Red Sox revisit end-of-inning magic, win to close in playoff spot

A Sunday win over the Nats, which will feature right-hander Joan Adon in his big league debut, ensures the Red Sox will host the Wild Card Game at Fenway Park – scheduled for Tuesday – for the right to play the Tampa Rays Bay in the Division series.

This simple road obscures the subplots of a fascinatingly dense contest featuring Tanner Houck pulled in the middle of a perfect match; red line relievers clawing for 12 outs; the Red Sox’s continuing offensive struggles and defensive mistakes; a punch at the bat that inspired the wrath of the game’s top hitter; and a breakthrough hit by a recently marginalized Sox staple.

“A great match. It took a lot on both sides, ”exhaled Sox manager Alex Cora. ” It was not easy. It hasn’t been easy all season.

Nationals starter Josiah Gray dominated the Red Sox for six innings except for one batter. With two strikeouts early in the fourth inning, Gray left a fastball in the mid-90s over home plate to Rafael Devers, who pitched his 36th homer of the season in the center-right stands for a 1- lead. 0.

It was all the Sox could muster against the rookie, but it was enough to give the team a lead thanks to Houck’s brilliance. The right-hander featured what he described as an “A-plus trick,” a mid-90s four-seam fastball, lead, devastating slider and effective splitter. This combination allowed him to surpass the Nationals in five perfect innings on just 53 shots. He struck out eight of the 15 batters he faced.

But the electrifying performance was not enough to keep him in the game. Houck had not started since September 15th. Over the next 16 days, he made three relief appearances, none for more than 42 throws. He was throwing three days off. And so, Cora replaced him with pinch hitter Christian Arroyo early in the sixth, asking his field for four innings relievers.

“You want to manage with your heart, but you have to be smart,” Cora said. “It may sound bad outside of our world, but… today it felt like it was good enough.”

Deprived of a shot to a perfect game, Houck became the third Red Sox pitcher to be retired as at least five innings in pursuit of one, with Cy Young (7 perfect innings in a 1904 contest) and George Winter (5 innings, 1907).

“Obviously it’s hard to come out,” Houck said, “but for me, I’d much prefer that we win.”

It happened, but not without turbulence. Garrett Richards allowed Gerardo Parra, a single with two strikeouts and one hit, to break the perfect game with two strikeouts in the sixth, but followed with a Groundout at the end of the set.

Ryan Brasier – who throws for the fourth time in as many days for the first time in his life, and the first time by a Red Sox pitcher since 2015 – follows in seventh. Brasier missed the first five months of the year with a calf injury and then a concussion suffered when he was hit in the head by a liner during his rehabilitation.

He finally reached the big leagues in September, only to be fired in the middle of the month for his ineffectiveness.

“It started a fire under my butt,” Brasier said. “I had to come back and prove myself.

And so, he didn’t hesitate when asked before the game if he needed a day off.

“I had five months of days,” he said. “I am more than ready to continue pitching in these situations. “

After two quick strikeouts, Brasier loaded up the goals on two field hits sandwiched around a walk, but caught Jordy Mercer watching a fastball. He screamed in joy and exhaustion as he left the mound.

But the Sox could not execute a perfect throw in the bullpen. With Adam Ottavino on the mound for eighth, center fielder Hunter Renfroe lost a routine ball in the picturesque twilight turned grotesque. The pop-up fell for a double with one out, and Ottavino, pitching for a third straight day, walked the next two hitters to charge goals for Juan Soto.

Cora brought in left-hander Austin Davis. Soto came out of the box several times before the first pitch. Davis objected. Soto got furious.

“He started talking to me about trash, and my mind just changed to kick him [butt]”Soto said.

Soto crushed a 393-foot fastball, but in the deepest part of the park stalled, where Renfroe caught it. For the Sox, a tied bag fly was a cause of relief.

“It was scary,” said wide receiver Christian Vázquez. “Thank goodness he stayed in the stadium. I’ll take this on a four-point circuit.

Half an inning later, it was more Vázquez who delivered a decisive blow. Although he lost some playing time down the home stretch due to his offensive difficulties, he remained effective against the heat of the mid-90s. And so, with a runner in the first and two outs, he stayed. confident against Nats reliever Tanner Rainey.

He tripled a heater straight away, giving the Sox a 2-1 lead. Travis Shaw called with a single RBI, and after a pitcher change, Kiké Hernández landed a two-run homerun (his 20th) to give the Sox a 5-1 lead.

Each shot was crucial as Davis gave Andrew Stevenson a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth. But Hansel Robles entered to restore order by recording the last three withdrawals, giving air to the lungs of his teammates who had spent 3 hours 53 minutes without breathing.

Alex Speier can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @alexspeier.

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