For the first time since 2013, the Boston Red Sox are headed back to the American League Championship series following a tightly contested 4-3 win over the New York Yankees Tuesday night.
Making his first start of the postseason in this series-clinching Game Four of the ALDS was Rick Porcello, who previously appeared as a reliever in the eighth inning of Game One last Friday.
Tossing five full innings in this one, the right-hander limited New York to just one lone run on four hits and no walks to go along with one punch out on the evening.
The second straight quality outing from a Red Sox starting pitcher, Porcello retired 12 of the first 14 hitters he faced before running into a bit of trouble in the bottom of the fifth.
There, he gave up the only Yankee run of the night on a Brett Gardner sacrfice fly to score Gary Sanchez from third, after both Sanchez and Gleyber Torres reached base on back-to-back one out hits off the New Jersey native.
Other than that though, Porcello managed to escape the fifth with just the one run allowed, and that is how is night would come to a positive close.
Finishing with an efficient final pitch count of 65 (48 strikes), the 29-year-old hurler, who was caught by Christian Vazquez, mixed up his pitch selection by throwing 25 four-seam fastballs, 16 sliders, 12 two-seam fastballs, eight curveballs, and four changeups, which resulted in eight total swings and misses.
He also topped out at 93.6 MPH with that four-seam fastball en route to the first postseason winning decision of his career.
In relief of Porcello, the Red Sox bullpen was responsible for the final three innings of this one with a three run lead to protect.
Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier both did their jobs by tossing a scoreless frame each in the sixth and seventh, which surprisingly set up Chris Sale to make a rare appearance out of the bullpen in the eighth inning.
Pitching out of the bullpen for the first time since last year’s ALDS and only pitching on three days rest since his Game One start on Friday, the Red Sox ace clearly didn’t miss a beat, as he needed just 13 pitches to retire the side in 1-2-3 fashion.
And finally, in the ninth, Craig Kimbrel came on for his second save opportunity of the series, and he nearly blew it.
With no real command of his fastball, the flame throwing closer allowed the first two hitters he faced to reach base before striking out Giancarlo Stanton for the first out of the inning.
After walking another man on four straight balls, Neil Walker came to the plate with the bases loaded for New York, and he cut Boston’s three run lead down to two by taking an 87 MPH knuckle curveball off his foot to drive in Aaron Judge from third and reload the bases.
A sacrifice fly off the bat of Gary Sanchez a few moments later plated Didi Gregorius from third, and just like that, it was a one run game with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.
Down to their final out, rookie second baseman Gleyber Torres came up with the chance to send this series back to Fenway Park, but Kimbrel prevailed by getting him to ground out to third for the third and final out of the contest.
Ridiculous efforts from Eduardo Nunez and Steve Pearce there, and that is how the Red Sox clinched their way to a spot in the ALCS for the first time in five years. Disaster avoided.
On the other side of things, the Red Sox lineup was matched up against Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia, who hadn’t pitched against Boston in a postseason game since 2007 when he was a member of the Cleveland Indians.
Starting the scoring in their half of the third, Andrew Benintendi would end up being the catalyst for a three-run inning after leading things off with a HBP.
A Steve Pearce single would advance Benintendi all the way from third with JD Martinez due up next.
Capitalizing on yet another scoring opportunity, the regular season league leader in RBI collected his sixth RBI of the series on a sac fly to center field to plate Benintendi from third and put his team on the board first.
Two batters later, Ian Kinsler doubled his team’s lead by driving in Pearce, who advanced on a Sabathia wild pitch, from third on an RBI double to left.
Eduardo Nunez, who entered Game Four without a hit in this series, was up next, and he drilled the first pitch he saw from Sabathia to reach first on an RBI single and plate Kinsler from second. 3-0.
In the fourth, with Sabathia out and Zach Britton now in for New York, Christian Vazquez essentially put this game on ice by blasting his first career postseason home run to lead off the inning.
That solo shot was only hit 338 feet, but it was all the Red Sox would need to eventually pick up a series-clinching win in enemy territory.
Some notes from this 4-3 win:
This season at Yankee Stadium, the Red Sox clinched both the American League East and a spot in the American League Championship Series.
Dating back to the 2004 ALCS, the Red Sox have won their last four postseason games at Yankee Stadium.
By all means, the Yankees had the advantage in this series going back to Saturday night. They stole homefield advantage with a Game Two win, they went back to Yankee Stadium with the chance to finish the series there, and they had a rowdy crowd behind them.
Instead, the Red Sox entered a very hostile environment, took the home crowd out of both ballgames early by jumping on top first, and did not have look back. Damage done.
So now it’s on to the American League Championship Series. The defending World Series champion Houston Astros already clinched their spot after sweeping the Cleveland Indians on Monday and went 4-3 against Boston this season.
I would expect a Justin Verlander v. Chris Sale pitching matchup for Game One on Saturday night, but nothing has been announced on either side yet.
First pitch of the first game of the ALCS at Fenway Park is scheduled for 8:09 PM ET on TBS.