Red Sox’ Christian Vázquez crushes game-winning home run for Cangrejeros de Santurce in winter ball action

Down to their final two outs while facing the possibility of extra innings, Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez provided a late boost for the Cangrejeros de Santurce of the Puerto Rican Winter League on Wednesday night.

With one out in the top of the ninth inning of a scoreless game against the Indios de Mayaguez, Vazquez came to the plate having already gone hitless with a strikeout through his first three at-bats of the evening.

Matched up against Mayaguez reliever Braden Webb with the bases empty this time around, Vazquez greeted the right-hander by clubbing a go-ahead solo shot to deep left-center field to give his side their first lead of the night at 1-0.

Vazquez’s first home run of the winter — and first in Puerto Rico since 2016-2017 — lifted Santurce to a tightly-contested 1-0 victory over Mayaguez, allowing them to improve to 16-14 on the season.

Following Wednesday’s clutch performance, the right-handed hitting backstop is now batting .179/.207/.357 through his first eight games (29 plate appearances) with the Crabbers.

Vazquez originally revealed last week that he would be returning to his home island to play winter ball for the first time since before the 2017 major-league season began.

While catcher is obviously Vazquez’s primary position with the Red Sox, the 31-year-old has yet to see any time behind the plate for Santurce and has instead served as either the club’s first baseman (like he did on Wednesday) or designated hitter.

As The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier wrote over the weekend, Vazquez is back in Puerto Rico with the hope that the extra reps he is getting there will allow him “to hit the ground running this coming spring.”

Back in November, the Red Sox — after some internal debate — picked up Vazquez’s $7 million club option for 2022, meaning he can become a free agent next winter. Under normal circumstances, they may not have permitted him to play in Puerto Rico this off-season, but the ongoing lockout allowed Vazquez to act on his own volition since clubs cannot contact their players.

On another note, Red Sox pitching prospect struck out one while tossing a scoreless eighth inning for Mayaguez in this very same game on Wednesday. The 25-year-old righty was added to the Indios’ roster earlier this month and has posted a 1.80 ERA in four appearances (five innings pitched) with the team.

(Picture of Christian Vazquez: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Red Sox’ Christian Vázquez playing winter ball in Puerto Rico with hopes of hitting the ground running in 2022

Last week, it was revealed that Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez would be playing for Cangrejeros de Santurce of the Puerto Rican Winter League this off-season.

Since making his season debut for Santurce on Wednesday, Vazquez has gone 2-for-17 (.118) at the plate with a single, a double, a walk, and one strikeout over five games played. He has yet to see any time behind the plate for the Crabbers and has instead served as the team’s first baseman or designated hitter thus far.

For established veterans such as Vazquez, it is unusual to see them dedicate part of their off-season to playing winter ball. The Bayamon native participated in the Puerto Rican Winter League on a consistent basis while coming up through the minors and early on in his major-league career, but had not done so in nearly five years.

Under normal circumstances, the Red Sox may not have allowed Vazquez to suit up for Santurce this winter since they only recently picked up his $7 million club option for the 2022 season. As a result of the ongoing Major League Baseball lockout, however, teams are not allowed to contact their players.

Perhaps taking advantage of this loophole, Vazquez made the decision on his own volition to return to his home island with the hopes of setting in motion a plan to rebound from an underwhelming 2021 campaign.

After putting up a 105 wRC+ from 2019-2020, the 31-year-old backstop slashed an uninspiring .258/.308/.352 (77 wRC+) to go along with 23 doubles, one triple, six home runs, 49 RBIs, 51 runs scored, eight stolen bases, 33 walks, and 84 strikeouts over 138 games (458 plate appearances) this past season.

In order to bounce back in 2022, The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier reports that Vazquez “felt that his best way to hit the ground running this coming spring was to play winter ball.” As noted by Speier, the right-handed hitter “last played winter ball before 2017 — a year in which he solidified his everyday big-league role by hitting .290/.330/.404.”

While it’s unknown if the Red Sox would have approved of his decision to play in Puerto Rico this winter, Vazquez is suiting up for Santurce with some motivational factors in mind.

