By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Dennis Eckersley, as he often does, said it best: “I’ve seen it all! I mean, this is acid right here. What is going on?!?!”
Really, there wasn’t any better way to react to the countless moments of shock, surprise, agony and elation that was experienced by all participants and viewers of Tuesday night’s game between the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays, in a game where first place was on the line.
Who knew that a game inside of that dump could be so fun?
(No offense, Tropicana Field. But you’re bad.)
In the end, the Red Sox won, 9-5, in 11 innings. Nobody could have seen that exact final outcome coming, and certainly, nobody could have scripted the journey required to get there.
Baseball being baseball, everything will move on and another day of games will take place on Wednesday, as the grind through 162 continues. But before fully turning the page, let’s try to encapsulate all of the wild twists and turns from this one. We’re sure to miss one or two (or six) along the way.
10. Eduardo Rodriguez Lasted Six Innings
This one’s not supposed to be unbelievable, but it kind of is. Rodriguez hasn’t lasted six innings in a game since May 12. And when he started the game with a 26-pitch first inning where two unearned runs scored, it looked like he was on the path for a 3.1 start.
But he rolled through innings 2-5 (getting an assist from Hunter Renfroe’s ridiculous arm), and despite serving up a three-run tater in the fifth, managed to get through six innings in 90 pitches.
9. Ryan Yarbrough Taking Forever To Throw Baseballs
This one also isn’t that hard to believe, but the ire that Yarbrough inspired among the Red Sox broadcast crew nevertheless added to the entertainment value on the evening.
#Rays Ryan Yarbrough taking his sweet time between pitches. Working like he’s in competition with time. Very deliberate…
— Jahmai Webster (@WebsterOnTV) June 23, 2021
Forgot I have to cancel my plans for the rest of the week whenever Ryan Yarbrough pitches
— Logan Mullen (@ByLoganMullen) June 23, 2021
The open distain Eck and Remy have for Yarbrough has been the best part of this game so far https://t.co/D42JEZVpRE
— Alex Barth (@RealAlexBarth) June 23, 2021
Ideally, if a pitcher is going to give up five runs over two innings, you’d at least like him to do it quickly. The Yarbrough Show, though, runs for a full hour.
8. The Red Sox Only Scored In Two Innings
A five-run third, and a four-run 11th. Just how you draw it up.
7. Connor Wong Scores Winning Run In MLB Debut
With Kevin Plawecki on the IL, Connor Wong — a part of the three-man return in the Mookie Betts trade — got called up to make his MLB debut.
He had a stat line that he will easily remember for the rest of his life: zero at-bats, zero plate appearances, zero innings in the field, one game-winning run scored.
J.D. Martinez was supposed to be the Red Sox’ runner on second base to start the 11th inning, but Alex Cora called upon the 25-year-old Wong to replace the DH. Wong advanced to third base on a Xander Bogaerts single, then came in to score on Rafael Devers’ double, giving Boston a 5-4 lead when his foot hit the plate.
Everyone remembers their MLB debut — and we’ll get to another one in a second — but to have that kind of memory added on is pretty neat.
6. Wander Franco
Now, a jaded sports follower would see all of the hooplah surrounding Wander Franco’s MLB debut on Tuesday night and instinctively say, “Gee, that’s great. Can’t wait until he becomes a star in a few years and Tampa has to trade him to another team to begin his actual MLB career.”
Fortunately this isn’t a jaded sports story!
Franco electrified the crowd of nearly 13,000, some of whom seemed to be Rays fans, when he strode to the plate in the first inning. He patiently worked a walk in that plate appearance, before coming around to score. He flew out in his second plate appearance. But then he stepped up in the fifth inning, and buddy? It rocked.
WANDER FRANCO. MAJOR LEAGUE HOME RUN. pic.twitter.com/477deDm7M7
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) June 23, 2021
Franco reached base three times (he doubled in the seventh). Despite the loss, it was a pretty unforgettable debut for the best prospect in baseball.
