WASHINGTON – They are accustomed to being the alpha to dominate the American League East and often the rest of Major League Baseball, adding more strokes to their old rivalry on the canvas of late September and October.
However, on Sunday afternoon, the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees will take the field shortly after 3 p.m. ET, aiming not to finalize a masterpiece, but to ensure its survival.
In a stalemate with 91 wins and 70 losses, they face equal chances in Game 162 – winning and facing each other on Tuesday night at Fenway Park in an AL wild-card game, the first for a rivalry in which nearly Everything is seen.
Yet after a grueling (Yankees) and exhausting (Red Sox) Saturday afternoon when New York failed to secure a playoff berth, the clubs still have nine more innings to go, one more game to win, one more game for the chasers. The pair have to stop the demons, to drive away.
For the Yankees, it’s their new nemesis: the Tampa Bay Rays, who embarrassed them again at Yankee Stadium on Saturday, with a 12-2 win that was only for kicks — the Rays already have all that. have achieved what they possibly can.
As for the Red Sox, it’s their many inadequacies: shaky relief pitching, feast-or-famine hitting and shoddy defenses that again came to a screeching halt in a taut and at times terrifying 5-3 win over the 96-loss Washington Nationals. Came.
A Sunday that should be so simple – win and you’re in – can be an exercise fraught with risk for two clubs accustomed to setting up their postseason pitching at this time of year.
They are poor, but also hungry.
“We know tomorrow counts,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said after a 3 hour, 53 minute slog, during which he shook a pitcher throwing a perfect game and lived to see tomorrow.
The Red Sox’s win also dragged them along with the New Yorkers and put them a game ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays, who could survive another 109-loss victory over the Baltimore Orioles. A defeat in Boston or New York and a win for the Blue Jays will draw either club into a one-game playoff with the Blue Jays, who host the Yankees but travel to Fenway on Monday.
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Losses to Boston and New York could lead to a three-way tie with the Blue Jays and a two-day tiebreaking process — or a four-way stalemate with the Seattle Mariners, who needed a win on Saturday night (which they got, 6- 4) and to stay alive against the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday.
still grumpy ghost byzantine tiebreaker Spread across North America, while piqued fan interest, also served to obscure the fact that the Yankees and Red Sox are ending the season like heavyweights clinging to the ropes in the final round.
And that both clubs have bowed down to the Rays, who have ruined the division and are now peppering the Yankees with body blows just days before they face them in the AL Division Series for the second year in a row.
On Saturday, Brandon Lowe scored three home runs at Yankee Stadium as Tampa Bay won 100 games for the first time in franchise history. The Rays are now 51–24 against the AL East, including 25–7 points from July 29, when they snatched control of the division from the Red Sox.
Boston held a wild-card position each day, save for a two-day period when they were percentage points from the second wild card. but a couple of disadvantages down in baltimore Threatened the season earlier this week, limiting the 1-5 stretch, including an embarrassing Yankees sweep at Fenway Park a week ago.
It didn’t come any easier in the National Park, where the great Juan Soto is crammed with spare parts in a disintegrating lineup.
For two days, the Red Sox have planned the game away from the NL MVP candidate, and spot starter Tanner Hawke retired him twice, while giving five perfect innings in his longest outing since September 4.
Since the Hawks threw 41 pitches in Baltimore on Tuesday, Cora didn’t hesitate to retain her perfecto. Hawke said he’d love to pitch deeper — “I had it today,” he said of his A-plus stuff — but understood.
“It’s time to keep going,” he said, “and don’t be selfish.”
Ryan Brazier understood, too.
For the first time in his life, he pitched for the fourth day in a row, asking to maintain a 1–0 lead in the seventh. A pair of two-out infield singles – the second originally made an error when Brasier covered the first toss – and a walk put him in a base-loaded position.
Jordi Mercer waited, Brazier exhausted but determined to take the ball.
“Someone asked if I needed a day (off),” said Brazier. “I said, ‘I had five months’ days.’ I’m ready to take the ball when I’m ready.”
Brasier, a member of the Red Sox’s 2018 World Series champion bullpen, did not pitch until September 3 this year. He suffered a serious calf injury in spring training, and then was hit by a line drive during a June mock game as he neared a comeback. This came after an off-season, during which his father passed away.
He was selected briefly to the minor leagues this month for roster flexibility, but was also selected to give him a little more kick in the butt.
Message received. Brazier dotted the strike zone with a four-seam fastball to take out Mercer – who was dismissed arguing the call – and the threat was erased.
For the second night in a row, Brazier chested himself after an innings-end punchout, a gesture more of a self-actualization than your standard athletic glee.
“It’s been a tough year, man. It just kind of turned out,” he said.
Boston would survive another scare when he could no longer duck Soto, who came in with the bases loaded in the eighth at the plate. Lefty Austin Davis was called and Soto drilled a pitch to the warning track in the center. The sell crowd of 41,465 roared, a lingering combo of anticipation and fear in the bipartisan crowd.
Soto missed a dagger Grand Slam by a foot or two, settling for a game-binding sacrificial fly. Perhaps, hearts sank even more in Seattle and Toronto.
“It was scary,” said Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez. “And thank God it stayed in the ballpark.”
Vazquez would soon be the hero, beginning a four-run, two-out rally with an RBI triple in the ninth. Kike Hernandez’s two-run homer went big when Washington’s Andrew Stevenson hit one of his runs in the bottom half.
But the Red Sox persisted. He will hand the ball to Chris Sell, his former ace now close to full bore, after his return from Tommy John surgery. By I-95, the Yankees will be hoping the Jameson Tailon can tame the dominant Razz club in a relaxed and unaffected still.
It’s not about Quora. Tired of course, he can put his team’s flaws against the opportunity that still awaits.
Another game – just to guarantee one more after that.
“Obviously it wasn’t a good week,” Cora said. “But we’re in this position now. We have the right guy. We just have to show up and win, get on that plane and go home to our families and be prepared for whatever happens next week.”
Follow Gabe Lacks on Twitter @GabLacques.