BOSTON -- The Red Sox are now holding the hammer in this American League Division Series against the Rays.
And all it took for them to get there was a five-hour, 14-minute classic on Sunday that included wild swings of momentum, a quirky, game-saving ground-rule double you might never see again, a gritty relief pitching performance from Nick Pivetta and an unlikely walk-off home run hero.
It was Christian Vázquez who ended the madness when he unloaded for a two-run rocket that landed in the first row of the Monster Seats with one out in the 13th inning against Luis Patiño.
The final at Fenway Park in Game 3 was Red Sox 6, Rays 4. It is a game nobody will forget anytime soon.
In particular, Vázquez won’t forget picking the perfect time to hit his first home run in 85 plate appearances dating back to Sept. 1.
Vázquez was sitting fastball, and he jumped on Patiño’s 96.1 mph first pitch and ripped it out of the yard, setting off delirium at Fenway.
“I saw the first two at-bats of J.D. [Martinez] and [Hunter] Renfroe, and he was starting with fastball. It was 97, 98. I was looking to hit that velo in front and get a good swing,” said Vázquez, who started the game on the bench and entered as a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the sixth inning.
Seven innings later, Vázquez came through when his team needed him most.
“Christian, he works so hard on his craft,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. “He cares so much about this organization that for him to be in that spot and put a good swing and hit the ball out of the ballpark, I know it means a lot to him. It means a lot to us. It was a big swing, but we're up 2-1. We've still got work to do.”
After pulling off the 13th walk-off postseason win in team history, the Sox can punch a ticket to the AL Championship Series with a win on a big Monday for Boston sports, as the first Marathon since 2019 will take place during the day followed by Game 4 at night.
In postseason history, the Game 3 winner in any best-of-five series that was tied 1-1 has gone on to win the series 39 of 54 times (72 percent).
The Red Sox would rather not chance it in a winner-take-all Game 5 at Tropicana Field. And thanks to this grind-it-out special, they might not have to.
It looked like the Rays were about to take the lead in the top of the 13th when, with two outs and Yandy Díaz on first, Kevin Kiermaier ripped one to deep right-center. The drive hit the wall on the fly, then deflected off of right fielder Renfroe and into the bullpen. It was ruled a ground-rule double, so Díaz was held at third.
That type of ground-rule double is about the rarest you can possibly see. However, the rule book was very clear on the play, the umpires correctly called it as such and the Red Sox certainly were thankful for that.
Aside from Renfroe, nobody was closer to the play than center fielder Kiké Hernández, but even he had no idea how it would turn out for his team.
“When that happened, I was speechless because I don't know if you guys have seen that before,” said Hernández, who is having a monster series. “I've never seen that before in my life. I wasn't sure what was going to get called. I wasn't sure if the runners had to return. I wasn't sure if it was going to be like an errant throw where the runner would get two bags. I had no idea. Luckily, it went our way. And you call it home-field advantage if you want, but we won.”
If anyone deserved some fortune, perhaps it was Pivetta. Pitching on two days of rest after throwing 73 pitches in a 5-0 loss in Game 1, Pivetta came back for another 67 in Game 3. He tossed four shutout innings, allowing three hits and a walk while striking out seven.
If you didn’t notice, Pivetta was fired up, and completely caught up in the moment.
“I just gave it my all, to be honest with you. I just competed with the strike zone, competed with those guys, and my energy just shows what this means to me and means to our team,” said Pivetta. “It's really exciting. It's fun to be here. It's a moment in time for me and for our team.”
There was a time when it looked like it might wind up as a gut-wrenching loss. Entrusted with a 4-2 lead in the eighth, Hansel Robles gave up a solo homer to the fearless Wander Franco and a game-tying RBI double to October specialist Randy Arozarena. It was a tough way for Robles to see his streak of 17 consecutive outings without allowing a run come to an end.
But the Red Sox, who have shown their resilience many times over the last few weeks, did it again when it mattered most.
Before those 12 huge outs from Pivetta, stud Rule 5 Draft pick and rookie Garrett Whitlock got Robles out of the eighth and mowed through the Rays in the ninth.
Finally, in the 13th inning, the big hit was delivered by Vázquez and it put the Rays -- a 100-win team during the regular season compared to 92 for Boston -- on the brink of elimination.
“I have the confidence at about 10,000 percent that this team is going to come back and bounce back like we normally do,” said Díaz.
The Red Sox will go for the knockout so they don’t have to board that plane back to Florida.
“It puts us in a really good situation, but it's not over,” said Kyle Schwarber, who led off the first inning with a homer. “Yeah, it’s a great win. It's not over. We need to go out there tomorrow and take care of business.”