And Nick Pivetta comes up huge in relief.
Wow. This was an instant classic at Fenway in what was already going to be a tense one given the tied series heading into it. The Red Sox had the lead for much of this game, but Hansel Robles couldn’t hold on in the eighth. That ultimately sent the game to extras, where Nick Pivetta was incredible in relief, we saw one of the strangest plays in recent memory, and Christian Vázquez send everyone at Fenway home happy. Well, most everyone anyway.
The Red Sox went into the first two games of this series on the road with a clear objective to take one of those games. That’s exactly what they did, though the starting pitching has been notably absent in the entire series with Eduardo Rodriguez and Chris Sale combining for just 2 2⁄3 innings. But they had their own personal Mr. Reliable on the mound for Game Three in Nathan Eovaldi. If they were going to get a decently long outing from their starter, Sunday was a good bet for a day it’d come.
But unfortunately, Eovaldi wasn’t immune to the early-game problems that had plagued the other two Sox starters in this series. The righty did start off the game with a bang, getting Brandon Lowe swinging on a splitter — a pitch that looked very good during this game — but then wunderkind Wander Franco gave Tampa their first baserunner with a one-out single. That brought Austin Meadows to the plate, and he jumped on a first-pitch fastball over the inner half and cleared it out for a two-run shot out to right field, giving Tampa Bay another multi-run inning to start a game. To Eovaldi’s credit, he’d come back and strike out the next two batters he faced to end the inning.
On the other side, the Red Sox offense was facing Drew Rasmussen, a converted reliever who pitched well against Boston when given the chance throughout this season. But they seemed to be seeing him much better in this game, and they couldn’t have gotten off to a better start. Leading off the bottom of the first, Kyle Schwarber got a hanging 0-1 curveball and let it get deep in the zone before uncorking on it and blasting it the other way for a leadoff homer. Kiké Hernández would also follow that up with a bullet of a single off the Monster, but they’d settle for just the one run.
And for Eovaldi, after that first inning he was able to settle in and give the Red Sox the innings they needed from their starter after the quick ones. He struck out three more in the second with a walk mixed in, and then allowed only one baserunner in the third when Kyle Schwarber’s attempted flip to first base was approximately six feet too tall.
That ensured it was still a 2-1 game as we got into the bottom half of the third, and for a third straight inning they got the leadoff man on. This time it was a single, and then Schwarber and Hernández added singles of their own, bringing home the tying run. That was the end of the game for Rasmussen with Rafael Devers coming to the plate, and the latter made it four straight singles, and thanks to an aggressive send that worked out with a bad throw, Schwarber scored to make it a 3-2 ballgame for the Red Sox.
Eovaldi would have two more innings to get through in this game. While he pitched mostly well in the first three innings in this game, he was also a bit inefficient, which happens when you rack up seven strikeouts. But he needed a quick inning, and got that with a 10-pitch fourth. He’d get into a little bit of trouble in the fifth on a one-out Joey Wendle double, but he was able to strand him to get through five. That was the end of his day, having allowed just those two first inning runs over five innings, striking out eight with one walk.
With the Rays continuing to dip into their bullpen throughout this game, the Red Sox were able to extend their lead thanks to Hernández, who is one of the hottest hitters on planet Earth at the moment. He led off the bottom half of the fifth, and on a 2-1 fastball over the plate he blasted it over everything in left field for a solo shot, doubling the Red Sox lead to two runs. He also set a franchise postseason record for seven straight plate appearances with a hit. They’d get another runner into scoring position on a walk and a wild pitch, but settled for the 4-2 lead.
That lead would have to be protected by the bullpen, with Josh Taylor coming on to pitch the sixth. The southpaw did give up a single on a hard-hit ball from Nelson Cruz that Xander Bogaerts couldn’t handle at shortstop, but retired the other two batters he faced before handing things off to Ryan Brasier to try and finish off the inning. He needed just one pitch to induce a tapper back to the mound to end the sixth with Boston still up by two.
