Keeping up with the 617: An underdog mentality

Last Thursday, the Boston Red Sox dejectedly walked off Tropicana Field after an embarrassing 5–0 loss to an energized Tampa Bay Rays squad. The Rays dominated the Red Sox in all three facets of the game and were simply more determined to win the series. As expected, the series seemed to be over after the first inning in Game 1; however, the Red Sox have now secured a spot in the American League Championship Series and are four wins away from their third World Series appearance in nine years.

Even as one of the more optimistic Red Sox fans in New England, I did not see this spectacular postseason run coming. As Boston limped into the playoffs with a depleted pitching staff and a slumping offense, I would have been satisfied with one win against the Rays. Especially after their performance last Thursday, even that seemed like a difficult task. Then, the Red Sox decided to do their best impression of a little league mercy rule in Game 2 and torched the Rays 14–6. The win was even more impressive given that the Red Sox were down 5–2 after the first inning, following an atypical start by ace Chris Sale.

The Red Sox then returned home to a raucous crowd in Boston on Sunday night and were engaged in an absolute dogfight for 13 innings; it took a Christian Vazquez moonshot into the blackened Boston skyline and a stroke of luck to defeat the Rays. The following night, the Red Sox continued their offensive barrage, piling up six runs on 12 hits. A sacrifice fly by Kiké Hernandez, the hottest hitter in the postseason, officially sent the Rays into an earlier-than-expected offseason.

I still  do not truly understand how the Red Sox were able to defeat the Rays. Sure, the numbers show that the Red Sox’s offense was a juggernaut and a vaunted Rays pitching staff was not enough to stop their scorching-hot bats. However, it’s no secret that this team’s pitching staff was far from elite, and yet, they stifled this Rays lineup for the final three games. Nick Pivetta did his best impression of 2018 Nathan Eovaldi and pitched four innings of shutout baseball in Game 3. After Sale’s miserable performance in Game 2, flamethrower Tanner Houck went five strong innings, only giving up one run with five punch outs. Sans three tough outings by the bullpen, the Red Sox were dominant on the mound — an event that rarely occurred this season.

The best explanation for this team’s recent success is its gritty “underdog” mentality. After hearing that the Rays ordered celebratory champagne to Boston after Game 2, the Red Sox vowed to finish the series at Fenway Park — which they did. Throughout the season, the Red Sox have displayed their gritty attitude. The team powered through a devastating COVID-19 outbreak in September to secure a postseason berth;  they even played their best baseball all season and clinched a spot in the Division Series against an elite Yankees team. Now, with a talented and controversial Houston Astros looking for their third World Series appearance in the 21st century, this Red Sox team must display its grit yet again. In my opinion, Boston has met their match; that Astros lineup is too elite and their pitching staff is nothing to scoff over. However, they’ve already proved the baseball media wrong once, and they can surely do it again. Sox in six.