The Red Sox went for the kill Tuesday night. Ahead 4–1 headed to the bottom of the eighth inning, Alex Cora sent ace Chris Sale to the mound in relief. This should of course not screw with Sale’s availability in the ALCS, but it is for sure not a decision that was taken lightly.
Those were the conditions after the seventh inning—a three-run lead, outs needed to get to Kimbrel, and an opportunity to step on the Yankees’ collective throat. And it worked. Sale retired the side in order, punctuating his relief appearance by mowing down Aaron Hicks for the third out:
This was all set up for Craig Kimbrel to come on and do the dumb arm thing and close out a Yankees team that had mustered just four baserunners all night heading into the ninth. But Kimbrel was a mess—he heavily favored the breaking ball, but only really threw one good one, a first-pitch knee-buckler to Giancarlo Stanton, after he’d already walked Aaron Judge and allowed a single to Didi Gregorius. He otherwise struggled to locate it, and struggled to get non-Stanton Yankees hitters to pay it any attention. Kimbrel followed his strikeout of Stanton by walking Luke Voit on four pitches to load the bases, and after an animated Red Sox mound huddle, he hit Neil Walker with the first pitch of the at-bat—on another breaking ball—to bring in a run.
This was so close to going the other way. Kimbrel’s last two outs were very, very lucky. Seven pitches after plunking in a run, Kimbrel came within a stiff breeze out to left field of getting walked off, when Gary Sánchez blasted a 3-2 fastball to the wall in left for a sacrifice fly. Even the final out required some defensive heroics from Eduardo Núñez and Steve Pearce on a slow chopper from Gleyber Torres:
But it doesn’t have to be pretty to be final. Boston’s pitching dominated the last two games of this series, and Yankees starters Luis Severino and CC Sabathia gave up a combined nine earned runs over a combined six innings pitched, and that was that. Boston moves on to the ALCS and the Houston Astros, while the Yankees can look forward to scoring Bryce Harper in free agency and ruining my enthusiasm for baseball for the next decade.