BOSTON -- Agonizing. Crushing. Deflating.
Those are all ways the Red Sox might have been tempted to feel after they were swept by the Yankees at home in a pivotal rivalry weekend.
“We got swept by the Yankees and we’re in the second Wild Card,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. “We played some competitive games, but we didn’t get the job done, so it’s very simple. It’s not what we wanted coming into this series, we wanted to win the series and keep that first Wild Card, but it didn't happen. But we’re still in a position to make the playoffs. So that’s not the worst-case scenario.”
And clearly, the standings will keep the Red Sox on their toes. Not only are they one game behind the Yankees, but they are a mere one game ahead of the Blue Jays and two in front of the Mariners, setting up a wild final week of the season.
The Red Sox will try to take advantage of a favorable schedule. After a day off on Monday, they play three games in Baltimore against the 50-106 Orioles. Meanwhile, the Yankees and Blue Jays face off in Toronto those same three days, giving the Red Sox a chance to gain on someone three straight days.
Boston finishes the season in Washington against the 64-92 Nats. The Yankees will host the AL East-champion Rays in their final three games.
“For how big this weekend was, I think Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, they're probably bigger, because we know that somebody is going to lose in the next three games and you can gain ground,” said Cora. “So you've just got to make sure you're locked in Tuesday and start playing good baseball. It's not that we played bad baseball over the weekend. We just got beat.”
There’s no question Boston got beat in painful fashion.
On Saturday, the Sox had a lead with four outs to go and lost, giving up a game-breaking grand slam by Giancarlo Stanton that might not have landed yet.
On Sunday night, Boston seemed poised to bounce back, holding the lead with five outs to go after a two-run rally in the bottom of the seventh.
But then came a series of unfortunate events in the top of the eighth, when the Red Sox got a case of the sloppies at the worst possible time.
With a runner on first, and Adam Ottavino on the mound, Aaron Judge nearly made the second out of the inning twice. First, Judge hit a routine popup in foul territory that first baseman Bobby Dalbec alligator-armed and couldn't make a play on.
“I haven’t talked to him,” Cora said of Dalbec. “From my angle, I was in the corner, I saw the ball getting closer to the railing and that’s all I saw. I heard the reaction of everybody but I’ll check with him. Where I was, I wasn’t able to see it.”
Give credit to Ottavino for this: He hung tough against Judge after the missed pop and appeared to strike out the star slugger on a 1-2 pitch. However, Judge foul tipped it and the ball squirted out of Christian Vázquez’s mitt.
Vázquez thought it was a strikeout. Home-plate umpire Joe West thought otherwise.
“I dropped it on the transfer,” said Vázquez. “That’s the first time that happened to me. I didn’t know how to react. It was in the top of the glove and I was looking at the ball in the middle of the glove so I dropped it finding the ball.”
Unfortunately for the Red Sox, that play was not reviewable.
“In the moment I thought it was a strikeout, but then I saw the ball come out, so I just thought, ‘OK, we didn’t hang onto it, so it must be a foul ball.’ ... So in the moment I was like, alright it’s a foul ball, I have to make another pitch. That’s it,” said Ottavino.
Judge wasn’t going to let a third opportunity go by, as he mashed a go-ahead, two-run double to center.
Stanton, who tormented the Red Sox all weekend, did some more tormenting with an insurance, two-run rocket that soared over the Monster, sending groans throughout the Red Sox crowd at Fenway.
“Ultimately, even though it was a disappointing weekend for us, we still have it in our hands moving forward,” said Ottavino. “If the season ended today, we’d be in. So all we have to do is take care of our job against Baltimore and Washington and see where that leaves us. Can’t get too discouraged off it, in the big picture, as much as it hurt tonight. Just try to move forward.”