The Red Sox punched their ticket to the American League Championship Series for the first time since 2018 by taking care of business against the Rays and capping off a revamped version of Marathon Monday in walk-off fashion.
For the second consecutive night, Boston walked off Tampa Bay to come away with an enthralling 6-5, American League Division Series-clinching victory at Fenway Park. The Sox win the best-of-five series three-games-to-one.
Matched up against Rays rookie left-hander Shane McClanahan to begin things in the third inning, Christian Vazquez — Sunday’s hero — led off with a line-drive single and advanced up to second base when Kyle Schwarber drew a one-out walk.
After Enrique Hernandez flew out to left field to bring McClanahan within one out of getting out of an early jam, Rafael Devers made sure that did not happen, as he took the very first pitch he saw from the lefty and crushed a 404-foot three-run home run over the center field wall.
Devers’ second homer of the series gave the Sox a 3-0 lead, but they were not done there. Not with Xander Bogaerts singling and Alex Verdugo and J.D. Martinez striking for back-to-back run-scoring hits to add on and make it a 5-0 game.
With that sizable of an advantage to work with, Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez was able to settle in nicely and bounce back from his rough outing in the first game of this series.
In Game 4, Rodriguez allowed a total of two runs — both of which were earned — on three hits and zero walks to go along with six strikeouts over five-plus solid innings of work.
The left-hander began his day by taking a perfect game into the fourth inning before yielding a leadoff single to Randy Arozarena. He then got through the remainder of the fourth unscathed, but ran into some trouble an inning later.
On the heels of a leadoff double from Jordan Luplow and a groundout from Yandy Diaz that advanced Luplow up to third base, Rodriguez gave up his first run in the top of the fifth on an RBI groundout off the bat of Austin Meadows.
The Rays threatened once more in the sixth, as they knocked Rodriguez out of the game with a pitch count of 78 (57 strikes) after he surrendered a leadoff double to Kevin Kiermaier.
Tanner Houck got the first call from Red Sox manager Alex Cora in relief of Houck, but the right-hander only endured more difficulties when he served up a two-run home run to fellow rookie Wander Franco.
Franco’s blast trimmed Tampa Bay’s deficit down to two runs at 5-3, and after Josh Taylor tossed a scoreless seventh inning for Boston, they got to Ryan Brasier for even more in their half of the eighth.
Brasier — to put it simply — got rocked in his brief time on the mound Monday. The righty allowed back-to-back doubles to Mike Zunino and Kiermaier to make it a 5-4 contest before the dangerous Arozarena ripped a single to right field to tie things up at five runs apiece.
That sequence resulted in Cora turning to Garrett Whitlock, who put out of the flames of the Rays’ rally by retiring Franco, Brandon Lowe, and Nelson Cruz in order before hurling a 1-2-3 top of the ninth as well.
To that point in the night, the Red Sox lineup had squandered multiple opportunities to add on some insurance runs against a tough Rays bullpen, such as when Bogaerts grounded into an inning-ending double play in the seventh or Renfroe being gunned down at third base for the final out of the eighth.
With that being said, though, the Sox finally broke through against J.P. Feyereisen, and they did so by playing a little bit of small ball in the ninth inning.
After Vazquez led off with a single that just got through the left side of the infield, Christian Arroyo moved him into scoring position by laying down a well-executed sacrifice bunt.
Travis Shaw, pinch-hitting for Bobby Dalbec, advanced Vazquez up to third base on a four-foot infield single to set the stage for Hernandez.
With one out and the potential winning run just 90 feet away from scoring, Hernandez lifted a 300-foot fly ball to left field that was hit plenty deep enough to score the pinch-running Danny Santana from third to send the Red Sox to the ALCS.
Next up: ALCS begins on Friday
While the Red Sox have advanced to their first American League Championship Series in three years, they will have to wait to find out who their opponent will be.
In the other division series, the Astros currently lead the White Sox two-games-to-one, with Game 4 slated to begin on Tuesday afternoon in Chicago after Monday’s contest was postponed due to rain.
Regardless of who comes out on top in that series, though, the Sox will either be traveling to Chicago or Houston for the start of the ALCS on Friday since they are the lowest seed remaining.
(Picture of Enrique Hernandez: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)