With no other baseball being played and no major football games to contend with for eyeballs -- apologies to Appalachian State and the Sun Belt Conference -- Game 4 of the ALDS between the Red Sox and Yankees took center stage in the sports world on Tuesday night.
And it delivered in terms of entertainment value, with New Yankee Stadium sounding like Old Yankee Stadium and the final out coming down to a replay review at first base.
You know the score: Boston won 4-3 and will advance to a best-of-seven American League Championship Series against the defending-champion Astros. Now let’s get into the minutiae …
Rick Porcello started the game for the visiting Red Sox and delivered five innings of one-run ball. The right-hander tallied just one strikeout but issued zero walks and limited a powerful Yankees lineup to four hits -- two doubles, two singles -- before getting lifted with a pitch count of 65 after the bottom of the fifth. Porcello will be lined up to start Game 3 or Game 4 of the ALCS versus Houston, though manager Alex Cora might opt to use the former American League Cy Young Award winner out of the bullpen earlier in the series -- just like he did in Game 1 of the ALDS.
Cora went to Chris Sale in the eighth inning Tuesday and the ace left-hander worked a perfect 1-2-3 frame on just 13 total pitches, looking as sharp as we’ve seen him in the last two months. He should be ready to rock for Game 1 of the ALCS on Saturday at Fenway Park. Call his ALDS Game 4 outing a between-starts bullpen session -- that’s how free-and-easy he pitched while retiring Gleyber Torres, Andrew McCutchen, and Aaron Hicks in succession.
Just about every button Cora pressed in the best-of-five American League Division Series yielded positive results. He started Ian Kinsler over Brock Holt on Tuesday, despite Holt recording the first cycle in postseason history on Monday, and Kinsler went on to rip an RBI double off CC Sabathia as part of a three-run third inning for Boston.
Cora also started Christian Vazquez at catcher over Sandy Leon in Game 4, and Vazquez, who totaled just three home runs during the regular season and hadn't gone deep since June 26, belted a solo shot in the top of the fourth inning off Yankees reliever Zach Britton.
But we can’t ignore Craig Kimbrel’s shakiness. He gave up a home run to Aaron Judge in Game 1 of the ALDS last Friday and nearly blew a three-run Game 4 lead on Tuesday, yielding two walks, a single, a sacrifice fly, and a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch in the bottom of the ninth inning before inducing a game-ending groundout from Gleyber Torres -- which, as stated at the top of this column, was close enough to bring on a desperation challenge from the Yankees.
Kimbrel needs to be sharper next round against a relentless, fully-stocked Astros outfit. And Cora’s aggressive decisions might not play as well in a best-of-seven series, especially given the caliber of Boston’s next opponent. But we sure are looking forward to this matchup.
As for the Yankees’ side of things, Sabathia made it through just three innings in what might have been his final start in pinstripes. You could make the argument that manager Aaron Boone should have pulled him earlier -- at the very first sign of trouble -- given the depth of talent in New York’s bullpen. The 38-year-old left-hander is scheduled to become a free agent in early November.
Also notable is that Giancarlo Stanton had a chance to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth with two men on and zero outs but flailed at a Kimbrel slider for strike three. He finished 0-for-4, and the boo birds at Yankee Stadium returned for a final farewell as he walked back to the dugout.
Quick Hits: The Rays extended the contract of manager Kevin Cash through 2024 … Braves manager Brian Snitker said Tuesday that there are no "long-term concerns" about Dansby Swanson's left hand … Impending free agent starter Anibal Sanchez told reporters after the Braves’ elimination from the NLDS that he hopes to play another couple of seasons … Twins general manager Thad Levine said Tuesday that Miguel Sano (knee) could play winter ball … Phillies pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez will skip the Arizona Fall League after recently experiencing soreness in his right collarbone … Free agent first baseman Adrian Gonzalez said on MLB Network Radio on Sirius XM that he's preparing to play next year … Twins utility infielder Ehire Adrianza underwent surgery Tuesday to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder … Matt Stairs will not return as the Padres’ hitting coach in 2019.