Tomase: Improbable Red Sox far from done with this season originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The pitcher who couldn't get anyone out in Game 1 dominated. The third baseman playing with one arm homered. The closer the Yankees didn't bother to protect in the Rule 5 draft slammed the door when it mattered most.
Welcome to the 2021 Red Sox, who have defied expectations all season (even the positive ones). Declare this team a World Series contender, and watch it teeter. Write it off, and watch it soar.
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Install them as 2-to-1 underdogs vs. the 100-win Rays, and you know how this story ends -- with the Red Sox punching their ticket to the American League Championship Series in signature dramatic fashion.
What a game and what a series. The Red Sox opened a 5-0 lead, watched Tampa come all the way back, and then won it on a sacrifice fly by de facto series MVP Kiké Hernández in the ninth. They're now on to either Houston or Chicago for a shot at their fifth World Series title since 2004. This would easily be the most improbable.
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The game ended with Red Sox players streaming onto the field flinging popcorn, a shot at the fact that the Rays were munching it in the dugout during a Game 1 victory that had them feeling good about their odds of repeating as American League champions.
Instead, they didn't win another game, the Red Sox blowing them out in Game 2, walking them off deliriously in Game 3, and repeating that trick on Monday night. As their families joined them on the field and Sox players waved, the crowd serenaded them with a raucous rendition of DJ Khaled's, "All I Do is Win."
The crowd had earned the right to join in the celebration, because outside of an idiot throwing something at the Rays dugout in the late innings, the fans continued with one of the stories of the postseason by rocking the old yard and restoring the massive home-field advantage of the early 2000s that helped make the Red Sox champions.
The Red Sox of April and May found a way, and they're rediscovering that mojo as the slightest hint of crisp autumn air probes the edges of New England. The fact that basically no one saw this coming makes it all the more rewarding.
Heroes once again abounded. Left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez, who was so terrible while recording only five outs in Game 1, took a shutout into the fifth. Hunter Renfroe helped his cause by making an astounding catch on Randy Arozarena's leadoff drive to the gap in right, but the early innings were all about E-Rod, who could've been making his final start in a Red Sox uniform.
Instead, he's on to the ALCS with everyone else. For that, he can certainly thank third baseman Rafael Devers. The burgeoning superstar looked lost early in the series because of an injury to his right hand or forearm, consistently dropping the bat in pain on big swings.
The Boston Globe reported that the issue only affected Devers when he swung and missed, so he decided not to miss in the third inning, driving a Shane McClanahan offering into the center field bleachers to give the Red Sox a 3-0 lead. The Sox tacked on two more and they needed them, because Tampa did not surrender.
Rays phenom Wander Franco drilled a two-run homer in the sixth and then a two-run rally in the eighth tied the game. That merely set the stage for Hernández's heroics, and his flyball to straightaway left field was more than deep enough to score pinch runner Danny Santana, who had entered for Christian Vazquez as manager Alex Cora's last perfect move.
He hadn't even reached home plate when the Red Sox dugout emptied, the popcorn flew, and the ballpark erupted. There's been a lot of that over the last week, and now we can look forward to at least two more games in Fenway.
It turns out that not only is this season not over, but for all we know, it's just getting started.