Not only is Vazquez coming off a down season, but he is slated to become a free agent next winter. And even though Boston prolonged Vazquez’s free agency by picking up his $7 million club option in October, the decision to do so “was not a no-brainer” as “there was internal debate over whether he was worth that salary after a down year in 2021,” according to MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo.

Even in the wake of exercising Vazquez’s option earlier this fall, the Sox reportedly made an attempt to acquire Gold Glove catcher Jacob Stallings from the Pirates, who ultimately dealt him to the Marlins in late November.

With that being said, Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. could be on the lookout for a controllable backstop via trade since both Vazquez and Kevin Plawecki can become free agents after next season.

At the moment, Vazquez is in line to remain as Boston’s top catcher heading into the spring. But, as Speier writes, he “is preparing for 2022 with eyes wide open about the possibility that the Sox may move on from him after the season — or perhaps even during or before it.”

(Picture of Christian Vazquez: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Red Sox catcher Christian Vázquez to play in Puerto Rican Winter League for first time in 5 years

For the first time since the 2016-17 off-season, Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez will suit up for his home island of Puerto Rico this winter.

Vazquez will play for Cangrejeros de Santurce of the Puerto Rican Winter League and is expected to make his season debut on Wednesday, according to Edwin Hernández Jr. on Twitter.

The 31-year-old backstop was born and raised in Puerto Rico and was drafted by the Red Sox in 2008 out of the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy in Gurabo. This will mark his seventh season playing in the Liga de Béisbol Profesional Roberto Clemente and his first in five years.

As alluded to by SoxProspects.com’s Chris Hatfield, established big-league veterans typically do not participate in winter ball, which makes it seem likely that someone of Vazquez’s stature is there to get in some reps as a designated hitter before the start of spring training.

Besides Vazquez, the Red Sox have had four other players on their 40-man roster participate in winter ball this year. Right-handers Kutter Crawford and Phillips Valdez have pitched for Estrellas Orientales of the Dominican League, outfield prospect Jeisson Rosario has appeared in one game for Tigres Del Licey of the Dominican League, and infielder Jonathan Arauz has been playing in Panama.

On the flip side of that, first baseman/outfielder Franchy Cordero lost his spot on Boston’s 40-man roster in October, but has been playing for Leones del Escogido of the Dominican League throughout the off-season.

As Vazquez prepares to make his 2021 debut for Santurce on Wednesday, it is worth mentioning just how important the 2022 season should be for him. The right-handed hitter is coming off a down year in which he batted .258/.308/.352 with 23 doubles, one triple, six home runs, 49 RBIs, 51 runs scored, eight stolen bases, 33 walks, and 84 strikeouts over 138 games spanning 498 plate appearances.

Despite those underwhelming numbers, the Red Sox still picked up Vazquez’s $7 million club option for 2022, though there was reportedly some internal debate before the final decision was made.

With that being said, it was hinted at by MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo last week that Boston could “make a surprising move to upgrade at catcher — and add a controllable player — sooner rather than later.”

Until then, though, Vazquez and backup Kevin Plawecki figure to be the Sox’ top two catching options heading into 2022 followed by prospects Connor Wong and Ronaldo Hernandez.

(Picture of Christian Vazquez: Winslow Townson/Getty Images)

Red Sox’ decision to pick up Christian Vázquez’s 2022 team option was ‘not a no-brainer’, per report

The Red Sox may have exercised Christian Vazquez’s club option for the 2022 season back in November, but it apparently was not a simple decision for the team to make.

As part of the three-year, $13.35 million contract extension Vazquez signed with the Sox before the 2018 season, there was a team option attached for a potential fourth year in 2022.

The value of that option was dependent on the number of plate appearances Vazquez accrued during the 2020 and 2021 campaigns. Since he fell short of the threshold he needed to reach, the veteran catcher’s option for 2022 decreased from $8 million to $7 million.

Coming off a season in which he batted .258/.308/.352 with 23 doubles, one triple, six home runs, 49 RBIs, 51 runs scored, eight stolen bases, 33 walks, and 84 strikeouts over 138 games (498 plate appearances) while leading all big-league backstops in innings caught (1,051 1/3), the Red Sox were put in a position where they had to decide if they wanted Vazquez back for $7 million.

Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. ultimately decided on having Vazquez return for 2022, but that resolution may not have been reached unanimously within the organization.

According to MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo, “sources indicate the decision to pick up Vázquez’s $7 million option was not a no-brainer, and that there was internal debate over whether he was worth that salary after a down year in 2021.”

The idea that Boston would decline Vazquez’s option and allow the 31-year-old to become a free agent can be backed up by a recent report from the Miami Herlad which states that the Red Sox made an offer “and at one point thought they had a deal” to acquire Gold Glove Catcher Jacob Stallings from the Pirates.

Stallings, who was dealt from the Marlins to the Pirates in late November, is slightly older than Vazquez as he turns 32 next week. He was also the best catcher in baseball this season when it comes to Defensive Runs Saved (21) and is under team control through the end of the 2024 season.

Because of the Sox’ reported interest in a controllable backstop such as Stallings, Cotillo writes that it would not be surprising if “the Red Sox make a surprising move to upgrade at catcher — and add a controllable player — sooner rather than later.”

At present, the Red Sox have four catchers on their 40-man roster between Vazquez, Kevin Plawecki, and prospects like Connor Wong and Ronaldo Hernandez.

Although Vazquez and Plawecki are seemingly locked in to begin 2022 as Boston’s top two catchers with Wong and Hernandez waiting in the wings at Triple-A Worcester, the expectation seems to be that Bloom and his staff are not done adding.

Once the Major League Baseball lockout ends and the transaction freeze is lifted, it appears as though the Red Sox will continue to explore upgrading at catcher. And while the free-agent market may be decimated in that department, the trade market certainly is not.

The Padres, as noted by Cotillo, also have four catchers on their 40-man roster in Jorge Alfaro, Luis Campusano, Victor Caratini, and Austin Nola. The Athletics, who are expected to tear down their roster once the lockout is lifted, represent another intriguing match since they could offer Sean Murphy.

Murphy, 27, won the Gold Glove Award for American League catchers this season and is not slated to hit free agency until after 2025. His asking price would presumably be high, but it could be something worth exploring for the Red Sox.

(Picture of Christian Vazquez: Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

Red Sox pick up Christian Vázquez’s club option for 2022

The Red Sox have exercised catcher Christian Vazquez’s club option for the 2022 season, meaning the longest-tenured player in the organization will be returning for another year. The team made the move official earlier Sunday evening.

Originally selected by the Red Sox in the ninth round of the 2008 amateur draft out of the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, Vazquez signed a three-year, $13.55 million contract extension with Boston in March 2018.

That extension, which did not go into effect until the 2019 season, included a club option for a potential fourth year in 2022, though the value of the option was dependent on number of plate appearances.

Since Vazquez did not reach the necessary amount of plate appearances across the 2020 and 2021 campaigns, the value of his club option for 2022 decreased from $8 million to $7 million. That likely made it an even easier decision for the Red Sox to pick it up.

This past season, the 31-year-old backstop slashed .258/.308/.352 with 23 doubles, one triple, six home runs, 49 RBI, 51 runs scored, eight stolen bases, 33 walks, and 84 strikeouts over 138 games spanning 498 trips to the plate.

While his offensive production may have dropped off from where it was in 2019 or 2020, Vazquez’s defense and ability to handle a pitching staff are still valuable. He threw out 18 of the 73 base runners who attempted to steal against him this season, for instance.

During Boston’s postseason run, the right-handed hitter out of Puerto Rico batted .281/.303/.406 with one double, one homer, six runs driven in, five runs scored, one walk, and seven strikeouts in 11 games — seven of which were starts.

His lone October home run was of the walk-off variety and came in the 13th inning of Game 3 of the American League Division Series against the Rays at Fenway Park.

By retaining Vazquez’s services for 2022, the Red Sox have locked up their top catching option for another year. The 5-foot-9, 205 pounder helped Boston win a World Series title in 2018 and does not turn 32 until next August.

(Picture of Christian Vazquez: Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

Red Sox decline Garrett Richards’ club option for 2022, per report

The Red Sox have declined Garrett Richards’ club option for the 2022 season, thus making the right-hander a free agent, according to MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo.

