BOSTON – The chants at Fenway Park during this Red Sox playoff race echo in your mind. When Gerrit Cole wrestled in the American League Wild Card Game, unable to get past three innings of work, Boston fans chanted “GERRIT!” through the crowd. As Rays outfielder Randy Arozarena raced into right field, Red Sox fans in the stands let chants of “RANDY!” (He touched the tip of his cap in response). After Luis Patiño conceded the game-winning home run to Christian Vazquez in Game 3, fans greeted him before the game in Game 4 with boos, prompting the Rays pitcher to blow kisses to the crowd. When Patiño later entered the game, facing Vazquez, the Fenway crowd began to use a taunt that is imprinted in the annals of Red Sox history.
“WHO IS YOUR DAD?”
Maybe it’s the months you spent inside during the COVID quarantine. Maybe it’s that the Red Sox find themselves back in the playoffs after posting one of the worst records in baseball during the 2020 season. Maybe it’s divisional rivalry playoff games against the Yankees and Rays that caused the noisy chants from the stands, but few at Fenway Park can recall an atmosphere as loud and enthusiastic as the audience the Red Sox played in front of in Boston during this playoff race.
With a roar worthy of a Boston Marathon Monday behind them, Boston advanced to the American League Championship Series with their 6-5 victory over the Rays on Monday night. The Red Sox took an early lead in the game in the third inning thanks to a three-run homer by Rafael Devers, an RBI double by Alex Verdugo and an RBI single by designated hitter JD Martinez. Although the Rays managed to get closer on the scoreboard in the fifth inning with an RBI from Austin Meadows and a sixth inning homer by Wander Franco, and even tied the score in the eighth inning, the Red Sox charged once again. more, with a sacrifice fly by Kiké Hernandez to leave the opponent lying in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Players for both the Rays and Yankees admitted the effect of the crowd on the game. The sentiment of those around the team – from the Fenway Park security guards to the players, coaches and front office executives – remained the same across the board – the crowds in Boston are on another level in this postseason, almost legendary status.
There is magic in the air right now at Fenway Park.
Outfielder Hunter Renfroe: “I think that was probably the best fan, the noise, the best interaction I’ve seen, from both our fans and the Yankees.”
Hitting coach Tim Hyers: “My personal experience, this has been as good as any. I’ve had my kids in town and they’ve been to a lot of playoff games with me and they said this was amazing. They haven’t experienced Fenway. as it was last week. “
Assistant GM Eddie Romero: “Louder than the 2018 World Series.”
Chief Baseball Operations Officer Chaim Bloom: “I’ve had people who have been in this organization for decades and they’ve told me last Tuesday was the best night in Fenway they’ve ever experienced. Last night, tonight, everyone brought it up.”
The crowds at Fenway have every reason to get excited. As the season began, the Boston Red Sox think tank projected modest expectations for the 2021 team, a team they believed could win about 86 games and compete for a wild-card spot. Instead, at the end of the first half, they were on track to win 98. No other team in baseball recorded more comeback victories, who, in the process, recalibrated expectations for the season.
Still, Red Sox fans raged at the trade deadline when the team added slugger Kyle Schwarber and reliever Hansel Robles but no additional reinforcements to the bullpen and rotation. In late September, after the Yankees swept the Red Sox and then fell two of three against the Baltimore Orioles, the pressure had mounted again: Boston needed a win in the final game of the season to clinch a spot. in the game between jokers. In that essential game against the Nationals, the Red Sox fell behind 5-1 before Rafael Devers hit the game-winning home run, the second of the day, which helped propel the Red Sox to the playoffs on one of the final plays. of the MLB season.
Better yet, his wild card appearance would come at home, against the Yankees. In front of the first playoff crowd at Fenway since the 2018 World Series, the Red Sox showed up early, scoring two runs against Gerrit Cole in the first inning. They controlled the entire game and won 6-2. That victory set the tone and they have yet to lose a playoff game at home.
In a season following one in which no fans could enter the stadium, the Red Sox were able to feel the difference in energy with a packed Fenway Park. Outfielder Alex Verdugo described playing in front of any fans in 2020 as “hearing crickets,” “the strangest feeling.” The crowd’s presence at Fenway Park this postseason, he said, actively changed the dynamics on the field.
