By RONALD BLUM, AP Baseball Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — Eduardo Nunez charged Gleyber Torres’ four-hopper toward third base and whipped the ball across the diamond . Steve Pearce stretched, falling on his chest for a sprawling catch. The umpire signaled: “Out!”
The Boston Red Sox gathered around exhausted closer Craig Kimbrel, hugging and celebrating after the New York Yankees’ two-run rally in the ninth inning fell short.
In 21st century baseball, the game doesn’t always end when it seems, hanging in limbo until umpires in a downtown Manhattan replay room agree .
A Yankee Stadium crowd of 49,641 wondered and the Red Sox paused as they watched from the infield in suspended celebration, fixated on the center-field video board.
After 63 seconds that felt like a lot longer, crew chief Mike Winters heard the decision, took off his headset, raised his right fist and made it official: The Red Sox beat the Yankees 4-3 Tuesday night to win the AL Division Series 3-1, setting up a postseason rematch with the World Series champion Astros.
“I’ve been talking about them the whole season, so now we go,” said Red Sox rookie manager Alex Cora, Houston’s bench coach last year. “Best of seven. They know me. I know them. It should be fun.”
J.D. Martinez and the 108-win Red Sox reached the AL Championship Series for the first time since Boston won the title in 2013. A year after losing to Houston in a four-game ALDS, the Red Sox open the best-of-seven matchup against the 103-win Astros on Saturday night at Fenway Park. Houston went 4-3 against Boston this year.
“Awesome to clinch this one,” Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes said, “but we’ve got eight more.”
A New Jersey native who grew up a Mets fan, Rick Porcello held the Yankees to one run over five innings for his first postseason win in 13 appearances. Barnes and Ryan Brasier followed with a perfect inning each to protect a 4-1 lead.
Red Sox ace Chris Sale told Cora when he arrived at the ballpark that he wanted to pitch, and he followed with a 1-2-3 eighth in a rare relief appearance that extended the Yankees’ streak of consecutive outs to 11.
New York had not put a leadoff runner on until Kimbrel, a seven-time All-Star closer, walked Aaron Judge on four pitches leading off the ninth.
Didi Gregorius singled and Giancarlo Stanton struck out, Luke Voit walked on four pitches, and Kimbrel hit Neil Walker on a leg with a next pitch , forcing in a run that made it 4-2.
Gary Sanchez fell behind 0-2 in the count, worked it full and sent a drive that had the crowd roaring only for Andrew Benintendi to catch it on the left-field warning track, a few feet short of a series-tying grand slam .
“I hit it well. But I got under it,” Sanchez said through a translator.
Then came Torres’ bouncer.
“You never want to give a game back and go to a Game 5, so it’s great that we could do it tonight,” said Kimbrel, who got his second save of the series.
A night after Boston romped to a record-setting 16-1 rout in a game that included three replay reversals, Martinez, Ian Kinsler and Nunez drove in runs in the third inning off a wobbly CC Sabathia, who took the loss. For the second straight night, Yankees rookie manager Aaron Boone hesitated to remove his starting pitcher early.
When Boone brought in Zach Britton to start the fourth, and Christian Vazquez led off with an opposite-field drive over the short porch in right field for his first career postseason homer.
Not even the presence of 1978 AL East tiebreaker star Bucky Dent for the ceremonial first pitch could inspire the 100-win Yankees, who were outscored 27-14 in the series, including 20-4 in the final two games. New York set a major league record this year for most home runs in a season, but didn’t go deep in the two games at Yankee Stadium and hit .214 in the series, which included 3 for 14 by Gregorius, 1 for 15 by Andrew McCutchen and 3 for 15 by Sanchez.
Stanton, New York’s big acquisition last offseason, was 4 for 18 (.222) with no RBIs.
“I don’t want to experience the postseason. I want to win it all,” Stanton said.
Dent’s home run over Fenway Park’s Green Monster in the 1978 AL East tiebreaker propelled the Yankees to their second straight World Series title, but Boston eliminated its rival in the Bronx in the teams’ second straight postseason meeting. In the 2004 ALCS — with Barnes in the crowd as a teen, rooting for the Yankees — the Red Sox became the first big league team to overcome 3-0 postseason deficit, winning the final two games on the road and going on to sweep the World Series for its first title since 1918.
Boston added championships in 2007 and 2013, becoming one of baseball’s elite clubs. But the Red Sox were knocked out in the Division Series in 2016 and ’17, had not reached the sport’s final four since their last title.
A lanky, bearded 29-year-old right-hander, Porcello lived a traffic jam from Yankee Stadium in Chester, New Jersey, and is a 2007 graduate of Seton Hall Prep in West Orange — the baseball field there was renamed in his honor last year after he helped fund artificial turf and pro-style dugouts. The 2016 AL Cy Young Award winner entered with a 0-3 in 12 previous postseason appearances, which included four starts.
He didn’t allow a run until a sacrifice fly in the fifth by Brett Gardner , like Sabathia playing perhaps his last game for the Yankees. Aaron Hicks missed a two-run homer by about 4 feet on a foul drive down the right-field line.
Sabathia escaped a bases-loaded jam in the first when Kinsler hit an inning-ending flyout to Gardner in front of the left-field wall. Sabathia nicked Benintendi on the right shoulder with a slider on his first pitch of the third, Pearce sliced a cutter into right-center to put runners at the corners and Martinez hit a third-inning sacrifice fly for second straight night , giving him a series-high six RBIs.
With David Robertson starting to warm up, Kinsler hit a two-out double over a leaping Gardner for a 2-0 lead and Nunez singled on the next pitch for his first RBI of the postseason.
New York’s starting pitchers allowed 15 runs in 13 innings, and Masahiro Tanaka was the only one to get an out in the fourth — a sign the Yankees may pursue top free-agent pitchers such as Dallas Keuchel and Patrick Corbin.
“I think we’re right there knocking on the door,” Boone said, “very close to being a championship club right now. We just got to continue to improve on the margins in every facet. Pitching is one of those.”
BEHIND THE PLATE
A night after three of his calls at first base were reversed on video reviews, Angel Hernandez was the plate umpire. Benintendi argued after he was called out on a breaking ball with the bases loaded for the final out of the eighth, a pitch that may have been outside. Sabathia was livid. “I don’t think Angel Hernandez should be umping playoff games,” he said. “He’s absolutely terrible. He was terrible behind the plate today. He was terrible at first base.” Major League Baseball declined comment, spokesman Mike Teevan said.
By RONALD BLUM, AP Baseball Writer