In the midst of confusion and chaoticness, Christian Vázquez entered the batter’s box, kept his head down, and sent a four-seam fastball into the night sky and over the towering green monster at Fenway Park, cementing the Boston Red Sox with a 6-4 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.
A fuse of uncertainty and craziness concerning a rule that prevented the Rays from scoring the go-ahead run in the top of the 13th inning was the topic of discussion at the conclusion of Game 3 of the American League Division Series.
With Yandy Díaz on first base, Kevin Kiermaier slugged a 3-2 pitch towards the center-right field. The ball bounced off the wall, deflected off Red Sox right fielder Hunter Renfroe and bounced over the 5-foot wall that lined the Red Sox bullpen.
The play was ruled a double by the officiating crew and later confirmed by the Replay Command Center that resides in New York City. The rule that prevented Díaz from scoring the go-ahead run, leaving him at third base with two outs in the top of the 13th can be explained by ESPN Major League Baseball Insider Jeff Passan:
Here it is. Rule 5.05(a)(8). It explains the ruling that put Kevin Kiermaier on second and kept Yandy Diaz on third. pic.twitter.com/aBg0fImlIg
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) October 11, 2021
“I’m still in awe right now,” Kiermaier said following the gut-wrenching loss. “… That’s a heartbreaker, I just can’t believe that happened or we don’t get the chance to score right there … It would have put us in a much bigger situation, put the pressure on them in the 13th inning but for the ball to bounce off the wall and then hit a player and go over again I just can’t believe that that is a ground-rule double and Yandy would have scored standing up and it’s a heartbreaker plain and simple.”
It was a tug-of-war for momentum from the moment home plate umpire Sam Holbrook signaled towards Nathan Eovaldi to throw out the first pitch at 4:09 p.m.
The back-and-forth began in the first inning when both clubs aggressively hit homers to show their desire to gain control in the game and control the narrative of their postseason destiny.
The timid walls of Fenway Park did not prevent Austin Meadows and the Rays from striking first in the top of the first inning. Meadows — who only possessed a single at-bat in each of the first two games of the series — set the stage early for an intense game that had a sprinkle of power, aggression, small-ball, and theatrics. Eovaldi served Meadows a 97-mph fastball that was hooked to right-center field, ultimately making its descent into the Rays bullpen, giving the Rays a quick 2-0 lead.
Six batters into the game and the Red Sox fired back with a solo shot over the green monster from the leadoff hitter, Kyle Schwarber, slimming the Rays lead by one in the first inning. At this point, it was only a matter of time until the magic of the postseason found its way into the record books.
The Red Sox claimed their first lead when four straight singles from Christian Arroyo, Schwarber, Kiké Hernández, and Rafael Devers led to two runs in the bottom of the third inning, awarding them with a 3-2 lead.
After becoming the first Red Sox player to record four extra-base hits in a postseason game, Hernández sent a rocket 424-feet over the green monster off right-handed reliever Pete Fairbanks in the bottom of the fifth inning to extend their lead 4-2. Hernández has mounted seven-straight hits in a two-game span, the third player in postseason history to conquer the same feat. According to Sara Langs of MLB.com, Derek Jeter did so with seven straight hits through two postseasons (2005-2006) and Billy Hatcher in 1990.
The San Juan native ended the game going 3-for-6 with two RBI and sits with a .474/.500/.947 slash line in the 2021 postseason.
After the Eovaldi and the Red Sox bullpen hunkered down through six innings, it wasn’t until the top of the eighth inning that rookie Wander Franco blew life into a flat-lining Rays lineup that desperately needed to show traction in a crucial game. The Rays No. 1 prospect tamed a four-seam fastball to left-center field to narrow the Red Sox lead by one.
Meadows followed with a double off the wall to straight center field, and the momentum the Red Sox had through six innings began to dim.
Game 1 hero Randy Arozarena delivered the punch that resuscitated the Rays and placed momentum into the palm of their hands. The 26-year-old rookie tied the game on an RBI double to straight center field. The 95.1-mph hit missed the glove of diving a Heránandez, allowing pinch-runner Manuel Margot to score. As Arozarena sprinted towards second base, he collided sides with first baseman Schwarber and tumbled to the ground before reaching second base safely. The interference led to a protest by Rays manager Kevin Cash, but the umpires did not let Rays right fielder advance to third base.
The Red Sox built a smidge of momentum that fired up the Fenway atmosphere in the bottom of the 11th inning with a double by Christan Arroyo. However, Wander Franco quickly let out the flame with a Derek Jeter-esque throw in the air at shortstop to first baseman Jordan Luplow for the final out of the inning.
Now, we’re back to the 13th inning, and the madness begins. The momentum shifts one last time, and the Red Sox conquer with the walk-off two-run homer from Vázquez. According to Langs, Vázquez is the eighth catcher in postseason history to hit a walk-off home run in the postseason, the last to do so was Venezuela native José Lobaton in Game 3 of the 2003 ALDS.
“Christian, he worked so hard his craft, you know, and he cares so much about this organization,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said of his catcher. “That for him, to be in that spot, and put a good swing and hit the ball. I know it means a lot to him. It means a lot to us. It was a big swing.”
Game 4 of the ALDS will be played on Monday, October 11, at Fenway Park. As the 2-1 series lead goes to the Red Sox, the Wild Card winners will either stun the American League East champions and gesture their rival towards an early postseason exit, or the Rays claim a victory and take the series to St. Petersburg, Fl. for a winner-take-all game.
“We still got work to do,” Cora said after the Game 3 win. “We’re in a great spot. But that’s a good baseball team. So let’s be ready for tomorrow.”
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