5. Devers Off The Catwalk … And Then Out
It’s not a series at the Trop without the stupid roof getting involved at some point. In this instance, the catwalks redirected a lazy fly ball from Rafael Devers in a 5-5 game in the eighth inning with one out. According to Baseball Savant, a ball with a 105.5 mph exit velocity and a 49 degree launch angle has an expected batting average of .090 — which, frankly, seems high. But in the Trop, a routine out can became a ricochet double, which it was in this case for Devers.
Rafael Devers hits a double off of the catwalk at Tropicana Field pic.twitter.com/yU3RpWhTLQ
— Talkin’ Baseball (@TalkinBaseball_) June 23, 2021
That lucky bounce produced the first Red Sox base runner since the third inning, and it was a gift from the baseball gods.
Alas, Devers kinda sorta threw it away when he ran into an out on a Renfroe grounder to third base, starting a 5-3 double play.
What can’t Wander Franco do?!?
He forces Devers out of the base path and guns the ball to first to get the inning-ending double play! pic.twitter.com/xz6MMbLkCx
— Farm To Fame (@FarmToFame_) June 23, 2021
The Red Sox challenged the out call at first base, and Renfroe’s foot definitely hit the bag before the ball hit the back of Yandy Diaz’s glove. But those plays tend to get reversed much less often nowadays, and really, the Red Sox had already caught their break on that inning.
4. The Kiermaier Play
This one befuddled the broadcast crew, the viewers at home, and possibly even Kevin Kiermaier himself.
In the bottom of the ninth, Kiermaier represented the winning run on first base with nobody out, after Matt Barnes walked him to lead off the frame. Diaz hit a sharp ground ball to second baseman Kiké Hernandez, who tried to apply a tag on Kiermaier as he rumbled past before maybe throwing to first for a double play.
But as Hernandez applied the tag, everything got weird. And nobody knew what was going on. Except for Xander Bogaerts.
Turns out, Kiermaier knocked the ball free from Hernandez’s glove during the tag process. He didn’t go A-Rod slappy on him, though, so it was a legal play; the man was just running to second base.
The ball, though, managed to roll perfectly along the base path to the second base bag, where Bogaerts alertly scooped it up. Kiermaier was ruled safe on the play, giving the Rays two on with nobody out.
But Cora wanted a challenge, and after a review, it was ruled that Bogaerts scooped the ball before Kiermaier reached the bag. Sure enough, on the replay, clear as day, Kiermaier was out.
Btm 9th – Crew Chief reviews call that Kevin Kiermaier is safe at 2B; call overturned, runner is out. Powered by @Mitel. pic.twitter.com/iLyFR1lWtb
— MLB Replays (@MLBReplays) June 23, 2021
Outside of a first-inning error, Bogaerts was outstanding in this game, putting together several impressive at-bats en route to a three-hit night. But this play here was on another level in terms of awareness.
Just your standard 4-6 putout, anyway.
3. Dalbec Out At The Plate
Bobby Dalbec was Boston’s runner on second to start the 10th inning. He advanced to third base on a Danny Santana bloop single to left. On a pitch that got away from catcher Mike Zunino, Dalbec was cautious and stayed on third base. But a few pitches later, when another Pete Fairbanks pitch made it through Zunino, Dalbec broke for home.
But unfortunately for Dalbec, the ball bounced pretty hard off the backstop, allowing Zunino to recover it quickly. Still, Dalbec would have been safe if Fairbanks hadn’t dropped his foot directly in front of the plate while catching Zunino’s throw and applying the tag.
It was a crazy game-of-inches-and-milliseconds moment if there ever was one.
Pete Fairbanks keeps the game tied in the 10th inning after tagging Bobby Dalbec out at home!
Fairbanks blocked the plate, but the motion is legal as he was in the process of catching the throw from Zunino pic.twitter.com/KhNtU3Wrvz
— Talkin’ Baseball (@TalkinBaseball_) June 23, 2021
Alex Verdugo, who was at the plate during that play, was then intentionally walked. And the inning ended on a strike him out/throw him out double play when J.D. Martinez whiffed on a fastball down the middle.
