Christian Vazquez walkoff home run in ninth rescues Red Sox
Most people probably paid to see Chris Sale make his 22nd start of a season that might be the best by a Red Sox pitcher since Pedro Martinez in 1999.
Instead, Sale pitched his worst game of the year, All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel blew a save and the sellout crowd still got one of the most entertaining games of the year.
And a worthy ending.
It goes down as a 12-10 walkoff win over the Cleveland Indians, courtesy of a Christian Vazquez three-run home run, but if ever one win could count as two, this one was it.
“You can’t ask for more than that,” said shortstop Xander Bogaerts. “This was a Playstation game.”
The Red Sox erased three leads, ignored a remarkable catch by a tumbling-over-the-bullpen-wall Austin Jackson to rob Hanley Ramirez of a home run and endured disastrous relief pitching from their newly acquired set-up man, Addison Reed, and Kimbrel in the ninth.
In the bottom of the frame, Mitch Moreland struck out for what should’ve been the final out with a man on second, but the pitch escaped catcher Yan Gomes and Moreland reached first.
Vazquez then ended the insanity with a three-run blast to dead center off Indians closer Cody Allen.
“Clutch,” said Bogaerts. “We needed that, to be honest.”
To make it sweeter, Vazquez said his dad was in the stands for just the third time this season.
“I was trying to hit the ball hard, but it never came to my mind to hit a homer,” he said. “That’s when they come, when you’re not trying.”
Momentum was lost and then gained in large chunks, with the Red Sox overcoming their largest deficit of the season, as the Indians were up 5-0 by the second inning, making seismic progress with a bases-clearing double by Eduardo Nunez in the bottom of the sixth. They gifted Sale a much-deserved bailout from his worst start of the year.
“It definitely wasn’t the night when we went out there and showed our best stuff,” Kimbrel said of him and Sale. “But we still got the win, that’s what this game is about. You’re not going to have your best stuff every night and that’s why we’re a team. Our team really picked us up tonight and our bats showed up. It was just an all-around win.”
Sale threw 95 pitches, the fewest in any game this season, and tied a season-low while recording only 15 outs.
The Indians took a quick 5-0 advantage after two innings, but Moreland answered with his first homer since June 26, a line-drive three-run shot to start the rally in the bottom of the inning. Brock Holt drove in another and Nunez finished the inning with an RBI double.
Sale held the tie game until the top of the fifth when he gave up his second homer of the game, this one to Edwin Encarnacion, just the fourth time in 22 starts he’s allowed multiple long balls.
“I wasn’t that good tonight, honestly,” Sale said. “I had a bad night. I had an off night.”
Ramirez had a solo shot taken away by Jackson in the bottom of the inning, when Jackson tracked back toward the Sox bullpen and leaped over the wall, hauling in the catch while falling into the ’pen.
The Sox got one back in the sixth and loaded the bases for Nunez against Andrew Miller, the ex-Sox lefty who entered with a 1.52 ERA. With a quick jab at a 96-mph inside heater, Nunez came a few feet from a grand slam, instead settling for a double that scored three for a 9-7 lead into the eighth.
But Reed, who had been closing out games for the New York Mets, served up a solo shot to Carlos Santana to put a stain on his Red Sox debut.
The ninth inning was mayhem, with Kimbrel serving up a solo shot to Francisco Lindor to tie the game and then allowing the go-ahead run on a wild pitch.
After Vazquez finally hit the walk off blast, the catcher admired it with a bat flip and slow walk around first base.
“He’s swinging the bat very well,” Sox manager John Farrell said. “He’s proving he’s not just a contact hitter.”
Paired with a loss by the Yankees, the Red Sox took over first place in the AL East in the type of game capable of shaping the entire month, if not the season.
“We were scrapping,” Sale said. “It was a dog fight. Legit. Any time you put a lot of effort and a lot of emotion into this game, to come out on top is huge.”