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Think back just a few days. It was Friday when Red Sox starter Chris Sale coughed up a grand slam in the first inning to Jordan Luplow, giving the Rays a 5-2 lead while already being up one game to none in the series. Who could have possibly thought the Red Sox would own basically the rest of the series? Yet that's what happened. The Red Sox closed things down with a thrilling 6-5 victory Monday night at Fenway Park, winning the best-of-five ALDS, 3-1. The Red Sox won once again in walk-off fashion, with Kiké Hernández's sacrifice fly winning the game in the ninth.

The loss eliminates the Rays, the AL East champion and reigning AL pennant winners who racked up 100 regular season wins in 2021. The win sends the Red Sox to their second ALCS in four years.

Here are takeaways from the Red Sox's decisive win.

The Response ... and the walk-off

The Red Sox stormed out to a 5-0 lead in the third inning. It was 5-1 heading to the sixth and 5-3 heading to the eighth. Then the Rays tied the game with three straight hits to start the eighth, including a game-tying knock from October master Randy Arozarena

A lesser team would've crumbled. The Red Sox just went out and responded by winning the series. 

First off, let's not gloss over the performance from Garrett Whitlock. The Red Sox reliever entered the game with the go-ahead run on second base and nobody out in the eighth. He would record three straight outs to keep the score tied. Then he fired another scoreless frame in the ninth. And the Red Sox responded in the home half.

Christian Vázquez -- Sunday night's hero with a walk-off homer -- singled to start the rally. Pinch-hitter Travis Shaw reached on a single (though the ball was bobbled by Rays first baseman Ji-Man Choi), putting runners at the corners for Hernández. As he had all series, the former Dodger delivered, hitting a fly ball deep enough to left to plate pinch-runner Danny Santana.

Game 4 marked the second time in Red Sox history that the team won consecutive playoff games in walk-off fashion. The last time it happened? The 2004 ALCS vs. the Yankees in Boston's historic comeback.

Good "clinch cam" view here: 

And of course, the champagne: 

Let's get to the rest of the game, though. 

Eduardo Rodriguez dealt

The deck appeared to be stacked against Rodriguez. The lefty wasn't even named the starter until after the Game 3 result. He only lasted 1 2/3 innings against the Rays in Game 1 and took the loss. He was coming back home, where he had a 5.95 ERA in the regular season, a full two runs worse than on the road. Plus, the Rays had a bunch of lefty mashers. Oh, and the Red Sox were coming off a 13-inning marathon. 

No matter for Rodriguez. He retired the first nine hitters he faced (including during a 17-pitch at-bat). By the time he gave up a leadoff single in the top of the fourth, the Red Sox offense had already posted a five-spot. Rodriguez would go five-plus innings, allowing only two runs on three hits while striking out six without walking anyone. The line is skewed by him allowing two baserunners in the sixth inning that came around to score. Through five innings, he hadn't allowed a single run. 

Collin McHugh pulled too early? 

As noted, Game 3 went 13 innings and the Rays didn't really get much length from anyone. McHugh used to be a starter, but he isn't stretched out as one this season. Still, he's thrown three innings several times this season and has a season high of 56. He went over 30 pitches three times in September and threw 33 as recently as Sept. 25. Through two innings, he had allowed just a single and had needed only 18 pitches. 

It appears the Rays' plan was to have McHugh play opener in front of Shane McClanahan, the Game 1 starter, who would serve as the length guy. McClanahan would cough up five runs while only recording two outs. 

The Rays never fully recovered, even if the offense stormed back to tie it. 

Devers with the early big blow

Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers is a pretty under-appreciated slugger. He had 38 homers and 118 RBI in the regular season. In Game 2, he hit a two-run homer, but overall he'd been struggling a bit in the series as he dealt with a bit of a forearm issue. 

Here in Game 4, he announced his presence with authority in the third inning. It was 0-0. He was in a lefty-lefty matchup. 

Boom. Man, that hung in the air so long, too, didn't it? 

The Red Sox grabbed two more that inning and then went into "protect the lead" mode. 

Devers' homer was the continuation of an offensive barrage for Boston that started in Game 2. The Red Sox were shutout in Game 1 of the series, though as we noted as the time, they hit a bunch of balls hard. It just happened that many of them were right at well-positioned Rays defenders. They even outhit the Rays, 9-5, it just didn't show up where it mattered most. 

In Game 2, the Red Sox pounded out 14 runs on 20 hits. They outscored the Rays 12-1 after the second inning. 

In Game 3, it took them 13 innings, but they outhit the Rays 15-10. They actually bookended their offensive performance with home runs. Kyle Schwarber led off the bottom of the first with a homer and then Vázquez hit the walk-off home run. 

Even if most of their scoring happened in one inning in Game 4, we're looking at 26 runs in three games. These weren't cheap, either. The Red Sox pounded the ball pretty much all series, assuming we acknowledge the zero in Game 1 came with the aforementioned caveat. The pounded out 47 hits in the last three games, which is the second-most hits ever in a three-game postseason span after the 1960 Yankees' 48 (via MLB Stats). 

Also bear in mind the Rays led the American League in ERA this season. 

Major disappointment for the Rays

The was the first time in Rays history to make the playoffs three straight years. Coming off a trip to the World Series while winning a franchise-record 100 games and holding the top seed in the AL, expectations were as high as ever. Would this be the first Rays World Series championship ever? After the 5-0 win in Game 1, in which it looked like Playoff Arozarena was fully back, they seemed like a very good bet. 

They wouldn't win another game. Even after storming back to make things interesting in Game 4, this one has to sting. 

Back to the ALCS

The Red Sox are headed back to the ALCS. The franchise has had a good run there in recent memory. If we start after the 2003 heartbreaking loss to the hated Yankees, here are the Red Sox trips to the ALCS since then, along with the final finish for the team: 

  • 2004 - Won the World Series
  • 2007 - Won the World Series
  • 2008 - Lost ALCS in seven games
  • 2013 - Won the World Series
  • 2018 - Won the World Series

They'll now await the winner of the Astros-White Sox series, which picks up with Game 4 on Tuesday. The Red Sox will be the road team in the series, but they just showed in the ALDS they can overcome that. Will they be adding another championship banner?