The Red Sox had second and third with nobody out in the 10th inning but didn’t score a run. And they still won.
2. Through The Wickets
Apparently the Rays as a team have to work on covering up their five-holes. Perhaps Andrei Vasilevskiy is available to offer some pointers. Just a little Tampa Bay sports humor there for you, folks.
In any event, we may be talking about a different game entirely if Yandy Diaz had gotten a glove — or even a foot, or a shin, or something — on Devers’ hot shot in the 11th inning. Alas, he did not.
RAFFY’S ALL ABOUT IT! pic.twitter.com/nTCDcPMNZB
— Red Sox (@RedSox) June 23, 2021
Yandy Diaz (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
Man. Goalies in the ’70s were so bad. pic.twitter.com/cjFxcsUrRe
— Michael Hurley (@michaelFhurley) June 23, 2021
”Boy we have seen it all tonight. You think he hit a ball down the line chalk and that ball is right between his legs.” -Eck on Rafael Devers’ double going through Yandy Díaz’s legs
— The Ecktionary (@ecktionary) June 23, 2021
Granted, it’s not an easy play. Diaz was playing even with the bag, and that puppy was cooking, with an exit velocity of 104.1 mph. That’s hot. Even with a negative-5 degree launch angle, a ball hit that hard is a hit 37 percent of the time.
Still, if Diaz fields it cleanly, maybe he cuts a runner down at the plate, or maybe the runners hold and he casually tags first for the first out. We’ll never know. We do know that this one scored two runs, kicking off a four-run 11th inning for the visitors.
1. The Brain Fart To End All Brain Farts
Diaz can at least take solace in the fact that his mistake was a physical one. Those happen in sports, because sports are hard.
But what Brett Phillips did in the 10th inning? My goodness. That was atrocious, appalling, disturbing, UNSEEMLY!
So here’s the deal: Kevin Cash inserted Phillips as the runner at second to start the bottom of the 10th, after his team just escaped a miracle jam in the top half of the inning. On this night, Phillips literally had one job: run the bases. Well, technically it was two jobs. The second was this: Simply know what the heck is going on, partner.
He uhh … he did not do that.
The inning began with Randy Arozarena hacking away at a 3-0 splitter at the bottom of the zone from Hirokazu Sawamura. He popped out. There was one out.
The Red Sox then opted to intentionally walk Joey Wendle to set up a double play. Whether Phillips was picking his nose, daydreaming about his favorite Sega games, or fretting that he left the stove on during this moment is anyone’s guess. But he must not have been paying attention.
Because Zunino then hit a chopper down the third base line. Devers charged it and then decided to give a little bunny hop while trying to field it. This was misguided. The ball bounced off Devers’ glove and into foul territory. He scrambled, he worried, he stressed, because he knew that Phillips would be showing up at third base any second, and Devers was desperate record at least one out on this play to avoid a bases-loaded situation.
Yet as Devers recovered and gathered the baseball, Phillips was nowhere in the picture. Everyone watching at home wondered what had happened to him. He should have been at the bag easily. Instead he was … doing this:
Brett Phillips with one of the worst base-running blunders of the year pic.twitter.com/DylfqyEGor
— MLB Errors (@mlberrors) June 23, 2021
This. Is. Acid.
If you’ve ever gone to a child’s tee ball game, then you’ve surely seen this move before. It’s called the “I Genuinely Do Not Know Any Baseball Rules” move, and it’s employed by 6-year-olds who find the whole concept of base running to be a bit perplexing. They’re 6, after all, and baseball can be complicated at first. No doubt.
But a Major League Baseball player who was inserted into the game as a pinch runner making a gaffe like this? Incredible.
The old saying goes that every time you watch a baseball game, you’re liable to see something you’ve never seen before. This singular game — over the span of four hours and 21 minutes — offered quite a few of those instances. We’re all better off for having lived through it.