Richards, 33, originally signed a one-year, $8.5 million deal with Boston back in February that included a $10 million team option for a potential second year in 2022.

Like Martin Perez, who also had his club option declined on Sunday, Richards opened the 2021 campaign in the Sox’ starting rotation. The veteran righty posted a 5.22 ERA and 5.15 FIP to go along with 87 strikeouts and 48 walks over 22 starts spanning 110 1/3 innings of work before being demoted to the bullpen on August 11.

As a reliever, Richards improved while working in shorter bursts, putting up a more impressive 3.42 ERA and 2.90 FIP with 28 punchouts to 12 walks in 18 appearances (26 1/3 innings pitched) out of the Boston bullpen.

In the postseason, Richards was named to the Sox’ Wild Card Game roster and American League Division Series rosters. He tossed one-third of an inning in Game 1 against the Rays on October 7 before suffering a left hamstring strain that forced him to come off the club’s ALDS roster and be replaced by Matt Barnes.

With the Red Sox declining his option, Richards — who turns 34 in May — will once again be hitting the open market. He will, however, be receiving $1.5 million in the form of a buyout.

By electing to not pick up the options on either of Perez’s or Richards’ contracts, the Sox now have one more option-related decision to make before 5 p.m. eastern time on Sunday with catcher Christian Vazquez and his $7 million team option for 2022 hanging in the balance.

On top of that, Boston must also decide if they will be extending an $18.4 million qualifying offer to any player who is eligible for one, such as free agent left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez or veteran slugger J.D. Martinez if he opts out of the final year of his contract.

(Picture of Garrett Richards: Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

Christian Vázquez catching Eduardo Rodriguez for Red Sox in Game 3 of ALCS vs. Astros

The Red Sox will look to celebrate manager Alex Cora’s 46th birthday by taking a two-games-to-one-lead over the Astros in the American League Championship Series on Monday night.

After splitting the first two games of this best-of-seven series in Houston over the weekend, the Sox have momentarily taken homefield advantage away from the Astros as the next three games of this ALCS will be played at Fenway Park.

In celebrating his birthday on Monday, Cora is rolling out a nearly-identical starting lineup to the one he used in Saturday’s Game 2 victory.

With another right-hander in Jose Urquidy getting the start for Houston in Game 3, Kyle Schwarber will once again be leading off and starting at first base for Boston on Monday. He will be followed by the red-hot Enrique Hernandez in center field.

Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, and Alex Verdugo make up the 3-4-5 portion of the Sox’ batting order, meaning J.D. Martinez will bat sixth ahead of Hunter Renfroe, Christian Vazquez, and Christian Arroyo.

Vazquez is the only one of these nine players who did not start on Saturday since it was Kevin Plawecki who caught Nathan Eovaldi. This time around, however, the 31-year-old backstop will be catching Game 3 starter Eduardo Rodriguez.

Rodriguez, who was named by Cora as Boston’s Game 3 starter on Sunday, has posted a 5.40 ERA and 1.97 FIP to go along with seven strikeouts to two walks through his first two starts (6 2/3 innings pitched) of the postseason.

The left-hander is a week removed from his last outing against the Rays in which he allowed two earned runs on three hits, zero walks, and six strikeouts over five-plus solid innings of work in Game 4 of the American League Division Series on October 11.

Earlier this season, Rodriguez faced off against the Astros twice within an 11-day span from May 31 to June 10 — with the first start coming in Houston and the second in Boston.

In those two outings, the Venezuelan southpaw surrendered a total of 12 runs — all of which were earned — on 13 hits, five walks, and nine strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings pitched. That’s good for an ERA of 11.57.

Urquidy, on the other hand, held the Red Sox to just one run on three hits, one walk, and nine punchouts over six innings of work in his lone start against them this year when he opposed Rodriguez at Minute Maid Park back in late May.

That being said, first pitch from Fenway Park on Monday is scheduled for 8:08 p.m. eastern time on FS1.

(Picture of Christian Vazquez and Eduardo Rodriguez: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

J.D. Martinez batting fifth for Red Sox in Game 1 of ALCS vs. Astros

The Red Sox have made some slight alterations to their starting lineup for Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Astros at Minute Maid Park on Friday night.

