Tomase: Old-school baseball will serve the Red Sox well in the ALCS originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
Five months ago, before the extended run of survival mode, and well before they shocked us by knocking the 100-win Rays out of the playoffs, the Red Sox were described thusly:
U.S. & World
That compliment was directed specifically at their offense. The Red Sox put bat to ball, they didn't swing for the fences, and they valued contact over power. Some of us even wondered if they might herald a revolution in a launch-angle obsessed world.
It didn't really turn out that way. Soon enough, the Red Sox started striking out as much as anyone else, and their all-fields approach came and went in spurts.
But when they needed it most, in the ninth inning of Monday's clinching Game 4 vs. the Rays in the American League Division Series, the Red Sox went small and it paid off in a big way.
Tied 5-5 in the bottom of the ninth, they watched Christian Vazquez line a single to left beyond the dive of Rays third baseman Yandy Diaz, get bunted to second by Christian Arroyo, take third on Travis Shaw's defensive two-strike swing and grounder that led to an error, and be replaced for pinch runner Danny Santana, who scored on Kiké Hernández's walk-off sacrifice fly that sent 38,000 fans into delirium.
"This is how baseball is supposed to be," said first baseman Kyle Schwarber. "This is classic baseball, where you get the leadoff guy on, bunt him over, there's a little error -- it's like typical playoffs -- a little error and then you take advantage and the game is over. And Kiké, having an unbelievable postseason. Just making sure he was hotter than a piston and he kept it going when it mattered the most."
The classic baseball part of the equation could serve the Red Sox well in the American League Championship Series vs. the heavily favored Astros when it opens on Friday in Houston. The AL West champs own perhaps the most potent offense in the American League now that All-Star third baseman Alex Bregman is back in the lineup, and the Red Sox aren't likely to outslug them.
What they can do is take what Houston's pitching staff gives them, just as they did against the Rays. Tampa shifted aggressively, and guys like Xander Bogaerts, Christian Vazquez, and J.D. Martinez didn't hesitate to line the ball the other way. The left-handed Alex Verdugo seems to be rediscovering his opposite-field approach as well, while Rafael Devers consistently hit the ball up the middle, be it lining singles over second or drilling homers into the bleachers.
Monday's ninth inning perfectly illustrated the Red Sox doing merely what it took to win rather than overwhelm.
"A lot of people were talking about the bunt, giving outs away, but we didn't need to score four runs in the ninth," said manager Alex Cora. "We only needed to score one. Christian did a good job getting on base. Christian did a good job putting the bunt down. Travis did a good job putting the ball in play. It's something we always talk about.
"Then Kiké put the ball in the air. Old school baseball right there. Fundamental baseball, and we won the ALDS playing good fundamental baseball."
They'll need more of that when they face the Astros, who took five of seven from the Red Sox this season and outscored them 42-25. Of course, the Rays won the season series, too, and that didn't matter at all once postseason advancement was on the line.
The Red Sox made Tampa's sluggers one-dimensional, while their own knocked the ball around the park more frequently than they left it.
"This is the kind of baseball and atmosphere I've dreamt about as a kid and always thought it would be and it's living up to it," Verdugo said. "It's living up."