NEW YORK -- A thrilling Red Sox season, one that is all but certain to end with the most wins in club history, reached a celebratory point at the end of a wild Thursday night at Yankee Stadium.
On the cusp of clinching the American League East when they arrived in the Bronx on Tuesday, the third attempt proved to be the charm for the team that is now division champs for a third straight year.
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"You know, a lot of people don't understand how much work goes into this," said J.D. Martinez, Boston's other MVP candidate, as champagne flowed in the clubhouse. "This is just step one and, obviously, it's one of those things that's tough to do. Winning our division isn't easy. It starts in Spring Training, and the mindset that we had right off the bat, the way Alex set it as soon as he came in and the goal here is to win, but this is obviously the first step and we're proud of it."
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Craig Kimbrel struck out Giancarlo Stanton to officially hand the division title to a team that took over sole possession of first place on July 2. With Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" playing in the background, the Sox exchanged high-fives and hugs on the mound and in front of their dugout once the game ended. There were chants of "Let's Go, Red Sox," and then "MVP" from the stands when Betts did his stand-up interview on the field.
"The chants mean you've done something well," said Betts. "I've had a great season and I'm just trying to soak it in right now."
At 104-49, the Red Sox can spend the final nine games of the regular season preparing for the AL Division Series, which will start at Fenway Park on Oct. 5. It is all but a lock the Sox will go into the postseason as the No. 1 seed, meaning they will play the winner of the Wild Card Game in the first round. The Yankees and Athletics are the heavy favorites to face off on Oct. 3 for the rights to play Boston. The magic number to clinch best record in baseball and home-field advantage throughout the postseason is two over the Astros.
"Like I've been saying all along, they don't stop playing," said Cora. "They just show up and keep playing. We've been hearing that from the opposition a lot lately. I think that's the greatest compliment I can get for our team. That makes me proud. Now we've got a shot. Our next goal is to win, well, the best record, I guess. And then we have a shot to win 11 games in October."
With their next victory, the Sox will tie the franchise record for wins, set in 1912.
"You don't win 104 by accident," said president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski. "Baseball is a tough game. It's tough to win. You have to have patience. You have your ups and your downs over the season. Winning 100 games is an accomplishment. In my career it's the first time I've ever been with a club that has won 100 games during the regular season.
"It just shows you the resiliency. There's so many good parts of the team. So many good players. We can win in a lot of different ways. We battled back today."
Boston was up, 3-0, early and then trailed, 6-4, on Stanton's grand slam in the fourth. But one thing the Red Sox have proved continually this season is that nothing deflates them.
As the Stadium shrieked with noise on the granny by Stanton, the visitors collected themselves en route to their latest comeback.
"It shows what kind of team we have," said Betts. "You have to play 27 outs. That's the most important thing when you play against us."
Jackie Bradley Jr. tied it up with a clutch homer off Chad Green to lead off what wound up a three-run top of the seventh. The next two runs came on, of all things, a flyout by Xander Bogaerts. Center fielder Aaron Hicks gathered the sacrifice fly in which pinch-runner Tzu-Wei Lin scored and fired to third to prevent Andrew Benintendi from advancing. But that plan went horribly wrong, when the throw by Hicks exploded on Miguel Andujar and bounced into the stands, allowing Benintendi to score also to make it 8-6.
Betts put the Yankees away in the eighth when he hit a towering three-run blast to left on a 1-1 slider by Albertin Chapman. It was No. 30 on the season for Betts, who improved to 4-for-8 lifetime off Chapman.
"That was huge," said Martinez. "That was a big hit. I think that was one of those that kind of put the nail in the coffin right there. It was big."
Neither starter fared well. For the Red Sox, Eduardo Rodriguez threw 100 pitches while recording just 11 outs and he walked a career-high seven. Masahiro Tanaka was pounded for eight hits and five runs in four-plus innings.
After Rodriguez loaded the bases with three two-out walks, Cora called for Richard Hembree, and Stanton smoked the righty's second pitch -- an 0-1 slider -- over the wall in right for a grand slam that might have people thinking the clinch would have to be pushed back for a third straight night.
But the Red Sox had other ideas.
And after accomplishing one of their goals, the Sox will soon turn their attention to having the success that eluded them the last two years when they were knocked out by the Astros and Indians, respectively, in the ALDS.
"I think we're in a position where they've been through it before," said Dombrowski. "I think Alex with his leadership has got them in the right set of mind. We've risen to the occasion all year long. I think we're even more well-balanced than we have been in the past. A little bit deeper from a positional player perspective. We play good defense. Run the bases well. Maybe just a little tick better and sometimes a little tick better can make the difference."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
The Wright stuff: Winning pitcher Steven Wright stabilized the game for the Red Sox with three shutout innings out of the 'pen. Wright has been marvelous since returning from the disabled list in September, throwing 10 scoreless innings in seven appearances. Boston is 7-0 in the games he's pitched over that span.
"It's been fun," said Wright, who missed most of last season after major left knee surgery and had setbacks this season as well. "It's been a long road back. I'm just trying to be as aggressive as I can and throw as many strikes as I can, so it's been fun."
The Red Sox continue to be a beast when their offense is clicking. They improved to 76-10 when scoring five runs or more and are 18-0 since Aug. 10 when they score five or more.
HE SAID IT
"It's fitting that we clinch here. As you remember that Sunday, between Games 2 and 3 [of last year's ALCS], I walked into the suite at the Palace [Hotel] with a lot of confidence. I was like, 'Well, I got a shot.' When they told me they were going to fly either to Cleveland or come here regardless of the result of the ALDS, I was like, 'You know what, they're looking at me like I'm capable.' I went into that suite, I guess I did a good job, they hired me, and it's fitting that it's here. It's a lot of work, a lot of work, and like I said, it's not only me. I think the front office, the medical staff, the coaches, media, everything that has to do with our organization, they helped us to accomplish this." -- Cora, on clinching in New York, where he interviewed for Boston's managerial post last October
Lefty ace Chris Sale (12-4, 1.92 ERA) continues his progression back from the disabled list when he opens a three-game series in Cleveland against the Indians. Sale fired three shutout innings last time out against the Mets and is expected to ramp up to four to five frames and 65 pitches in this one. The Indians counter with one of their top pitchers in righty Trevor Bauer (12-6, 2.22 ERA), who will be making his return from the disabled list in his first start since Aug. 11.