“It’s just natural adrenaline,” Verdugo said. “When you already have guys supporting you, you don’t need to bring that much energy because it’s already there. It gives you that extra adrenaline, that extra butterfly that makes you want to do it.”
Each of his postseason victories had a different hero: Devers. Hernandez. Vazquez. But even before the postseason fireworks began, Alex Cora pointed to the depth of his baseball club’s roster, particularly as a parallel to the 2018 team that beat the Dodgers in the World Series. As Boston prepared to take out the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 4, that assessment was truer than ever, and Cora believes it’s a big reason the team made it through to the American League Championship Series.
“In terms of versatility, we have to be creative and try to maximize our squad as best we can,” Cora said earlier in the season. “I think that team was faster. We were able to do more running the bases, but I think in terms of results, offensively, it’s very, very similar.”
That offense is the core of the team’s success this postseason and in the regular season, when Boston finished fifth in baseball in runs scored. Cora’s belief in the team’s ability to rack up runs fuels optimism on the Boston bench that no matter the slate, the Red Sox offense gives the team a chance to win, just like the 2018 team, when he averaged more than five runs per game.
“We talk about it in the dugout like, ‘Hey, let’s do what we do. Make good at-bats,'” Cora said. “What they did yesterday, they’ve done all season. They scored the most runs after the seventh inning. They threw good pitches late in games, and their at-bats are so much better late in games, and their shifts are better. Bats are much better at the end of games. I think when you have good offensive teams, you give yourself a chance in nine innings. “
But the dynamics in the crowd differ from 2018.
“Cheers to all the fans. You guys have been on your feet for two days in a row and I don’t know how you’re doing,” designated hitter JD Martinez said. “It’s amazing. In 2018, everyone was excited and excited, but not like this. I feel like this year is a little different.”
Hernandez, perhaps more than any other player, appeared to harness the magic at Fenway this weekend, following his breakout performance in Game 2 with another three hits in Game 3, including a solo home run and an RBI to tie the game. All eight hits in two games tied the all-time record in a single postseason (Derek Jeter had eight hits in two games during a span between the 2005 and 2006 postseason games), while his seven consecutive hits came within one of the record. of all times.
It was the kind of performance Hernandez had hoped for since signing with Boston, seeking to establish himself as an everyday player after his time with the Dodgers pigeonholed him as a utility. But for much of the season, the transition seemed unlikely to work. Hernandez said he had trouble getting comfortable in the early part of the season after Cora put him up at leadoff. It began to settle in in late June, when Hernandez decided to hit the reset button on his season after hitting .227 / .287 / .387 through June 25 before hitting a home run opening the game against Gerrit Cole on June 26. .
“I told myself that the season started today and I started to feel better, and then that day against Cole, they put me back in first place and I was feeling pretty good at the plate and then I said I would. I take advantage of the first pitch of the game and I homered on the first pitch, “Hernandez said. “I took off from there.”
The roster’s combined playoff experience contributes to the team’s ability to organize comebacks, according to Hyers. Bogaerts, Devers, Martínez and Vázquez played a significant role on the 2018 championship team, while recent additions such as Hernández, Schwarber and Renfroe have playoff experience on their resumes.
“They don’t panic and they know how to play the game to win and offensively they know how to be successful,” Hyers said. “Doing it is something different, but they have that experience to draw from.”
As much as this team reminds you of your manager and many of your 2018 players, from here on, they will be compared to a different Red Sox team: the 2013 squad. The 2021 Red Sox were the fourth team since 1969 to advance to the Championship Series one season after finishing last in their division. The previous one to do it? The 2013 Red Sox, who won the World Series.
To get there, the Sox will need more of the offense that beat them the first two rounds and, yes, a little more luck. Bloom acknowledges that a lot needed to fall in the way of Boston to meet in the American League Championship Series, from Giancarlo Stanton’s lasers in the wild-card game that would have been home runs in most other stadiums, to double. of Kiermaier that bounced off Renfroe’s hip.
“I’m glad the baseball gods,” he said, “supported us.”