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Kimbrel, Sale set tone for AL East champs

Flamethrowers part of year's memorable moments
MLB.com @IanMBrowne

BOSTON -- For the first time in their history, the Red Sox repeated as American League East champions in 2017. It was a season packed with many memories and stellar performances, albeit with another ouster in the AL Division Series, this time at the hands of the eventual World Series-champion Astros.

Ace Chris Sale embraced the Boston experience after being acquired from the White Sox last December and finished second in the AL Cy Young Award race.

BOSTON -- For the first time in their history, the Red Sox repeated as American League East champions in 2017. It was a season packed with many memories and stellar performances, albeit with another ouster in the AL Division Series, this time at the hands of the eventual World Series-champion Astros.

Ace Chris Sale embraced the Boston experience after being acquired from the White Sox last December and finished second in the AL Cy Young Award race.

Andrew Benintendi had a strong rookie season that might have landed him a trophy if not for the fact it was also Aaron Judge's rookie campaign.

Rafael Devers looks primed to be Boston's next hitting star.

Here is a look back at the most memorable parts of 2017:

5. Extra, extra

In a way, the tone for the 2017 season was set in the second game of the season, when the Red Sox downed the Pirates, 3-0, on a 12th-inning walk-off homer by Sandy Leon. All season, Boston would come up big in extras, posting a Major League-best 15-3 mark. With the 15 wins in extra innings, the Red Sox tied the franchise record set by the 1943 team. The 59 extra innings played by Boston was the fourth highest in team history.

The Sox went 15 innings or more on four separate occasions, topped by the thrilling, 3-2 win over Toronto on Sept. 5 that took 19 frames. Hanley Ramirez won that one with a bloop single into center, and Jackie Bradley Jr. made it possible when he cut down Jose Bautista with a throw to eliminate the potential go-ahead run in the 11th.

Video: Must C Clutch: JBJ, Hanley key win in 19 innings

4. Devers arrives, rakes

In need of an offensive spark just before the non-waiver Trade Deadline, the Red Sox decided that their best option was down on the farm, and they called up 20-year-old slugger Devers. It wound up being the perfect move. Devers gave the Red Sox a boost upon arrival. Who could forget the joy on the third baseman's face when he belted a home run at Safeco Field in his second Major League game?

One of the best moments of the season for the Red Sox came on Aug. 13, when Devers caught up with a 102.8-mph heater from Aroldis Chapman and smashed it over the left-center wall at Yankee Stadium for a game-tying homer in the ninth. The Red Sox went on to win the game, 3-2. The hits continued for Devers in the postseason. He roped a three-run homer to help the Red Sox stave off elimination in Game 3 against the Astros. And in Game 4, Devers turned Fenway Park into a madhouse with an inside-the-park homer in the ninth that brought Boston within one in a comeback that fell just short.

Video: HOU@BOS Gm4: Devers' 15.79-second inside-the-parker

3. Bradley's home run robberies

Some outfielders go their whole careers without taking a home run away from an opposing player. Remarkably, Bradley did it three times in 2017 alone. The first robbery took place on May 19 at Oakland, when Bradley skied over the wall to take a walk-off homer away from Ryon Healy in the ninth. Then, there was that Sunday night game against the Yankees on July 16, when Bradley went to the triangle area in right-center, sized up the angle perfectly and reached over the bullpen railing to take a homer away from Judge. David Price, who was pitching at the time, was in awe of what his teammate did.

"I didn't think it was going in the bullpen. I thought it was going to hit the jumbotron, to be honest," Price said.

Bradley's third and final theft came on Sept. 19 at Camden Yards, when he perfectly timed a jump to pull down a would-be home run by Chris Davis.

The artistry in the outfield by Bradley and Mookie Betts created daily excitement for Red Sox fans.

Video: Must C Catch: Bradley Jr. robs Judge of a home run

2. Game of the Year

There was one game that stood above the others for the Red Sox, and it was played on Aug. 1. That was the night Sale and Cleveland's Carlos Carrasco were supposed to engage in a pitchers' duel between two of the best in the game. But the script flipped on this one right away, and a riveting slugfest took place. The Red Sox came back from deficits of 5-0, 7-5 and 10-9 before riding a towering, three-run, walk-off homer by Christian Vazquez for the win in the ninth.

The night also included one of the best catches you will ever see, as Cleveland's Austin Jackson tumbled into the Red Sox's bullpen to take a homer away from Ramirez.

Video: Must C Conclusion: Red Sox walk off after wild pitch

1. Sale's and Kimbrel's utter dominance

The two catalysts behind the success of the 2017 Red Sox were the ace and the closer. Sale and Kimbrel were nasty, giving the Fenway faithful reason to cheer loud and cheer often.

Sale led MLB with 308 strikeouts, 40 more than Max Scherzer, who was second. It marked the second 300-strikeout season in Red Sox history, and just the 35th in MLB since 1900, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Sale made double-digit strikeout performances seem routine, doing it in 18 of his 32 starts. It was the most double-digit strikeout games in a season since Randy Johnson in 2001.

Video: The numbers behind Sale's historic 300-K season

Then there was Kimbrel, who was almost machine-like in the ninth inning. The fireballer recorded 126 strikeouts in 69 frames while posting a 1.43 ERA. Kimbrel thrilled everyone with an immaculate ninth inning (nine pitches, nine strikes, three strikeouts) on May 11 at Milwaukee. It was the third immaculate inning in Red Sox history, and a fitting display of just how untouchable Kimbrel was for much of the season.

Video: BOS@MIL: Kimbrel fans three batters on nine pitches

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Boston Red Sox, Rafael Devers, Jackie Bradley Jr., Craig Kimbrel, Chris Sale