After batting sixth for all three of his starts in the American League Division Series with the Rays, designated hitter J.D. Martinez has moved up to the No. 5 spot in the Sox’ lineup for Friday’s ALCS opener in Houston.

While still recuperating from a left ankle sprain that he sustained in Boston’s regular season finale against the Nationals on October 3, Martinez — after being held out of action in Game 1 — went 7-for-15 (.467) with one double, one home run, four RBI, one run scored, zero walks, and one strikeout in the final three games of the ALDS, all of which the Red Sox won.

With left-hander Framber Valdez getting the start for the Astros to kick off this best-of-seven series, Sox manager Alex Cora has gone with a primarily right-handed heavy lineup.

Enrique Hernandez, a former Astro, will lead off and get the start in center field, while Kyle Schwarber will bat second and start at first base. Schwarber starting at first base means the right-handed hitting Bobby Dalbec will start Game 1 on the Sox’ bench.

Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, and Martinez make up the most dangerous portion of Boston’s batting order.

Those three will be followed by the likes of right fielder Hunter Renfroe, left fielder Alex Verdugo, second baseman Christian Arroyo, and — last but not least — Christian Vazquez.

Vazquez, of course, will be catching Game 1 starter Chris Sale, who will be looking to bounce back from a rough outing against Tampa Bay in Game 2 of the ALDS in which he surrendered five runs (all earned) on four hits, one walk, and two strikeouts in just one inning of work at Tropicana Field last week.

The roof will be closed at Minute Maid Park on Friday night. First pitch is scheduled for 8:07 p.m. eastern time on FOX.

(Picture of J.D. Martinez: Elsa/Getty Images)

Christian Vázquez walks it off for Red Sox in 6-4 win in 13 innings over Rays in Game 3 of ALDS

With both teams presented with the opportunity to go up a game on their opposition, the Red Sox and Rays partook in an instant October classic at Fenway Park in Game 3 of the American League Division Series on Sunday that spanned more than five hours.

In the process of making some more postseason history, Boston held on for a 6-4 walk-off victory in 13 innings over Tampa Bay on Sunday night. They now lead this best-of-five ALDS two-games-to-one.

Nathan Eovaldi, making his second October start for the Sox after dazzling in last Tuesday’s Wild Card Game, put together yet another strong outing to add to his impressive postseason resume.

Over five solid innings of work, the veteran right-hander allowed just two runs — both of which were earned — on three hits and one walk to go along with eight strikeouts on the night.

Both runs Eovaldi surrendered to his former team came in the top half of the first, as he yielded a one-out single to Wander Franco before serving up a two-run home run to Austin Meadows on a first-pitch fastball.

While Eovaldi’s miscue put his side in an immediate 2-0 hole, a revamped Red Sox lineup was able to back their starter up.

Matched up against Rays right-hander Drew Rasmussen to begin things on Sunday, Kyle Schwarber instantly cut that two-run deficit in half. The left-handed hitter greeted Rasmussen in the bottom of the first by crushing a leadoff home run 390 feet over the Green Monster.

Schwarber’s second homer of the postseason made it a 2-1 game in favor of Tampa Bay, though the Boston bats struck once more two innings later.

On the heels of back-to-back singles from Christian Arroyo and Kyle Schwarber to lead off the latter half of the third, Enrique Hernandez stayed hot by lifting a game-tying, RBI single that brought in Arroyo.

Following a pitching change that saw left-hander Josh Fleming take over for Rasmussen, Rafael Devers broke the tie by plating Hernandez on a run-scoring single that left his bat at 104.9 mph and gave the Red Sox their first lead of the night at 3-2.

Eovaldi, meanwhile, was in the midst of a dominat stretch at the time Devers made it a 3-2 contest. After giving up the homer to Meadows, the righty settled in by retiring 14 of the next 17 batters he faced. His day came to an end as soon as he recorded the final out of the fifth, at which point he had thrown 85 pitches.

Of those 85 pitches (58 strikes) thrown by the 31-year-old hurler, 33 were four-seam fastballs, 23 were splitters, 19 were curveballs, six were sliders, and four were cutters. He topped out at 99.3 mph and averaged 96.9 mph with his heater.

