Tomase: Red Sox bring Fenway alive in eliminating the Yankees originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
You know what I never want to hear again?
Does anyone even like baseball in Boston anymore? Are the Red Sox relevant? They just don't have any juice. Now where's my RedZone?
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Baseball may not be what it used to be here or anywhere, but the Boston version of it sure as shinola ain't dead. The capacity crowd at Fenway Park on Tuesday proved that, and I'm guessing the viewing audience had no complaints, either.
The Red Sox hosted the Yankees in the American League Wild Card game, just the second time in the history of this storied rivalry that they'd met for a one-game, winner-take-all playoff. New York won the first in 1978 and made a folk hero out of a light-hitting shortstop named Bucky.
Tuesday's follow-up required no such drama — thanks in no small part to a power-hitting shortstop named Xander — because the Red Sox dominated their rivals from start to finish in a 6-2 victory that sends Boston to Tampa Bay on Thursday with no shortage of energy for a division series showdown with the defending AL champs.
Whatever your level of buy-in on the 2021 Red Sox, there's no question they put on a hell of a show on Tuesday.
The night started with Jerry Remy throwing the first pitch to former teammate and current broadcast partner Dennis Eckersley. The beloved NESN color man rode a golf cart to the mound and appeared to be wearing oxygen while recovering from his latest bout with cancer. He threw a strike anyway and received a thunderous ovation.
It set the tone for the bedlam that followed. A vocal contingent of Yankees fans owned tickets behind the visiting dugout, and they made themselves heard before being overwhelmed by a Red Sox crowd that had apparently stepped through one of Loki's time doors en masse from 2004.
Electricity coursed through Fenway like an arcing reactor and the Red Sox fed off of every amp, ohm, volt, and watt. No sooner did the crowd serenade Yankees starter Gerrit Cole with a sing-songy mockery of his first name than did he surrender a Concorde of a two-run homer to Xander Bogaerts to dead center.
The normally stoic Bogaerts faced the Red Sox and let out a scream that conjured old teammate Mookie Betts, tossing his bat and clapping his hands before rounding first on his home run trot. Cole, the highest-paid pitcher in baseball history, looked shellshocked, and his night only worsened. It turned out that all New York's $324 million bought it on this night were two-plus innings.
Meanwhile, Red Sox counterpart Nathan Eovaldi arrived loaded for a big game. Throwing everything in his expansive arsenal for strikes, Eovaldi looked like he might go nine. But Red Sox manager Alex Cora is disciplined, and he knows what happens to Eovaldi's numbers the third time through the order.
So when Anthony Rizzo homered with one out in the sixth and Aaron Judge followed with an infield single, Cora didn't hesitate to summon right-hander Ryan Brasier for the dangerous Giancarlo Stanton. The Yankees slugger had already set the tone for what kind of night New York could expect by standing in the box to admire his handiwork on what ended up being a wall single in the first inning (badly fooling his home broadcast in the process).
Cora didn't want to mess around with the slugger as the tying run, but he nearly paid for it anyway when Stanton sent another rocket to left. This one never had a chance of leaving the park, however, denting about two-thirds of the way up the Monster in a millisecond.
The Yankees, perhaps recognizing the futility of the bottom five hitters in their lineup, sent Judge from first and Bogaerts' relay easily cut him down at the plate as Fenway once again erupted. Whatever brief flicker of life the Yankees believed they had was basically extinguished.
The rest of the night played out like a party. The Red Sox put the game away with Alex Verdugo's two-run single in the seventh, and when suddenly unhittable reliever Hansel Robles blew away Rizzo on three pitches to end the bottom of the frame, the crowd launched into a rendition of Sweet Caroline as impassioned as any we've heard in the last five years.
All that remained was the closing act, and it was delivered by former Yankees farmhand Garrett Whitlock, a rule 5 pick whose arrival may have actually swung the balance of power between the two clubs this season. Without Whitlock, the Red Sox were either playing this game in New York or not at all.
Instead, they found themselves in the comfort of home, and the final out felt like old times. Fenway erupted. Red Sox players celebrated on the field. Fans didn't want to leave.
Dead? Irrelevant? An afterthought? Far from it. On this night, the Red Sox felt thrillingly alive, and there's more baseball yet to play.