After the Red Sox started their sixth straight inning with a hit in the bottom of the inning, Ryan Brasier came back on to face the bottom of the lineup in the seventh. He got the first two outs before handing things off to Austin Davis, with the southpaw coming on as two lefties were due up next for Tampa. The Rays, however, predictably countered with righty Jordan Luplow coming on as a pinch hitter, and he drew a four-pitch walk to keep the inning alive. Davis was able to come back and get Brandon Lowe, though, and no damage was done.
Boston went down quickly in the bottom of that inning, keeping it a 4-2 game with Hansel Robles coming in to face the heart of Tampa’s order. It was a questionable decision to say the least to go that route rather than with Garrett Whitlock, and sure enough Franco started the inning off by putting one just up and into the Monster Seats to cut the lead down to one. Meadows then followed that up with a double off the Monster in center field, putting the tying run in scoring position.
A swinging bunt then moved that runner up to third base, leading to a huge at bat for Díaz. He’s one of the tougher hitters in the league to strike out, but Robles was able to do just that after a tough at bat for out number two. He just needed to get Randy Arozarena to end the inning, but the 2020 postseason hero instead hit a double out to center field to tie the game and put the go-ahead runner at second.
That did end the day for Robles, who left the game with the trainer with Whitlock now coming in to try and keep this one tied. He’d intentionally walk Kevin Kiermaier to put two on for Mike Zunino, who went down looking to end the inning.
In the bottom half, Boston managed just a walk, keeping the tie in place heading into the ninth. Whitlock got the call to come back out for this inning as well, and he was perfect, giving his team a chance to walk it off in the bottom of the ninth.
After a quick first out there, Schwarber came through with a base hit, with Bobby Dalbec coming in to pinch run. But that was all they would get, and we headed into extra innings. Just as a reminder, there is no automatic runner at second in the postseason.
To start the tenth, the Red Sox turned to Nick Pivetta, who looked very likely to make the start for Game Four on Monday. He didn’t get the start he was looking for, with Manuel Margot flaring a base hit into left field to kick off the inning. It looked like Margot had swiped second base with two outs to move into scoring position, but he just barely came off the bag and on a very close play it was determined he was out to end the inning.
In the bottom half of the tenth, Verdugo put the winning run on base with a one-out single, but that was all they would get and we headed on to an eleventh inning at Fenway. Pivetta would come back out for that one, and started it off with a leadoff walk. He’d come back with a strikeout on the next at bat, though it took 11 pitches and ended with a stolen base. It wouldn’t matter, though, as Pivetta came back with two big strikeouts to end the inning.
Now the Red Sox had another chance to win it in the bottom of the 11th, this time getting a big one-out double from Christian Arroyo to put that winning run in scoring position. But Dalbec followed that up with a rough three-pitch strikeout, and then Hernández grounded out to end the inning and bring upon the 12th.
Pivetta came back out with yet another big inning, this one of the 1-2-3 variety, but the Red Sox did the same in the bottom half. He had a little bit more trouble here, allowing a one-out single, and then with two outs giving up a hard-hit ball to Kevin Kiermaier. This was one of the stranger plays I can remember, as the ball bounced off the wall, then off Hunter Renfroe and into the bullpen. It was a massive break, as the umps called the play a double with Díaz having to stay at third. So now the game was still tied, and Pivetta had to get Zunino to keep it that way. He did just that, setting him down swinging to end the inning.
After the massive break, Boston now had a chance to win it. Again. They’d get the winning run on base yet again with a one-out walk, and then Christian Vázquez came up. He didn’t start this game, but we all know he only hits clutch home runs. That’s exactly what he did here, smacking a two-run shot into the Monster Seats to walk us off and send the Red Sox home with a 2-1 series lead.
Boston now has a chance to win this series Monday night. The pitching plans for both sides are entirely clear after this game.