After Hernandez tacked on additional run to his side’s lead and made it a 4-2 game by clubbing a 424-foot solo blast over the Monster off newly-inserted reliever Pete Fairbanks to lead off the bottom of the fifth, Josh Taylor got the first call out of the Red Sox bullpen from manager Alex Cora to begin the sixth inning.

Taylor issued a single to Nelson Cruz in between getting the first two outs of the frame before making way for Ryan Brasier, who retired the dangerous Randy Arozarena to end the inning while also getting the first two outs of the seventh.

Austin Davis was then dispatched and ran into some trouble before getting through the seventh unscathed when he got Brandon Lowe to fly out to center field.

Heading into the eighth inning with a 4-2 advantage still in tact, Hansel Robles was next up out of the Boston bullpen. Robles, who last yielded a run in late August, was quite simply unable to hold the Rays down for long.

Wander Franco led the top of the eighth off by taking Robles 364 feet deep into the Monster seats to trim the Sox’ lead down to one run at 4-3. A double from Meadows and groundout from Cruz put the potential tying run at third base in the form of pinch-running Manuel Margot.

Robles did manage to keep Margot at third momentarily by punching out Yandy Diaz on a foul tip for the second out of the inning, but Arozarena — as he has had the tendency to do — did not let Robles escape easily.

On an 0-1, 92 mph slider on the outer half of the plate, Arozarena added on to his October legend by lacing a line-drive double to left-center field past an outstretched Hernandez that allowed Margot to easily score from third to knot things up at four runs apiece.

Robles, who was charged with the blown save, was immediately removed from the game due to a stomach illness — as he left the field with head trainer Brad Pearson — and was subsequently replaced by Garrett Whitlock.

Whitlock, in turn, stranded the runner he inherited by intentionally walking Kevin Kiermaier before striking out Mike Zunino to retire the side. The right-handed rookie also sat down all three batters he faced in the top of the ninth to hold the Rays at four runs.

The Red Sox, however, could not take advantage of this in their half of the ninth, meaning this contest headed into extra innings with a score of 4-4.

Nick Pivetta, in his first relief appearance since Game 1 of this series, gave up a single to the speedy Margot to lead off the top of the 10th. After he got both Cruz to Cruz to fly out, though, Christian Vazquez threw out Margot as he attempted to steal second base while Arozarena was at the plate.

Arroyo was able to keep his tag on Margot’s leg as he slid over the bag, resulting in a confirmed third out upon a brief replay review.

In the bottom of the 10th, with former Yankees closer David Robertson on the mound for Tampa Bay, Verdugo reached base via a one-out single to left field.

J.D. Martinez followed by barreling a 375-foot fly ball to deep center field, but it was one that was caught on the warning track by an awaiting Kiermaier. Hunter Renfroe then popped out to first base for the final out.

Pivetta, called upon again for the 11th, got himself in and out of trouble after issuing a leadoff walk to Arozarena. The righty allowed the speedy outfielder to advance to second on a stolen base that came after a strikeout, but followed by fanning both Zunino and Jordan Luplow to escape a potential jam.

That sequence paved the way for the Sox to finally break through in their half of the 11th, but they could not muster anything even after Arroyo ripped a one-out double down the left field line off of Robertson to put the winning run in scoring position.

Bobby Dalbec, who previously pinch-ran for Schwarber, whiffed on three straight strikes before Hernandez grounded out to Franco at shortstop to extinguish the threat.

In the 12th, Pivetta continued to impress, as the righty sat down the lone three batters he faced in the inning. With the chance to pick Pivetta up in the bottom half of the frame, though, the trio of Devers, Bogaerts and Verdugo saw a combined six pitches from Luis Patino in yet another 1-2-3 inning.

Back out once more for the 13th, Pivetta endured some late-game drama. With two outs and a runner at first, Kiermaier crushed a 381-foot flyball to right field that nearly left the yard. It instead bounced off the warning track and deflected off Renfroe before caroming into the Red Sox bullpen.

As a result, Kiermaier was rewarded with a ground-rule double, though he and the Rays thought it should have been ruled a triple that would have scored the go-ahead run.

