Red Sox

Whatever the reason, wherever it leads, these Red Sox aren’t just a pleasant surprise. They’re a contender.

Steven Senne
Kiké Hernández is delivering in every way possible for the Red Sox, including with the heads-up baserunning that delivered Sunday's winning run. Steven Senne/Associated Press

COMMENTARY

When trying not to hyperbolize something like that, it’s best to focus on our words.

Unique, as with “literally,” is probably misused just as much as it’s correctly applied. Uniqueness is not a spectrum. It’s a checkbox. Something is unique, one of a kind, or it isn’t.

This weekend’s four Red Sox-Yankees games were not a “most unique” set in the literally 10,000-year history of this, the greatest rivalry since social media vs. nuance. They are unique, or they aren’t.

Put me in the “are” camp.

Thursday: After Christian Vázquez struck out to open the ninth inning, the microprocessors said the Red Sox had a 4 percent chance to win. They won.

Advertisement:

Friday: Eduardo Rodriguez lasted six batters due to migraine symptoms, with Alex Cora turning to freshly recalled Phillips Valdez in the second inning against Yankees ace Gerrit Cole. Valdez mowed through three innings, Rafael Devers obliterated two home runs, and the Red Sox won again.

Saturday: When Nate Eovaldi got the second out of the eighth inning, the Sox up three, they had a 95 percent chance to really put the Yankees season on the ropes. They lost.

Sunday: When Brett Gardner walked in the eighth inning against Brandon Workman, a run already in, the Red Sox with no hits and having struck out four times the inning before, they had a 2 percent chance to win. They won.

Advertisement:

You have one of those games in a season, someone’s writing an oral history about it in five years. You have two back-to-back, and it’s where Tom Hanks starts his voiceover. Four? Four feel like they should come with a complimentary fainting spell. Just too much to handle without sensory overload.

To that end, I’m less sure about the “are” of this weekend than I am the “aren’t:” The Yankees. Esteemed New York Post columnist Mike Vaccaro proclaimed the visitors limped back to Gotham with “a knife sticking out the front,” his belief they’re only “awfully close to done” a testament to the watered-down playoff structure. Sure, they could leapfrog Oakland and Seattle (and hold off Toronto) to land in a road wild-card game. But who cares?

Advertisement:

In Newsday, manager Aaron Boone “looks shaken,” New York’s “veritable smile emoji in pinstripes” unable to immediately paper over their latest Worst Loss of the Season. Score two for the old school, I guess.

On Saturday, Cora took out Eovaldi at 100 pitches, New York having made it 3-1 with the tying run coming up. On Sunday, Boone took out Domingo Germán once Alex Verdugo broke up his no-no, the peach of a guy at his highest pitch count since May. They’re defensible hooks, even if Adam Ottavino wasn’t sharp for Boston on Thursday and Jonathan Loaisiga was being asked to go a second straight day after two weeks on the COVID-19 list.

Advertisement:

They are not, however, the same. Because these teams aren’t the same.

New York won Saturday on two bloops and a Fenway double. There’s not a pitcher in the league who wouldn’t want the remnants of Giancarlo Stanton to swing at this pitch. The Red Sox, meanwhile, really were just one hit away on Sunday.

Verdugo got it, when Greg Allen — New York’s eighth right fielder of the year, with Aaron Judge still on the COVID list — got crossed up on a catchable shot to the warning track. In came Loaisiga, and out went baseball after baseball on a line from the batter’s box.

Advertisement:

Hunter Renfroe, one-hopper off the Monster. Vázquez, a blooper into right-center, but a clean hit almost every time. Franchy Cordero, a 106-mph, two-strike single up the middle. White-hot Kiké Hernández, a 109-mph firecracker down the left-field line.

With New York’s infield back, the Red Sox needed a ground ball, and Kevin Plawecki delivered it. With an outfield two-thirds fill-ins, they needed a fly ball to pretty much anywhere, and Xander Bogaerts delivered it.

It’s what they do, time and time again. Whether it’s Alex Cora and his “if [Josh Taylor gets out of this inning, we’re winning this game” energy, whether it’s coalescing around the myriad doubters, whether it’s kismet … it’s 100 games now.

Advertisement:

It’s a top-15 start in franchise history. It’s the same 61-39 they were in 2007, and a game better than they were in 2013, the last time a group of solid pieces came together to so clearly be more than the sum of their parts.

That group was wonderful fun when we needed it, too, also well before we knew they were truly championship material.

“We’re not out of a game until the game’s over,” Hernández told reporters. “And we proved that today.”

There’s a tendency to try and write the fairy tales of our teams before Jack’s even considered buying the magic beans, but this final weekend before Friday’s trade deadline felt declaratory across baseball.

Advertisement:

Tampa added Nelson Cruz and he delivered two homers in three days. Washington scratched Max Scherzer, and may as well pack his jerseys after getting swept by Baltimore. San Diego plugged another All-Star into its infield, doubling down on their double-down winter.

And in Boston, two divergent teams continued on the exact opposite paths we expected. For all their success finishing games and swiping wins, the Red Sox of late have been a little lacking. In Tampa, in Anaheim, at Yankee Stadium, against Philadelphia … four three-game series in the last month where Boston followed opening wins with back-to-back losses.

You could argue the wrong team won all four games this weekend, if that’s what you’re into. You could argue all this weekend did was set up the main event this week against the real competition: Four with Toronto at Fenway, then three more at the St. Petersburg Pinball Machine against the Rays. I’m more inclined to agree with the latter.

Advertisement:

But I think we’re better served declaring something simpler: This team, and this season, are a blast no matter where they go from here. And Chaim Bloom, with more prospects than he can hang on to this winter, has five days to deliver them more than Jarren Duran and Chris Sale coming off Tommy John surgery.

The 2021 Red Sox might not be unique in our decorated baseball history, but this weekend made clear they’re literally too special not to treat as what they are.

Genuine October contenders.

Jump To Comments

Conversation

This discussion has ended. Please join elsewhere on Boston.com