BOSTON — So this was the way it ended for the Tampa Bay Rays, the crew that pushes and pokes standard considering and normally will get away with it. The Rays set a franchise file with 100 victories this season, eight greater than the Boston Crimson Sox. However when it mattered most, of their American League division sequence, the Crimson Sox upended the hoariest axiom of all.
Generally, good hitting actually does cease good pitching.
A sacrifice fly to left discipline by Kiké Hernandez vaulted the Crimson Sox into the American League Championship Sequence on Monday night time, capping a 6-5 victory and a three-games-to-one sequence win. The Crimson Sox will face the Chicago White Sox or the Houston Astros within the subsequent spherical, which begins on Friday, as they search their fifth championship within the final 18 seasons.
“We at all times mentioned we had an excellent baseball crew that had some holes, and we nonetheless have some holes,” Supervisor Alex Cora mentioned. “However on the finish, for as unhealthy because it appeared typically, we’re nonetheless right here. We’re nonetheless within the dance.”
It was a day for dancing within the Hub. Within the morning, the locals lined the streets to toast the return of the Boston Marathon; at night time, they packed outdated Fenway to have a good time a playoff clincher. It was onerous to examine this only a few days in the past, when the Rays’ sorcerers spun a shutout within the sequence opener. Who knew then that they’d forged their final spell?
The Crimson Sox hitters spent the following three days thrashing the Rays. They batted .341 for the sequence, putting out solely 26 occasions. Within the final three video games, Tampa Bay starters by no means made it by means of the third inning — and even when the bullpen pitched effectively, Boston’s hitters weren’t fooled.
“We simply couldn’t create that swing-and-miss that we’ve finished so effectively all through the common season,” Rays Supervisor Kevin Money mentioned. “They actually had an excellent strategy. It felt like there was fixed strain. There have been no simple outs.”
The Crimson Sox scored probably the most runs within the majors throughout their championship seasons of 2004, 2013 and 2018, and their 2007 title crew ranked fourth. This yr they have been fifth, and truly scored fewer runs than the Rays.
However the separator was strikeouts: the Rays’ hitters had probably the most of any successful crew within the majors, whereas the Crimson Sox had among the many fewest. Boston pitchers exploited the Tampa Bay hitters over and over, producing 46 strikeouts and holding the Rays’ main residence run hitter, Brandon Lowe, hitless for the sequence.
The Rays had hoped to construct off their run to the A.L. pennant final fall. However the Crimson Sox have a seasoned crew, too, and Hernandez — who helped the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Rays within the final World Sequence — mentioned the Recreation 1 shutout jolted the lineup.
“Playoff baseball, in case you don’t let the second get too huge, it sort of brings the very best out of individuals,” mentioned Hernandez, who hit .450 (9 for 20) within the sequence. “We have been capable of lock it in and make higher choices on the pitches we needed to swing at, the zones we needed to assault.”
Hernandez embodies his retooled crew. For all of their success this century, the Crimson Sox have additionally completed final within the A.L. East 4 occasions. That features final season, the primary beneath Chaim Bloom, the crew’s chief baseball officer and a former prime government with the Rays.
Bloom traded Mookie Betts however stored a lot of the well-paid core from the 2018 champions — Chris Sale, J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts, Nathan Eovaldi. He has supported them with a sequence of low-cost investments, within the Tampa Bay model, and Hernandez is the most costly import.
Hernandez, 30, signed for 2 years and $14 million after taking part in each place however catcher for the Dodgers. He had basically been a Hollywood stuntman craving for a number one function.
“However I didn’t need the simple method of taking part in every single day,” Hernandez mentioned. “I didn’t simply wish to play every single day within the huge leagues. I needed to play every single day the place it mattered.”
In two journeys to Fenway with the Dodgers, Hernandez mentioned, he had by no means appreciated the environment. On the icy 2018 World Sequence, the Dodgers misplaced twice and spent an excessive amount of time shivering to go searching. When Hernandez returned the following summer season, the Crimson Sox have been far out of first and the group appeared listless.
This season has been a lot completely different, particularly now. The Crimson Sox are 3-Zero at Fenway this postseason and have eradicated two division rivals, together with the Yankees within the wild-card recreation. The Rays video games have been classics, with a leadoff and game-ending homer on Sunday — Kyle Schwarber to start out, Christian Vazquez to complete — and just a little little bit of every little thing on Monday.
Rafael Devers ripped a three-run homer. The Crimson Sox led by 5, then misplaced the lead. Within the eighth, Cora referred to as for Garrett Whitlock, a rookie with a rebuilt elbow who was plucked from the Yankees within the Rule 5 draft. Whitlock confronted six hitters and retired all of them.
He additionally received the win after a minimalist rally from a crew that may additionally swing huge: single, sacrifice bunt, infield single, sacrifice fly. Love that soiled water.
“I really feel like no person anticipated us to be right here proper now,” starter Eduardo Rodriguez mentioned. “And look the place we’re.”
The Crimson Sox are onto the A.L.C.S. Opposing pitchers beware.