The Boston Red Sox went to Yankee Stadium needing at least one win. They got two and a place in the American League Championship Series.
The raucous crowd was quietened quickly by Boston as they cruised to a 16-1 win in Game Three. The Yankee faithful roared in Game Four too. Boston dampened the atmosphere again as Rick Porcello pitched with exquisite command and the hitters rallied.
Craig Kimbrel made it a ninth inning to remember. The Red Sox closer has a poor record at Yankee Stadium, and he was a Steve Pearce toe away from blowing a three-run save. Kimbrel was meant to be the one lockdown arm in Alex Cora’s bullpen. His shaky Game Four outing is a glaring concern for Boston as they welcome Houston for the League Championship Series.
Aside from Kimbrel and the bullpen, the series went almost perfectly for Boston. Chris Sale looked closer to his Cy Young calibre self, they combined power with run manufacturing and, crucially, were not phased by an October night in the Bronx.
Ultimately – up until Kimbrel’s chaotic ninth – this was a routine series win for the better baseball team. Boston evaded a bullpen car crash, even if the road was bumpy. Sale, Porcello and Nathan Eovaldi were good, and the line-up delivered timely hitting.
The Yankees were not bad as such, but underwhelming starting pitching cost them. There is no great surprise in that. The rotation was the weak point for the Yankees all year, and, having only added J.A. Happ, it was always likely it would be their October downfall, even with their deep, fearsome bullpen.
Part of that bullpen, Zach Britton, gave up the home run to Christian Vazquez that was the difference between the two sides in Game Four. Vazquez followed his opposite field blast up with some exceptional blocking in the ninth. Performances from role players make the difference in the playoffs. The Yankees did not get the same sort of contribution from any of their supporting cast.
Playoff let down?
This series got top postseason billing. Understandably, as it’s not often that baseball’s greatest rivals meet in October. Fireworks were expected. We got four games with immense crowd noise and a little bit of late drama in Games One and Four, but this was no classic.
The 108-win team won. Their rotation looked better on paper and they delivered on the mound. Cora got big hits from up and down his line-up and, as crucially seen in Game Three, had the speed to impact the game on the bases.
The Red Sox are far from perfect, and their failure to reinforce the bullpen might cost them against Houston, but this was an impressive performance.
Red Sox worldwide would not doubt have taken a Game Five at Fenway after losing Game Two. Instead, they have a little extra rest before facing the reigning champions, while the Yankees begin to ponder their winter business.