Tampa Bay challenged the call and it was upheld, meaning Kiermaier had to stay at second base while the potential go-ahead run in Diaz remained in third.

Having yet to allow a run, Pivetta followed by fanning Zunino on four pitches to send this one to the bottom of the 13th still deadlocked at four runs each.

At long last, the Red Sox finally responded to Pivetta’s efforts while matched up against Patino.

Martinez flew out and Renfroe drew a six-pitch walk to set the stage for Vazquez, who originally replaced Kevin Plawecki back in the sixth inning.

On the very first pitch he saw from Patino, a 96 mph heater down the heart of the plate, Vazquez absolutely unloaded on it and sent it 394 feet into the first row of Green Monster seats to walk it off for the Red Sox.

With Vazquez’s walk-off two-home run to seal a 6-4 victory, the Red Sox are now just one win away from eliminating the Rays from playoff contention and advancing to the American League Championship Series.

All told, Pivetta tossed four innings of scoreless baseball in which he scattered three hits, struck out seven and walked one batter to pick up the winning decision on Sunday.

Next up: Rodriguez likely for Marathon Monday

Neither the Red Sox or Rays have yet to officially name a starter for Game 4 of this series on Monday, though Cora told reporters Sunday night that the responsibility would likely fall to left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez.

Monday will also mark the first running of the Boston Marathon since April 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so the Sox will have the chance to cap off a special day in the city by to closing out this series with their third straight win.

That being said, first pitch from Fenway Park Monday night is scheduled for 7:07 p.m. eastern time on FS1.

(Picture of Christian Vazquez: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox’ Kevin Plawecki expected to start over Christian Vázquez, catch Nathan Eovaldi in Tuesday’s Wild Card Game vs. Yankees

When the Red Sox take the field at Fenway Park for Tuesday night’s Wild Card Game against the Yankees, it will most likely be Kevin Plawecki — not Christian Vazquez — catching starter Nathan Eovaldi.

While Vazquez clearly established himself as the Sox’ top catcher this season by leading all major-league backstops in innings caught (1,051 1/3), Plawecki forged a better repertoire with Eovaldi over the course of the 2021 campaign.

Of the team-leading 32 starts Eovaldi made for Boston this year, 17 came with Plawecki behind the plate and 13 came with Vazquez catching him. With Plawecki, the right-hander posted a 3.28 ERA and .644 OPS against over 96 innings of work. With Vazquez, on the other hand, he put up a significantly higher 4.77 ERA and .766 OPS against in 66 innings.

“Those two have done an amazing job together,” Red Sox manager Cora said Monday in regards to the Eovaldi-Plawecki battery. “Nothing against Christian, but they have been good. I think that’s just the answer. You know, offensively, I think both have done a good job lately. You know, Kevin can catch up with the fastball, too. We know that.”

Though Cora did mention that Vazquez will be ready in the event that he is needed Tuesday, the decision to start Plawecki speaks to the level of confidence the Sox have in their backup.

Despite some defensive concerns, the 30-year-old veteran enjoyed another productive season at the plate in which he slashed .287/.349/.389 (102 wRC+) with seven doubles, three home runs, 15 RBI, 15 runs scored, 12 walks, and 26 strikeouts over 64 games (173 plate appearances) in limited playing time.

As Cora alluded to, Plawecki did have success against the fastball this season, as he hit .280 and slugged .410 while clubbing all three of his homers off that particular pitch.

Plawecki’s ability to handle the fastball should come in handy on Tuesday with ace right-hander Gerrit Cole on the mound for New York to start things off. Per Baseball Savant, Cole relied on his four-seam fastball more than any other pitch this season by turning to it more than 47% of the time.

In seven games — four of which were starts — against the Yankees this year, the right-handed hitting Plawecki slashed an impressive .313/.389/.563 across 18 trips to the plate.

Against Cole specifically, Plawecki is 1-for-3 with a single and strikeout, though all three of those plate appearances came back in 2015 — when Plawecki was a rookie with the Mets and Cole was still with the Pirates.

(Picture of Kevin Plawecki and Nathan Eovaldi: Winslow Townson/Getty Images)