‘Everyone is hungry’: Make no mistake, these Red Sox want more
NEW YORK — They could finally exhale in the top of the eighth, release any remaining tension as Mookie Betts swung that sweet MVP bat through Aroldis Chapman’s hanging slider Thursday night. The ball landed in the left-field seats, Betts followed Rafael Devers and Jackie Bradley Jr. around the bases, a three-run homer to erase the memory of two long, frustrating nights at Yankee Stadium.
Erased and replaced by the glee of a division-clinching win, an 11-6 victory that earned the Red Sox their third consecutive AL East crown, won at the expense of their heated rival and done at the behest of their heavy-hitting bats.
But make no mistake: These Red Sox want more. They want October. They want a title, evident in the subdued celebration that followed Giancarlo Stanton’s final strikeout.
“It’s like a step,” slugger J.D. Martinez was saying afterward, undaunted by the river of Chandon California Brut running under his feet, unfazed by the soaking wet cap and champagne-soaked goggles upon his head. “It’s one of those things where you have to celebrate because this was hard to do. It’s not easy. You want to celebrate and enjoy it, but we’re not done.”
So there was closer Craig Kimbrel pounding a fist into his glove at the final out, walking from the mound and into a slow-growing swarm of teammates, those streaming in from their field positions, from the dugout, and eventually, jogging across the outfield from the bullpen too, a bevy of backslaps and high-fives befitting a milestone, but absent any craziness.
“For a lot of guys in there, this is their third straight title and they know there are bigger things,” first-year manager Alex Cora said in the small visiting manager’s office across the hall from the tarp-encased visiting locker room. As part of these celebrations as a player (for the Red Sox among his many teams), as a coach (with last year’s World Series champion Astros) and now as a manager, he was content to play the part of satisfied observer, to let his players revel while he watched from afar. This is what he came here to help them do, this is what Red Sox management believed he could do when they hired him.
“Obviously, it’s a great accomplishment, but where we play, that’s not enough,” he said. “They want a World Series title. We’ve got a chance. It’s part of what we get to do — this is step two. Clinching a playoff spot, now the division. It’s like when I talked about the World Cup. We’ve got five penalty kicks now.”
Can Betts take them all? Just as he has been all season, Mookie was the night’s hitting hero, his four-hit, five-RBI night offsetting the go-ahead grand slam Stanton had hit in the fourth, augmenting the three runs the Red Sox answered with in the seventh, the first on Jackie Bradley Jr.’s solo homer and the additional two when a bad throw by Aaron Hicks on a sacrifice fly sailed into the stands along the third base line.
It was that kind of long, wild night in the Bronx.
A full 39 minutes had passed by the time the first inning ended, a combined 106 pitches thrown by the end of the second. If this was a preview of the American League Division Series, baseball fans better settle in.
The Yankees and Red Sox do not play quick games.
But they do play meaningful ones.
And as this heady 2018 Red Sox joyride spins its way toward the regular season conclusion, no victory will prove more meaningful for the Sox, a third-time’s-the-charm breakthrough that sent champagne corks popping and the Bud Light beer cans crushing into the New York night.
Delayed and denied for two straight days by a healthy, resurgent Yankees lineup, the Red Sox had no desire to pack up their celebration and take it with them to Cleveland, intent instead on surviving this wild night past a finish line that has been frustratingly difficult to cross. They did it with a few more of the clutch hits that have been the hallmark of this season, along with a few clutch innings of relief that have been so much harder to come by. If single-game MVP honors went to Steven Wright for his three scoreless innings of relief that cleaned up the mess created by starter Eduardo Rodriguez and then Heath Hembree (who gave up the Stanton slam), the return of the big swing (Brock Holt also homered) was another welcome antidote to the failings of Tuesday and Wednesday night.
So here they were Thursday, under a cool September sky that offered just enough of a taste of fall to stir those dreams of a long October, avoiding a sweep at the hands of their heated, dreaded rival and wrapping up the next item on a checklist that is supposed to finish with a World Series title.
It won’t be easy. Fellow American League powerhouse Houston aside, what the Yankees flashed across these three days was a neon sign they are rounding back into shape.
“First of all congrats to the Red Sox,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “It was a long, tough slug-it-out game and they came up with more offensive plays than we did tonight. It would have been nice to finish off the start of a great series, but credit to them.”
They took another step.
“We just wanted to get it out of the way, get these next nine games done,” Martinez said. “I love our team, the way we play the game. Everyone is hungry. Of course we’re celebrating, we’re really happy. Satisfied, but we know there’s more. Now it’s the playoffs and trying to take this team as far as we can.”