MLB

Red Sox take the American League Wild Card spot

Boston put on a dazzling performance to take the American League Wild Card spot, moving on to face the Tampa Bay Rays in the Division Series.

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Red Sox take the American League Wild Card spot
Winslow Townson AFP

What a ride the last two weeks have been

After promising so much through such a thrilling end of season race, the AL Wild Card Game absolutely delivered. Talk of Gerrit Cole’s possible hamstring problems may not have been just idle chatter as his control was shaky from the first inning. Giving up a two-run shot to Xander Bogaerts was just the beginning of his woes and the former Cy Young hopeful exited the game after giving up another towering solo shot to Kyle Schwarber in the third. He pitched two and left the game with two men on base and nobody out in the third inning, having walked two batters and giving up four hits for three strikeouts. His ERA for the game a dismal 13.50.

His Boston counterpart was a study in balance, yin to his yang. Nathan Eovaldi put on an absolute stunning show from the rubber, giving up just one run and four hits in his five and one-third innings. He had inch-perfect control and walked no-one while notching up eight strike outs, earning him a 1.69 game ERA.

What a time for Bogaerts bat to come alive. He came into the night on a cold streak, or if not cold certainly cooling, but put paid to that with his stadium-rocking two run bomb to dead center. Two innings later, Kyle Schwarber hit a 435 foot rocket to right and brought the Sox a 3-0 lead. The Yankees had looked to threaten Boston several times, starting the game with a Giancarlo Stanton hit that missed clearing the monster by inches, and later in the sixth when he hit another one to nearly the same place. Instead of men at second and third and one out, Judge was given the green light from first and Bogaerts’ relay home had him nailed by a mile.

The highlights of the Yankees’ night came in the form of an Anthony Rizzo solo home run in the sixth and finally, after three knocks on the door, a Stanton shot in the ninth. But it was too little, too late. The real story of the night was the Boston Red Sox complete domination of the plate. Their pitching staff was outstanding, with Tanner Houck and Hansel Robles throwing perfect seventh and eighth innings respectively. Whitlock closed it out allowing only that one run off Stanton. The Yankees had the tougher schedule coming into the night, having faced both Toronto and Tampa in their final two series while Boston had road trips to Baltimore and Washington. Perhaps the grind to make it to the Wild Card Game started to show in the lacklustre performance that the Yankees pitching staff put on. Maybe with Boston, New York had simply tried to take a bridge too far.

Boston will now face off tomorrow night against AL East champs Tampa Bay

While a starting pitcher for Boston has yet to be announced, it will likely be Chris Sale the left-handed ace, recently off Tommy John’s surgery. That is by no means definitive and the Sox might opt to start either Nick Pivetta or Eduardo Rodríguez, but given that Sale was not on the roster for the Yankees game, it seems that he was being saved for Tampa.

On the other side, Tampa starter will be lefty Shane McClanahan, who comes into the post season with a 3.43 ERA and a very respectable 1.27 WHIP. In the battle of the port-siders, Sale is definitely edging it by the numbers but how he reacts to the recent surgery, the fall weather, and just the gruel of October baseball might nudge it into McClanahan’s favor.

The Rays are an extremely versatile team, finding ways to win no matter what you throw at them. They have a lineup that can hit through the order, an outfield that might be the best in baseball, and home field advantage. Powerful stuff. But their real assets are going to be on the mound, their bullpen posting a combined 2.93 ERA. Having gone to the playoffs for the third straight season, and coming up just short to the Dodgers in last year’s World Series, the Rays topped the AL East for the second year in a row. The only thing that they haven’t done is won it all. Boston have recaptured something of their old glory, but Tampa is creating glory from scratch. It just might be time for the old guard to give way to the new. The king is dead, long live the king.

Watch the highlights of the American League Wildcard Game on MLB.com

The National League Wildcard Game between the St Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers first pitch is at 8:10pm Eastern