The Red Sox consider themselves a team that plays beyond the sum of its parts.
One day, Kiké Hernández might be the hero. The next it's Hunter Renfroe. One day, Nick Pivetta goes six strong innings. The next, five relievers gut out seven frames. Piece those fractional moments together, and here come the playoffs.
That sounds great in theory, but it denies an increasingly obvious fact -- Rafael Devers can beat you by himself.
Devers joins elite company with multi-homer effort in Game 162
The slugging 25-year-old third baseman may not get his due as one of the best young hitters in baseball -- "That's for you guys to decide," he has scolded the media -- but as the Red Sox prepare to face the Yankees in Tuesday's winner-take-all wild card game, there's little question whom the Yankees will pitch most carefully.
Devers just completed an excellent 2021 campaign. The first-time All-Star set a career-high with 38 homers and led the team with 113 RBIs, good for fourth in the American League and just two off his 2019 mark. He compiled an .890 OPS and saved his best work for the final weekend of the season when the Red Sox needed him most by launching game-winning homers on Saturday and Sunday against the Nationals, the latter a two-run ninth-inning shot that secured the first wild card spot.
While the Red Sox will need to figure out how to keep Giancarlo Stanton from repeating last week's Fenway wrecking ball performance (three homers, 10 RBIs) on Tuesday, the Yankees will need to be every bit as focused on Devers, because he's catching fire at precisely the right time.
"He's an amazing talent," said manager Alex Cora. "He's been there, done that. No moment is too big for him."
Devers has slowly but surely wrested the mantle of most dangerous Red Sox hitter away from more acclaimed teammates like J.D. Martinez and Xander Bogaerts. With the two veterans scuffling down the stretch -- and Martinez injured after tripping on the second base bag while running out to right field on Sunday -- Devers now stands as the toughest out in the lineup, and he's embracing the challenge.
It was easy to miss among the heart of the order's struggles during a sweep at the hands of the Yankees last weekend, but Devers actually provided what little offense the Red Sox mustered from their big guns, hitting .364 with a three-run homer (albeit in garbage time).
He smacked four homers over his final nine games and enters the playoffs with the confidence of someone who has done this before.
"I know the implications of these games," Devers said. "These games are extremely important. Nobody believed in us at the beginning of the season. Nobody believed in us halfway through the season. Just doing anything possible to help the team have success."
Devers made his mark against the Yankees, slamming five home runs and driving in 18 runs in 19 games. He did most of his damage against Tuesday's starter, Cy Young candidate Gerrit Cole, battering the right-hander for three homers and eight RBIs in 11 at-bats.
The Yankees want to make sure Devers doesn't beat them, but it might not matter when he's locked in.
"He understands in certain situations he isn't going to get pitched," Cora said. "He hunts pitches in certain spots."
His success has the Red Sox hunting a victory on Tuesday that will book passage to Tampa Bay and delay vacation for at least another week. If the Yankees aren't careful, Devers may take the Red Sox there by himself.