BOSTON — Kike Hernandez delivered Boston’s second straight walk-off win, scoring pinch-runner Danny Santana with a sacrifice fly in the ninth inning to send the Red Sox to the AL Championship Series with a 6-5 win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday night.
After winning Game 3 of their best-of-five AL Division Series on Sunday with Christian Vazquez’s two-run homer in the 13th, Boston took Game 4 for its first set of back-to-back walk-off postseason wins since 2004 ALCS Games 4 and 5, both courtesy of David Ortiz against the Yankees.
Rafael Devers had a three-run home run off rookie Shane McClanahan to ignite a five-run third inning that put Boston in front 5-0. Tampa Bay battled back and tied it in the eighth.
The wild-card Red Sox will await the winner of the other ALDS matchup between the Houston Astros and Chicago White Sox. Houston leads 2-1 going into Game 4 in Chicago on Tuesday, a makeup of Monday’s rainout.
“Since day one, you guys believed in this group,” manager Alex Cora told his players before setting off a bubbly clubhouse celebration.
He said their belief is what got them to this point.
“We always said we had a good baseball team that had some holes, and we still have some holes, but at the end, for how bad it looked sometimes, we’re still here. We’re still in the dance,” Cora said.
Boston improved to 15-3 in potential clinching postseason games and have won each of their last eight. It brings an abrupt end to the season for the Rays, who’d been eyeing back-to-back trips to the World Series after winning 100 games during the regular season and rolling to the AL East title.
“There’s no doubt there’s disappointment,” Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said. “We had high aspirations to get deep into this thing. We ran into a Red Sox team that they just beat us — no other way around it. They got the big hits.”
The Red Sox are the second team to clinch a postseason series with consecutive walk-off wins. The other was the Minnesota Twins in the 1991 World Series, according to STATS.
Vazquez led off the ninth with a single through the hole to left field and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Christian Arroyo. Travis Shaw then hit a bouncing ground ball to third that went for an infield single when Yandy Díaz bounced his difficult throw to first baseman Ji-Man Choi. Vazquez got to third and Santana entered to run for him.
“Old school baseball right there,” Cora said. “Fundamental baseball, and we won the ALDS playing good fundamental baseball.”
Hernandez, who was 9 for 20 in the series, scored Santana with a fly ball to left.
“All I got to do is bring in the run from third,” Hernandez said. “And having Danny at third instead of Vazqy eased my mind a little bit.”
Rays postseason star Randy Arozarena ripped a tying single with no outs in the eighth inning of Ryan Brasier and advanced to second on the throw. Garrett Whitlock relieved and got through the eighth without further damage, then pitched a scoreless ninth for the victory.
“Once AC said you’ve got to keep going, that’s all I was focused on,” Whitlock said.
Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez allowed two runs and three hits with six strikeouts over five innings, plus one batter. It was redemption after he lasted just 1 2/3 innings and gave up two runs in Boston’s 5-1 loss in Game 1.
Devers finished with three hits. Wander Franco had a two-run homer for the Rays.
With the game knotted at 5 in the eighth, Alex Verdugo grounded to shortstop Franco, who threw the ball wildly in the Red Sox dugout, allowing Verdugo to advance to second. With one out, Hunter Renfroe flied to center and Verdugo tried to tag, but he was thrown out at third by Kevin Kiermaier.
The Red Sox led 5-0 after three innings but Tampa pulled within 5-3 on Austin Meadows’ RBI single in the fifth and Franco’s two-run homer in the sixth off Tanner Houck.
Boston’s Josh Taylor pitched a scoreless seventh and handed it off to Braiser.
But Braiser promptly gave up back-to-back doubles to Mike Zunino and Kiermaier that made it 5-4. That was followed by a single by Arozarena to tie it up.
Braiser exited in favor of Whitlock. He was able to work out of the jam, getting Franco to fly out, followed by groundouts by Brandon Lowe and Nelson Cruz.
After being solid on the mound throughout 2021 and in a Game 1 win, Tampa Bay’s pitching struggled over the last three games, with the Red Sox outscoring the Rays 26-15.
Right-hander Collin McHugh served as the opener Monday and pitched two scoreless innings, allowing one hit before handing the ball off to Game 1 starter Shane McClanahan.
The rookie was pitching on three days’ rest and coming off a strong performance in the series opener in which he picked up the victory after pitching five scoreless innings.
Boston had his number this time around.
McClanahan quickly gave up a single to Vazquez and walked Kyle Schwarber. He seemed on his way to getting out of trouble after he got Hernández to fly out for the second out of the inning.
But Devers jumped all over a first-pitch fastball and launched a line drive into the first row of the center field bleachers for a home run.
Xander Bogaerts came up next and singled. That was followed by Verdugo’s double off the Green Monster that scored Bogaerts. J.D. Martinez kept it going with a single off the Monster that brought Verdugo in to make it 5-0.
“Down 5-0 nothing in the third inning, that was pretty devastating,” Cash said. “We claw back in it and we came up short tonight”
McClanahan was pulled after that in favor of J.T. Chargois.
Following a double by Renfroe, Chargois finally got the Rays got out of the inning, striking out Vazquez.
McClanahan’s line for the night: five hits, five runs, a walk and home run.
Story by Kyle Hightower, AP Sports Writer