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Oct 11, 2021; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; The Boston Red Sox celebrate their win over the Tampa Bay Rays in game four of the 2021 ALDS at Fenway Park. The Boston Red Sox won 6-5. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Unlike the last Red Sox team to reach the American League Championship Series, these Red Sox are, in a word, imperfect. They still make bad decisions. Their defense is suspect. Those flaws, among others, prevent them from being part of the discussion as one of the great Red Sox teams of this millennium or, for that matter, any other.

But they are rapidly becoming among the most likable.

And so here we are again, Boston, playing for what amounts to another conference championship, having reached the semifinals for the 30th time since we rolled over the odometer back in Y2K. Truthfully, we had to wonder whether if there was any tread left on those tires. And make no mistake, this trip was among the most improbable, the Red Sox continuing to defy logic in an analytics-driven game with assets and attributes that are, well, immeasurable.

If the 1967 Red Sox were the Impossible Dream, these 2021 Sox are the Imperfect Team.

“We always said we had a good baseball team that had some holes – and we still have some holes,” manager Alex Cora said last night after a second consecutive walk-off victory, this one a 6-5 decision over the Tampa Bay Rays that allowed the Sox close out the AL Division Series in four games. “But at the end, for how bad it looked sometimes, we’re still here. We’re still in the dance. We’re still in the tournament and we’re moving on to the ALCS.”

Last night, as usual, the key moments and contributors were hard to overlook.

  • “Fundamental baseball” – good and bad

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – OCTOBER 11: Christian Arroyo #39 of the Boston Red Sox bunts in the ninth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays during Game 4 of the American League Division Series at Fenway Park on October 11, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    Admit it: sometimes, you want to just strangle them. The Sox led 5-4 in the eighth last night when Randy Arozarena singled home Kevin Kiermaier to tie the score, then advanced to second when right fielder Hunter Renfroe selfishly tried to show off his arm with a parabolic throw to the plate. Arozarena advanced to second as the potential winning run in an elimination game.

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – OCTOBER 11: Hunter Renfroe #10 of the Boston Red Sox throws to third in the eighth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays during Game 4 of the American League Division Series at Fenway Park on October 11, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    An inning later, the Sox went back to basics – “Old school,” as Cora called it – with a single through the hole between shortstop and third base, a textbook sacrifice bunt (by Christian Arroyo) and, ultimately, a sacrifice fly to win the game. Earlier in the night, they scored four runs when both Rafael Devers (a three-run homer) and Alex Verdugo (double) delivered extra-base hits against left-handed pitching.

    During the regular season, Devers hit just six of his team-leading 38 home runs against lefties; Verdugo, meanwhile, hit .228 against lefties with a paltry .228 average and .554 OPS.

  • Garrett Whitlock

    Oct 10, 2021; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Garrett Whitlock (72) pitches against the Tampa Bay Rays during the eighth inning in game three of the 2021 ALDS at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    Thanks to Renfroe, Whitlock entered a 5-5 game with the potential winning run on second with nobody out – and the heart of the Tampa order due up: Wander Franco, Brandon Lowe, Nelson Cruz. After a Franco flyout, with the tying run still in scoring position – Renfroe made another overaggressive throw on the play – Whitlock got Lowe and Cruz on a dribbler back to the mound and weak groundout, then set the side order down in the ninth on seven pitches. The bottom line: Six up, six down, 15 pitches, 11 strikes.

    “At the beginning of the year, people still called him the secret weapon,” said Red Sox center fielder Kike Hernandez. “It’s no secret anymore. Garrett Whitlock is legit.”

  • Enrique Hernandez

    When the Sox signed him from the Dodgers, he felt like a super-utility guy who could only play against left-handers. But now he’s a catalyst. If there were such a thing as ALDS MVP, Hernandez would be it. His career OPS in the postseason (.849) is about 100 points higher than his career number in the regular season (.748), and that should tell you something. Smart and scrappy with more than a little swag.

    Oct 11, 2021; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Red Sox center fielder Enrique Hernandez (5) reacts after hitting a walk-off sacrifice fly against the Tampa Bay Rays to score pinch runner Danny Santana (not pictured) during the ninth inning during game four of the 2021 ALDS at Fenway Park. The Boston Red Sox won 6-5. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    “Offensively, I think, obviously, he’s never played every day in his career. He’s always been kind of like a platoon-utility guy,” Cora said. “What he’s doing right now, it’s fun to watch.”

  • Chaim Bloom

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – OCTOBER 11: Chief Baseball Officer for the Boston Red Sox Chaim Bloom celebrates their 6 to 5 win over the Tampa Bay Rays during Game 4 of the American League Division Series at Fenway Park on October 11, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Winslow Townson/Getty Images)

    The Red Sox’ chief baseball officer was on the field greeting his uniformed personnel after the game – and it’s time to give him his due. As the front man for ownership and the front office, Bloom took a lot of heat at the deadline. But results are results – and the Sox are now in the ALCS. Whitlock has been one of the great finds in recent Red Sox history and Kyle Schwarber was one of the best hitters in baseball over the final quarter of the season, posting a .453 on-base percentage that was third-best in the game behind only Juan Soto and Bryce Harper.

    Oh, and it turns out that Hansel Robles gave the Red Sox more than anyone thought.

  • Alex Cora

    Oct 11, 2021; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora (13) celebrates after their win over the Tampa Bay Rays in game four of the 2021 ALDS at Fenway Park. The Boston Red Sox won 6-5. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    Who better for the imperfect team than the imperfect manager? Banned from baseball for a year in the wake of the Astros cheating scandal, Cora is actually perfect for Boston. He takes his baseball seriously and he can hack the micro-scrutiny that can come with the market. He’s simply not afraid. Does he do everything right? Of course not. But who does? His players play for him and the organization regained credibility the moment he walked back through the door.

    In the end, after all, the 2021 Red Sox are about one thing more than anything else.

    Second chances.

    You can hear Tony Massarotti weekdays from 2-6 p.m. EST on the Felger & Massarotti program. Follow him on Twitter @TonyMassarotti.