Nine thoughts on the Red Sox’ 16-1 victory over the Yankees . . .
1. Now that is what a 108-win team is supposed to look like in the postseason. The Red Sox entered Game 3 of the American League Division Series tied with the Yankees at one win apiece, but it didn’t feel even. The Red Sox held on for a tense 5-4 win in Game 1, succumbed to the David Price House of October Horrors in a 6-2 loss in Game 2, and headed to New York presumably burdened by the weight of their struggles on offense and some clear flaws on the pitching staff. So what happens? Brock Holt (Brock Holt!) became the first player in postseason history to hit for the cycle, Mookie Betts (2 hits, 2 runs, 2 RBIs, one brilliant baserunning play) and Andrew Benintendi (three-run double) came to life at the plate, and every Red Sox batter had reached base in the game before the seven-run fourth inning was over.
We know that a rout in one game means nothing when the next game begins (see Game 3, 2004 ALCS), but we also know this: The Red Sox were at their best on a night when they had to be, and now they’re assured of coming back to Boston for Game 5 if they do not close this out tomorrow.
The 2018 Red Sox have been extraordinary, and perhaps never more extraordinary than they were Monday night. Feel good about them. Believe in them. With a performance like this, they’ve earned at least that much.
2. The Red Sox scored 16 runs on 18 hits, and the awakening of their offense may only be the co-story of the night. Nathan Eovaldi, a quasi-journeyman with a scar on his pitching elbow who came over from the Rays at the trading deadline, was exceptional in a drama-free way that was at least slightly reminiscent of Derek Lowe’s casually efficient dominance in the 2004 postseason.
Eovaldi allowed just five hits and a run in seven innings, with no walks and five strikeouts. He lacks an ace’s résumé, but does possess an ace’s triple-digit fastball and a vicious cutter, and he maintained his best stuff all night.
In the seventh and final inning, on his 88th pitch, he touched 100 miles per hour. He’s earning a reputation as a Yankees killer — in four previous starts against New York this year, he had a 1.93 ERA and a 0.77 WHIP.
Shutting down that lineup in the postseason, in a pivotal moment in a short series, is feat that won’t be forgotten anytime soon.
3. Alex Cora made three fundamental lineup changes for Game 3, none individually surprising even if the alterations affected a full third of the lineup.
Holt started at second base instead of Ian Kinsler. Christian Vazquez got the start behind the plate in place of Sandy Leon. And Rafael Devers got a turn at third over Games 1 and 2 starter Eduardo Nunez.
How’d it go? Let’s put it this way. If Cora was hoping for them to work out any better than they did, he’s greedier than he’s ever let on. All three lineup newcomers contributed in a major way. Let’s look at them one-by-one.
4. Might as well admit it: I did not like the idea of starting Vazquez, a lightweight at the plate who seemed to lose some of the shine on his near-golden defense this season. I’m partial to Blake Swihart, who hit three home runs and had a .618 OPS this year and still somehow seems a useful offensive option. (He did hit all three of his homers in 108 plate appearances in the second half, with a .708 OPS.)
But Vazquez was the improbable ignitor of the Red Sox offense in Game 3. He drove in the Red Sox’ first run on an infield single with two outs in the second inning, then delivered a perfectly placed hit-and-run in the seven-run fourth. It’s the best game I’ve seen from him in a long time.
5. Cora has seemed a little frustrated with Devers lately, mentioning that he needs to be more committed to hard work on a couple of different occasions in recent weeks. The rationale for not playing him in the first two games was that Eduardo Nunez was a better defensive option at third base, a damning suggestion given that I’d take ’78 Butch Hobson at third base over the scattershot Nunez on most nights.
Cora deserves credit for keeping an open mind about Devers, who clearly exasperates him from time to time, but who also possesses enticing, if unrefined, potential as a hitter. The reward was a solid overall contribution — no mistakes on defense, two hits, two runs, and an RBI on offense, and the possibility that he can be bigger contributor (as he was last year against the Astros) as the playoffs go on.
6. Though Kinsler drove in one of the Red Sox’ two runs in Game 2, the unscientific conclusion here is that the majority of Red Sox fans thought Holt deserved a shot.
The majority of Red Sox fans did not know how right they were. Holt really had a nice bounce-back season (.277/.362/.411) after dealing with lingering concussion symptoms and vertigo in 2017.
I wondered if his time was nearing an end with the Red Sox entering the season, but he just got better and better as it went on. He was especially productive in the second half this year, with an .809 OPS after the All-Star break and a couple of absolutely crushed home runs.
7. I do not, however, believe anyone outside of the most optimistic member of the Holt family thought he was capable of hitting for the cycle.
What an epic performance. He made a vintage Dustin Pedroia-style defensive play on a rocketed grounder by Brett Gardner with one on and one out in the third, singled to start the fourth and ripped a two-run triple to punctuate the inning, added a ground-rule double in the eighth, then homered in in the ninth off Yankees catcher/knuckleballer Austin Romine.
I do still believe Cora should make future decisions at second base based on the matchup, because Kinsler is a good player who might have his big moment along the way. But Holt deserved a shot, got it, and he took advantage of it in a spectacular way Monday night. Hard not to be happy for the guy.
8. Umpire Angel Hernandez had three of his calls overturned at first base out of four that went to replay. A .250 average is adequate for a hitter nowadays, but it’s brutal for an umpire, and such incompetence is not unusual for him.
9. OK, I’ll ask: At what point would you have felt comfortable bringing in David Price? Bottom of the eighth with a 14-1 lead seemed safe to me. Though it would have been amusing to use him for the last three innings to earn the cheapest save in baseball history.