The Boston Red Sox lived a charmed life in the American League Wild Card Game on Tuesday, beating the New York Yankees in a 6-2 contest in which the good bounces were plentiful and scares were scarce.
The Tampa Bay Rays took all the charm for themselves in Game 1 of the American League Division Series.
The final from Tropicana Field on Thursday was 5-0 in favor of the Rays, but this is a case of a score that undersells how one-sided the game was. According to FanGraphs, the only time the win expectancy chart was in the Red Sox's favor was when Kyle Schwarber's infield single in the first inning gave them a 50.3 percent chance.
After that, the Rays took over by doing what they did during their first 100-win regular season. They didn't give the Red Sox a single inch while helping themselves to as many as they wanted, including the 1,080 that Randy Arozarena traversed on his electrifying steal of home plate in the seventh inning:
Oh, and Arozarena also homered. Because in case anyone missed what he did last year, that's yet another service he offers in October.
The Rays' reward? A 1-0 series lead that somehow feels more like a 100-0 advantage.
Rays Players of the Game
- LHP Shane McClanahan: 5.0 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 3 K. The hard-throwing left-hander in his first career postseason start became the youngest pitcher with at least five scoreless, walk-less innings in a debut.
- LF Randy Arozarena: 1-for-2, HR, 3 R, 2 BB, SB. His home run heroics in the playoffs already had him rubbing elbows with all-time greats, so channeling Jackie Robinson was just as much him showing off as it was him padding his team's lead.
- SS Wander Franco and DH Nelson Cruz: 3-for-8, HR, 2 2B, 2 RBI, 2 R: Franco's RBI came on a first-inning double, and Cruz's RBI came on a catwalk-aided solo homer in the third.
Red Sox Players of the Game
- RHP Nick Pivetta: 4.2 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 4 K. The 2-0 hole the Red Sox fell into with lefty starter Eduardo Rodriguez only got steeper on Pivetta's watch, but the innings he ate could loom large in Game 2.
- DH Kyle Schwarber: 2-for-4. Between his two singles and three hard-hit balls, he was the closest thing the Red Sox had to a hitting star.
An Unstoppable Force Meets a Movable Object
Though the Red Sox lost the season series to the Rays 11-8, they were outscored by only two runs. If one was so inclined, one could look at that and conclude Boston gave the American League's winningest team a hard time.
In actuality, not really. The Red Sox didn't win another series against the Rays after sweeping a three-game set at Fenway Park in the first week of April, and the run differential was skewed by Boston's 20-8 drubbing Aug. 11.
It was therefore hard to look at this particular ALDS and see avenues through which the Red Sox could grab easy wins. Surely, their wins would have to come by way of flawless execution and maybe a few lucky bounces.
They got neither in Game 1.
Naturally, the Red Sox mostly have themselves to blame for their flawed execution. A bobble by center fielder Enrique Hernandez opened the door for Arozarena to score on Franco's first-inning double. And while Arozarena certainly showed off his speed when he stole home, even Boston manager Alex Cora had to hand it to him for catching lefty fireman Josh Taylor napping:
On the other side of the ball, the Red Sox outhit the Rays 9-6. But all nine of those hits were mere singles, and their one and only knock in seven at-bats with a runner in scoring position came courtesy of the lone gift the Rays granted them in letting a pop-up by Xander Bogaerts drop to load the bases with one out in the eighth. A strikeout and a pop-out quickly ended that rally.
Equally frustrating, however, was how many of Boston's hardest-hit balls went for naught. The team had nine batted balls of at least 95 mph go for naught, which is territory that few other teams have been unlucky enough to find in October during the seven-year Statcast era.
Mind you, it wasn't all bad luck that turned those rockets into outs. It's a wonder the Red Sox hit anything through the Rays defense, as Tampa Bay's shifts seemed guided not so much by projections as crystal-ball predictions.
Of course, that's the Rays for ya. Defense was one of their calling cards during the regular season, wherein they placed third in the AL in defensive runs saved and trailed only the Houston Astros in allowing a .281 average on balls in play.
Game 1 was likewise a showcase for Tampa Bay's arms. McClanahan and the three relievers who followed him didn't throw a single fastball slower than 91 mph, thereby keeping the Rays on the velocity-paved path that guided them to a stellar 47-25 sprint to the finish in the second half.
And the Rays had an elite offense in place even before they took off after the break, as they outscored everyone from Franco's debut June 22 through the end of the season. Perhaps they were never feared like the Toronto Blue Jays, but they're probably your favorite pitcher's least favorite offense to face.
Or definitely, if your favorite pitcher is Marcus Stroman:
Marcus Stroman @STR0
The Rays have always been one of my least favorite teams to face. Scrappy and relentless at the plate. They grind out at-bats all game until pitchers give in to their plan of attack. Every hitter is capable of going deep but can also beat the shift. Tough lineup to navigate! <a href="https://twitter.com/MLB?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@MLB</a>
So in case their romp through the regular season didn't do the trick, Game 1 of the ALDS was perhaps the best argument the Rays have made that the team they have in 2021 is even better than the one they had in 2020.
Considering that the latter won two-thirds of its regular-season games and went to the World Series, that's saying something.
What's Next for Red Sox-Rays?
Tampa Bay will look to stretch its advantage to 2-0 on Friday. First pitch is scheduled for 7:02 p.m. ET on FS1.
The pitching matchup will be seven-time All-Star lefty Chris Sale for the Red Sox and rookie right-hander Shane Baz for the Rays. That's a mismatch on paper but maybe not so much in practice.
Sale's initially triumphant return from Tommy John surgery hit a snag in the final weeks of the regular season, when he was hit at a .292 clip over his last five starts. Though inexperienced, Baz is an elite prospect with stuff that's perfectly worthy of the Rays.
The Red Sox could get a big boost if slugger J.D. Martinez's sprained left ankle allows him to play. Cora reportedly said there's a strong possibility of that happening, which will do for a much-needed silver lining for Boston while it licks its wounds after Game 1.