Boston Red Sox

By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com

If Heath Hembree successfully walks the tightrope out of the seventh inning and allows starter David Price to hang on to what is absolutely the most important victory of his Boston Red Sox career, Sunday’s win over the Yankees is just the cherry on top of a New York beatdown that’d make Tanyon Sturtze look like somebody that actually won a fight on comparison alone.

It woulda meant a whole lot to those that sweat their life away in some century-old seats for a four-hour, Sunday Night Baseball game, sure, but in the grand scheme of things, it would have been just another dub in a season full of ’em, especially at Fenway.

Instead, Hembree committed the unthinkable and allowed a pair of inherited runners to score, the sure-handed Xander Bogaerts committed his first error of the season, and the Red Sox found themselves on the wrong end of a four-run inning.

It forced the Red Sox to try and regain their form against a vaunted Yankee bullpen with just nine outs to spare. And it was within that stretch that we all learned even more about this undeniably and historically good 2018 Red Sox squad.

When we’ve criticized the Red Sox this season, it’s often come back to one point: They don’t beat good teams. Blaming them for that isn’t exactly fair, as the tank-a-palooza that’s dominated the NHL and NBA has officially made its way to the MLB.

Still, the Sox’ biggest series victory of the season prior to this sweep wasn’t a series victory at all, actually, but rather a four-game split with the Astros in June. This remained the theme following a two-game split with the Phillies last week, and headlined the first night of this four-game series with the Yankees, especially after Brian Johnson handed New York an early 4-0 lead on Thursday. The Red Sox rebounded to win that game, and then the next two — and fittingly, it was only another poor Price start that would have found a way to essentially nullify an otherwise dominant four-game series against the Bombers.

But the Price that surrendered six homers in four innings of work against the Yankees this season left his hangers in the Bronx, and instead brought one of this gutsiest performances to the Boston bump this year. It was not an easy night for Price, who frequently found himself in unfavorable counts, and had to work his way out of a first inning, bases loaded jam. His pace was that of an October game, sure, but it was efficient enough to get six strong, scoreless innings out of work out of No. 24.

With that, the Red Sox learned that they can trust their $31 million man against the Yankees — or against any team, really — in a pressure-packed situation of postseason play. And not out of the bullpen like last year’s first-round against the Astros.

It served as yet another piece of evidence that confirms that whatever Price is doing to himself this season in the court of public opinion, while unconventional and borderline self-destructive to some, is working. And the Red Sox likely learned their limit with the 32-year-old lefty in the process, too. Essentially, if the Red Sox are going to get a strong start out of Price this season, it’s likely going to come with that pace and pitch count, which likely caps him out at six innings.

That, of course, brings you to the wild card known as the two innings before closer Craig Kimbrel enters.

And I sound like a crazy person when I say this, I’m well aware, but Hembree allowing inherited runners to score for the first time since April? Perfect. Perfect, perfect, perfect. Hembree is part of what has largely been considered a fool’s gold bullpen that’s survived a year-long high-wire act. But there’s something to be said for these struggles coming now, when the Red Sox have this kind of lead in their division, and with the stakes being a hundredth of what they’ll be two months from now.

By now, it’s obvious Red Sox president of baseball ops Dave Dombrowski’s faith in this bullpen — from Hembree to Ryan Brasier to Tyler Thornburg, and even Joe Kelly — will either make him a genius or a gigantic dummy that costs ’em a title. To this point, he’s looked like a genius, and some more strong work from Brasier and Thornburg with the game on the line helped.

In the worst case scenario that signals Hembree as the first domino to fall in a bullpen-wide collapse, however, the Red Sox still have time to scour the waiver wire in search of help. It won’t exactly be easy given Boston’s status as the best team in baseball, of course, but it just may work; Houston made a season-altering waiver trade last year for Justin Verlander, and the Red Sox ditched a billion dollars when they conned the Dodgers into taking Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, and Carl Crawford in 2012.

It can be done, and if it truly gets bad enough, Dombrowski should be able to find a way to make it work before it’s too late.

But what you liked most about this bullpen collapse was actually the mettle the Red Sox offense showed in their comeback.

Down to their last three outs against a closer that throws absolute fire and had converted 22-straight save opportunities, the Red Sox took a patient approach to an Aroldis Chapman that had already sweat off about 13 pounds before by the end of his batter faced. (This took something else, too. I mean, just look at Andrew Benintendi holding up on what could have very well been strike three on a 2-2 count given the inconsistent-at-best strikezone that almost got Sandy Leon tossed.)

As Chapman struggled to find a highly generous zone, it just didn’t feel as if the Red Sox thought the moment was too big. And to be honest, when you’re down three runs against a closer of Chapman’s caliber, that moment should be too big.

It instead felt as if the Sox were simply biding their time and waiting Chapman out. Even needing a miracle of sorts, the Red Sox were still finding a way to put pressure on the opposition. This is something that only a truly great team can do, and it turned what should have been a game-ending groundout turning into an error, and paved the way for a 10-inning victory.

And it was here that we learned something else about this team: They can pick one another up. The team that’s blown the doors off the opposition at will this season (over 30 percent of their victories have been of the blowout variety) can win a close game. They can win when down — and down late, for that matter — and they now have a taste of pressure that awaits their October.

In other words, Sunday was anything but just another win.

Ty Anderson is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com, and he is not related to Andrew Benintendi. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Ty? Yell at him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.