn’t deserve to win Sunday’s game after Alex Cora made a managerial miscue and Xander Bogaerts misplayed a double-play ball into a two-run error in the seventh that erased Boston’s 1-0 lead and a brilliant start from David Price, who exorcised his Yankee demons.
The most impressive aspect of this season for the Red Sox is their consistent excellence in a sport that force-feeds failure. The Red Sox are the only team in baseball this season not to lose four in a row. They’re 7-0-2 in their last nine series.
“I’m proud of them,” said Cora. “They’re playing well. They don’t get caught up in the whole thing. They show up every day. They digest the information. They go out there and play and they win games. They win a lot of games.”
Even ones they shouldn’t.
This was a statement series for the Sox. This wasn’t the Orioles or the Blue Jays whom the Red Sox walked all over like a welcome mat. It was the Yankees, a probable playoff team. Boston is 8-5 against its rival this season, outscoring New York, 81-62. Yes, the Yankees lineup looked light without injured slugger Aaron Judge. But the Sox swept without the services of ace Chris Sale, who was supposed to start the first game of the series before he went on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation. (Since the All-Star break Boston starters have posted a 1.74 ERA, best in the bigs.)
Everything went right for the Red Sox in a series that went from showdown to beatdown. All of Dave Dombrowski’s recent trade acquisitions starred. Price put his pinstripe post-traumatic stress disorder behind him. The bullpen wasn’t exposed. Cora got tossed from one game in the first inning and opened himself up to second-guessing in another, and still came out a hero.
The rookie skipper sent Price back to the mound when he should have sent him to the showers with six satisfying innings of shutout baseball against a New York club that had bedeviled him.
All eyes among the 37,830 that constituted Fenway’s largest crowd of the season were on Price, who entered the contest 2-6 with an 8.43 ERA in nine starts against the Yankees since he joined the Red Sox. In two starts against the Yankees this season, he was 0-2 with a 24.92 ERA, allowing 12 runs (all earned), 12 hits, and six home runs in 4⅓ innings.
On his 95th pitch of the evening, Price punched out Luke Voit on a 3-and-2 changeup with a runner on first to end the sixth and preserve a 1-0 lead. He nodded his head emphatically as he walked off the mound. It looked like Price was done with a breakthrough outing and his Bronx Bombers mental block, but Cora channeled his inner Grady Little and brought back Price for the seventh.
Price allowed the first two men to reach and was pulled for Heath Hembree, who walked No. 9 hitter Shane Robinson while trying to prevent a sacrifice bunt. Bogaerts botched an apparent double-play ball off the bat of Aaron Hicks, so instead of a tie game with two outs, the Sox trailed, 2-1. The Yankees added two runs on a Giancarlo Stanton RBI single off Hembree and a Didi Gregorius sacrifice fly off Ryan Brasier.
The long and tortured history of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry informs us that normally the Sox would have been left to wallow in what might have been. Not this year. The sublime Sox simply shrugged it off and rallied for three runs in the ninth against wild Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman, aided by third baseman Miguel Andujar’s error on the ostensible game-ending grounder, allowing the tying run to score.
You know things are going well when the guy who scored the run that secured the sweep in the 10th, recent call-up Tony Renda, is basically a complete stranger. He was greeted after the game by Dombrowski, who offered a “Welcome to Boston.”
This edition of the Red Sox is more talented top to bottom than the 2013 team, which was supposed to restore the Sox to respectability after a last-place finish in 2012 but exceeded all expectations. The current Red Sox were expected to be World Series contenders after back-to-back AL East titles. The 2013 team won 97 games. This team should blow right by that on its way to 100-plus wins.
But the feeling around the teams is similar. There’s a confidence and camaraderie that permeates the clubhouse.
“It’s fun. This is a fun team,” said J.D. Martinez. “It’s a very humble team, I feel like. We don’t have any of those egos on this team. It seems like a close group of guys, guys who like to have fun, guys who talk crap to each other every day and keep it loose in here. It’s a good time.”
The Atlantic recently ran a story about trying to measure chemistry in baseball. It’s one of the last aspects of the game that defies being quantified. The age-old question is whether chemistry begets winning or winning begets chemistry.
Either way, these Red Sox have lots of both.