BOSTON — So this was the way it ended for the Tampa Bay Rays, the workforce that pushes and pokes standard pondering and normally will get away with it. The Rays set a franchise document 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 area by Kiké Hernandez vaulted the Crimson Sox into the American League Championship Collection on Monday evening, 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 baseball workforce that had some holes, and we nonetheless have some holes,” Supervisor Alex Cora mentioned. “However on the finish, for as dangerous because it appeared generally, 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 Within the morning, the locals lined the streets to toast the return of the Boston Marathon; at evening, they packed outdated Fenway to have fun a playoff clincher. It was arduous 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 solid their final spell?
The Crimson Sox hitters spent the subsequent three days thrashing the Rays. They batted .341 for the sequence, putting out solely 26 instances. Within the final three video games, Tampa Bay starters by no means made it by the third inning — and even when the bullpen pitched nicely, Boston’s hitters weren’t fooled.
“We simply couldn’t create that swing-and-miss that we’ve executed so nicely all through the common season,” Rays Supervisor Kevin Money mentioned. “They actually had method. It felt like there was fixed stress. There have been no straightforward outs.”
The Crimson Sox scored essentially the most runs within the majors throughout their championship seasons of 2004, 2013 and 2018, and their 2007 title workforce ranked fourth. This 12 months they had been fifth, and really scored fewer runs than the Rays.
However the separator was strikeouts: the Rays’ hitters had essentially the most of any profitable workforce within the majors, whereas the Crimson Sox had among the many fewest. Boston pitchers exploited the Tampa Bay hitters time and again, producing 46 strikeouts and holding the Rays’ main house 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 workforce, too, and Hernandez — who helped the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Rays within the final World Collection — mentioned the Recreation 1 shutout jolted the lineup.
“Playoff baseball, when you don’t let the second get too massive, it form of brings the perfect out of individuals,” mentioned Hernandez, who hit .450 (9 for 20) within the sequence. “We had been in a position to lock it in and make higher selections on the pitches we needed to swing at, the zones we needed to assault.”
Hernandez embodies his retooled workforce. For all of their success this century, the Crimson Sox have additionally completed final within the A.L. East 4 instances. That features final season, the primary underneath Chaim Bloom, the workforce’s chief baseball officer and a former high government with the Rays.
Bloom traded Mookie Betts however saved 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 straightforward manner of taking part in daily,” Hernandez mentioned. “I didn’t simply need to play daily within the massive leagues. I needed to play daily 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 Collection, the Dodgers misplaced twice and spent an excessive amount of time shivering to go searching. When Hernandez returned the subsequent summer time, the Crimson Sox had been far out of first and the group appeared listless.
This season has been a lot totally different, particularly now. The Crimson Sox are 3-0 at Fenway this postseason and have eradicated two division rivals, including the Yankees within the wild-card sport. The Rays video games had 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 all the pieces 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 acquired the win after a minimalist rally from a workforce that may additionally swing massive: 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.