And a controversial call to boot.
Every postseason is good for a handful of nutty games, and every long individual run has to feature at least one. The Red Sox got theirs on Sunday with a wild, 13-inning affair complete with a billion pitching changes, home runs, great defense, a huge relief appearance by a starter, a walk off, and, of course, controversial calls. Here are more than a few scattered thoughts on the game.
- I think we pretty much have to start with the controversial call, and note that controversial is not synonymous with wrong. I do think it’s a little disingenuous to call out Rays fans for being mad about that call, because I can tell you I’d be hooting and hollering if that happened to the Red Sox. I also think it’s a fair criticism of the rule that it rewards bad play, though that’s a particularly novel concept in baseball. When a guy barely makes contact and reaches on a swinging bunt, we don’t say the rule should be changed. It’s a quirk of the game. So, yes, I understand being mad about the play and I’d have damn near lost my mind for good had the sides been flipped. But the umps called it correctly by the letter of the law. Maybe it’s worth changing that rule, though I’m not sure it happens often enough to put the effort in. There are more important tasks for the league and players this winter, ya know?
- At the time, I was really surprised that Kevin Cash didn’t argue the call more than he did. I figured any manager on the other side of that one was going to blow a gasket and get ejected almost immediately, but Cash was calm, cool, and collected. It turns out he’s seen this play before, though. Good catch from the Red Sox Stats Twitter account.
- Nick Pivetta was the star of this game and absolutely incredible in relief. His performance obviously creates major questions for Game Four as he was supposed to start that one, but in this instance Cora did exactly what he should have, which is concentrate on the game being played at the moment and worry about the future when it comes. Pivetta has not made a start in this series but has pitched 8 2⁄3 innings of three-run ball, striking out 11 and walking three. I wrote before the series that he could be the big rover for this team in the postseason, and he’s made that kind of impact already, even if not technically in that role.
- And that’s not just about his stuff and arsenal, which is part of it, but you can see the emotion after every inning that he has the mentality for it as well. It’s another one of those things that we feel we’re better at judging than we actually are, but I feel good about that assertion.
- If the Red Sox were to have lost that game, it would have been on Alex Cora in my opinion. I think the manager had built up a whole lot of benefit of the doubt when it came to bullpen management, and he cashed it in in the eighth. To put it simply: You have to use Garrett Whitlock against the meat of Tampa’s order. I know Robles has been great lately. I get that. But even so, everyone would agree Whitlock is the best reliever in the bullpen right now, full stop. When the best hitters are coming up, especially when your best reliever isn’t some 10-year veteran who’s only pitched the ninth his whole career, you use your best reliever. That mistake can’t happen again.
- We’ve gone this far and haven’t even talked about the man of the hour: Christian Vázquez. The catcher didn’t even start this game, coming in as a pinch hitter only to drop down a bunt. That wasn’t his role in the end. It’s a long-running joke here at OTM that he only hits clutch home runs, a meme that goes back to 2017 when it was literally true. He’s had some power outbursts since then that have undone that as fact, but we saw here he still comes to play in the big moments and connects when the team needs it most. He’s going to be an interesting case this winter, and something I certainly haven’t put enough thought in — both about his game moving forward and potential replacements short- and long-term — to have a strong opinion on the path they should take behind the plate. But I will say he’s one of my favorites on this team, and these kinds of moments are a reason why.
- Before Vázquez did his thing, it was Kiké Hernández who led the way offensively. He’s just on an absolute tear right now, which has sort of come out of nowhere. After the Game Two win, we talked about how good Hernández was in that game and how, similar to Xander Bogaerts after the Wildcard Game, that could be what he needed to break out of his current slump and go on a tear. He’s seeing the ball so well right now and is making a huge impact at the top of the lineup.
- It’s easy to forget now because it seems like an entirely different game at this point, but the Red Sox got what they needed from Nathan Eovaldi, which didn’t seem like a sure thing at the start. Tampa got to him early for a couple of runs, but instead of letting it snowball he settled in and let his stuff do the talking. I think typically we think of postseason stars as players who dominate whenever they get the ball, but a big part of it is also taking a punch and not letting it knock you out. That was a problem for the Red Sox starters in the first two games, but Eovaldi took that punch and made it through five anyway, and probably would have went longer in a regular season environment.
- The Red Sox had pressure on the Rays pitching staff all game, which kind of cuts both ways to me. On the one hand, it’s obviously good. They started off each of the first six innings with hits, and that in part helped knock out starting pitcher Drew Rasumussen early and also bring out the big guns from their bullpen in the early parts of the game as well. That’s always the goal, though you can also argue that, since they got through that tough part of the Rays staff early they should have won earlier. The good news is we don’t have to focus on that line of thinking because they did win.
- A little bit of praise, and I know this isn’t even the first time I’ve said this in these Scattered Thoughts posts, but Wander Franco is so good. I almost feel bad putting so much of my attention on him because this whole Rays team (this really pains me to type) is deep and talented, but Franco is incredible. There’s a pretty good argument for him already being the best player on either team. He had the big home run against Robles in the eighth, and also played really good defense and showed off his elite speed. He’s got it all.
- The Schwarber tip of the cap and fist pump for the crowd after his routine flip was spectacular.
- Do we need to start referring to Playoff Ryan Brasier as another person? He stepped up his game to even another level back in 2018 in the postseason, and he’s doing so early on in this postseason run as well. He’s gotten away with some pitches right over the heart of the plate to be sure, but at the end of the day the results have been there, and I don’t know what else we could possibly ask for.
- The Game Four pitching situation is going to be a mess, and I’m guessing we’re going to see a few innings from Martín Pérez. Put another way, I really hope the offense scores a whole bunch of runs.