BOSTON — Christian Vazquez’s night began on the bench. It ended with a triumphant jog around the bases.
In an endurance contest the night before the Boston Marathon, the Red Sox outlasted the Tampa Bay Rays in a 13-inning, chaotic affair in Game 3 of this American League division series. Vazquez, who had entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the sixth inning, won the game for Boston seven innings later with a walk-off, two-run home run over the Green Monster that gave the Red Sox a 6-4 victory and a two games to one series lead.
“It’s a big win,” Vazquez said. “No matter what inning, we need to do the job, and somebody needs to do it and take charge there, and I did it.”
While Vazquez’s blast knocked Tampa Bay onto its collective heels in a best-of-five series, a play in the top half of the inning seemed to thoroughly befuddle players, coaches and fans.
With Tampa Bay’s Yandy Diaz on first base and two outs, Kevin Kiermaier lofted a ball off the short right field wall at Fenway Park. The ball caromed off the wall then ricocheted off right fielder Hunter Renfroe and over the fence, resulting in a ground-rule double that prevented a run from scoring as Diaz had been off with the pitch with a full count and two outs. The hectic sequence caused confusion, but crew chief Sam Holbrook confirmed the correct call was made following a replay review that established Renfroe’s deflection was not intentional.
“It’s in the rule book. It’s a ground-rule double,” Holbrook said after the game. “There’s no discretion that the umpires have.”
Holbrook went as far as reading the rule book aloud to the news media in attendance. While the correct call was made, that didn’t quell debate about whether the letter of the law should be changed.
“The rules are what they are — but, man, that’s a heartbreaker,” Kiermaier said. “I can’t believe that happened and we didn’t get the chance to score that run right there. For me, I crushed that ball. I was just hoping to see it leave the yard. I got a lot of snap and crackle, but no pop.”
He added: “For the ball to bounce off a wall and hit a player and go over, I just can’t believe that’s a ground-rule double. Yandy would have scored standing up.”
Red Sox Manager Alex Cora said that he knew the play was a double right away, recalling lessons he learned as a TV analyst for ESPN. Diaz, meanwhile, suggested the rule be edited to allow for some judgment. Diaz, a corner infielder, was careful not to pin the Rays’ loss on that one play, however.
“It’s just part of the game,” Diaz said. “We had plenty of opportunities to score but we just didn’t.”
The unusual play aside, the Rays spent the extra innings of the game stifled by Boston’s Nick Pivetta, a right-hander who entered the game to start the 10th inning and proceeded to strike out seven over four innings. Pitching on two days’ rest after throwing 73 pitches on Oct. 7, Pivetta, primarily used as a starter in the regular season, threw 67 pitches this time and allowed only three hits.
Pivetta, pitching in his first postseason, became increasingly demonstrative each time he left the mound.
“I just competed with the strike zone, competed with those guys” Pivetta said, adding that his recent workload was of no concern to him. “My energy just shows what this means to me and means to our team.”
Cora compared Pivetta’s relief performance to the one Nathan Eovaldi provided Boston in Game 3 of the 2018 World Series. Eovaldi dealt six innings of one-run ball that night against the Dodgers.
Coincidentally, Eovaldi started this game for Boston. His stretch of playoff excellence appeared to be in jeopardy after surrendering a two-run homer to Tampa Bay’s Austin Meadows in the first inning on Sunday, but Eovaldi blanked the Rays for the remainder of his five-inning, eight-strikeout evening.
Before Vazquez’s homer, the Boston offense was fueled by a pair of hitters better known for their postseason exploits in other uniforms.
Kyle Schwarber, a World Series champion with the Cubs in 2016, put the Red Sox on the board with a leadoff homer. He added another hit in the third to set up an R.B.I. single for Enrique Hernandez, but the first baseman’s most entertaining moment of the game came when he celebrated a routine underhanded throw to Eovaldi, who was covering first base.
The joking gesture was in reference to Schwarber having previously airmailed a throw on a similar play.
Hernandez, meanwhile, followed up his single with the 10th postseason home run of his career. The preceding nine came with the Dodgers, but this solo shot, which cleared the Green Monster, gave the center fielder a hit in seven straight plate appearances, tied for the most in postseason history.
The Rays knotted the score at four in the eighth, seizing an opportunity to face an under-the-weather Hansel Robles in a high-leverage situation. Wander Franco shot a home run the opposite way before Randy Arozarena continued his own playoff brilliance, doubling home a run.
Ultimately, it wasn’t enough for a Rays team now facing elimination on the road in Monday’s Game 4. But after a taxing night in more ways than one, Tampa Bay doesn’t sound deterred.
“I have the confidence of about 10,000 percent that this team is going to bounce back like we normally do,” Diaz said.