And so, for a night at least, Fenway Park turned into a steaming cauldron, where baseball boiled and the Red Sox stirred. The New York Yankees wanted this, remember. They thundered in. And they were pretty much cooked from the very start.
What this means in both the short and the long is very unclear, because there is still no telling what the Red Sox will do on a nightly basis, whether they have the talent or the depth. When they are good, the 2021 Sox can be very good. And when they are bad … well … they can be very, very bad.
But for a night, if nothing more, baseball and the Red Sox staged an October revival, and it was a reminder for all of us of what good baseball can still be and what Fenway Park can feel like in October.
“Unbelievable,” said Red Sox newcomer Kyle Schwarber, who won a world championship with the Chicago Cubs in 2016. “National Anthem, flag drops on the wall, military members out there. After that, getting your name announced before that, too, just how crazy. And the [Xander] Bogaerts homer in the first inning, I mean, talk about a pop, and you know, the crowd went nuts, and you feed off that energy. You thrive for that, and Red Sox nation brought it tonight. We needed it, and you can’t say enough about the crowd tonight.”
The game? Relatively speaking, it was a textbook victory, which hardly means it was perfect. Starter Nathan Eovaldi was brilliant. The Sox hit two homers in the first three innings – previous World Series winners Xander Bogaerts and Schwarber dealt the blows – and teetered only briefly. The Yankees ran into a horrific out at home plate in the sixth to squelch what was really their only rally. The Red Sox bullpen allowed only one run in 3-2/3 innings – a meaningless home run in the ninth – and did not walk a single batter.
All in all, Red Sox pitchers threw just 113 pitches and piled up 85 strikes. They led throughout. There was little, if any, self-doubt.
“Crowd was unbelievable,” said Eovaldi. “Walking out on to the field just to warm up, they were getting going and they were fired up. We had the introductions and we had all the little videos and everything on the scoreboard. They were locked in from the first pitch. … The crowd, the energy, we were feeding off it – it was definitely there.”
Whether it can stay, of course, is a much bigger question for the Red Sox and for baseball both, though that is probably a discussion for another day. The Red Sox, after all, still have baseball to play. Boston now advances to the American League Division Series against the top-seeded Tampa Bay Rays, who led the AL with 100 victories this season and won 11-of-19 overall against Boston. The Red Sox won the first four meetings of the year. Tampa won 11 of the last 15.
Weeks ago, when it became clear the Red Sox’ only path to the playoffs was through the Wild Card, manager Alex Cora spoke of the importance of being at Fenway, of playing at home. Then the Yankees came into Boston almost two weeks ago and beat the Red Sox all about fabled Fenway. New York fans seemingly came to Boston in wholesale quantities. As Major League Baseball sorted through playoff possibilities, Alex Speier of the Boston Globe reported that, in one scenario, the Yankees chose playing in Boston over playing in Toronto, which spoke volumes, whether the Red Sox want to admit it or not.
“They wanted us, and they got us now,” Red Sox fireplug Enrique Hernandez, another former World Series winner, said before last night’s game. “So win or go home. That’s it.”
Actually, for the Red Sox, it was more like go home and win.
And at Fenway Park, in October, that is something that had not happened in what felt like a long, long time.