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Boston Red Sox advance to ALCS behind Kiké Hernandez, Rule 5 draft pick-turned-bullpen ace Garrett Whitlock

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BOSTON — As the Red Sox clinched their spot in the American League Championship Series, they rode the backs of two players who entered the season wanting to prove their worth.

Kiké Hernandez entered 2021 wanting to demonstrate that he could be an everyday player in the major leagues after his time with the Los Angeles Dodgers typecast him into a utility man role. Reliever Garrett Whitlock hoped to establish himself as a major leaguer after the Yankees left him off the 40-man roster and Boston selected him in the Rule 5 draft. On Monday night, both players proved crucial to Boston’s walk-off 6-5 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays that cemented the Red Sox’s spot in the ALCS.

“I mean, here we are surprising everybody but ourselves,” Hernandez said. “We knew in spring training we had the team to make it this far and here we are.”

Early on Monday night, it looked like the Red Sox might cruise to the ALCS after scoring five runs in the third inning.

While the Rays slowly chipped away at the lead throughout the night, eventually tying the game in the eighth inning, Boston displayed the resilience that made it the team that led the majors in comeback wins during the regular season, pulling off the walk-off win to reach the ALCS in a season when few expected the Red Sox to be playing this deep into the postseason.

Boston scored the winning run on a walk-off sacrifice fly from Hernandez after Christian Vazquez singled on a ground ball before being moved over to second base on a sacrifice bunt from Christian Arroyo. An infield single by Travis Shaw set up Hernandez, who played a crucial role in sparking the offense in Games 2 and 3 to help propel the Red Sox to the ALCS.

“I was just talking to myself,” Hernandez said. “You’re about to win this game, so you need to work on slowing everything down and slowing your breathing down and slowing the game down and starting early and making sure that you see the pitch, and you’re not just swinging at your shoes for no reasons for trying to be a hero.”

The loss went to reliever J.P. Feyereisen, the eighth pitcher of the night for Tampa Bay, while Whitlock recorded the victory after pitching two innings, allowing no hits and no runs. Whitlock came in after reliever Ryan Brasier blew the save for Boston, allowing two runs to Tampa Bay in the eighth inning on an RBI double for Kevin Kiermaier and an RBI single for Randy Arozarena.

To stop the bleeding, Boston turned to Whitlock. Hernandez said people around the team called Whitlock their secret weapon for most of the season.

“It’s not secret anymore,” Hernandez said. “Garrett Whitlock is legit. That is an electric arm with three-plus pitches at his age with his experience coming into this year. It’s not every day that a Rule 5 pick gets to close out a wild-card game and then wins a game that wins not just a division series, but a playoff series.”

Whitlock arrived in Boston as an unheralded Rule 5 draft pick. While most Rule 5 picks fail to make any impact on a team, the Red Sox’s front office felt optimistic about the reliever, whom it scooped up from the Yankees organization. After some Boston scouts watched videos on Instagram of Whitlock’s offseason bullpen sessions, the team decided to take a chance on the 25-year-old righty.

The gamble paid off, with Whitlock posting a 1.96 ERA with a 1.10 WHIP in 46 games, shaping up to be the best version of the prototypical reliever in the modern game: a versatile pitcher who can come in and be a bullpen Swiss Army knife by throwing multiple innings or closing games and getting hitters out in a variety of ways. Whitlock said a turning point came in Chicago in September, when he gave up a walk-off home run to Leury Garcia.

“I was sitting in the bathroom and Kiké Hernandez came up and like I was down on myself,” Whitlock said. “Kiké came up and he was just like, ‘Hey man, you’ve been huge for us all year. You’re going to continue to be huge for us.’ Once he said that, that gave me a lot of confidence to go.”

Cora said that the success of Whitlock is emblematic of the approach the Red Sox take with scouting.

“Instagram gets a shoutout,” Cora said. “I’m glad that some of the scouts have Instagram and saw him throwing a bullpen. But it was amazing. It was a great day. I’m very proud of everybody.”

Ultimately, Cora said the team won because the Red Sox executed on the fundamentals, a strength of both Hernandez and Whitlock.

“Kiké put the ball in the air, old-school baseball right there,” Cora said. “Fundamental baseball, and we won the ALDS playing good fundamental baseball.”

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Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker says sign-stealing allegations by Chicago White Sox are ‘heavy accusations’

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CHICAGO — Astros manager Dusty Baker pushed back on Chicago White Sox reliever Ryan Tepera‘s comments regarding potential sign stealing by Houston, calling them “heavy accusations.”

“They’re about the same runs, OPS and everything as we are — well, actually, better on the road than we are at home,” Baker said Monday afternoon. “And I think they’re actually better at home than they are on the road.

“So I don’t have much response to that other than I was listening to Eric Clapton this morning, and he had a song, ‘Before You Accuse Me (Take a Look at Yourself).’ … You know what I mean? That’s all I got to say.”

Tepera implied after Sunday’s 12-6 win by the White Sox in Game 3 of the American League Division Series that the Astros might be stealing signs when they play at home, though he didn’t indicate whether they were doing it legally.

“They’ve obviously had a reputation of doing some sketchy stuff over there, and we can say that it’s a little bit of a difference,” Tepera said after Game 3 on Sunday night. “I think you saw the swings and misses tonight compared to the first two games at Minute Maid [Park].”

The Astros struck out 16 times in Game 3 in Chicago, their total from the first two games combined. Houston ranked fourth in OPS at home in the American League during the regular season and first on the road; the White Sox were third at home and seventh on the road.

The Astros were disciplined by Major League Baseball after it found the team used electronics to steal signs during their run to the 2017 World Series title and again in the 2018 season.

MLB’s investigation found Houston used a video feed from a center-field camera to see and decode the opposing catcher’s signs during home games. Players banged on a trash can to signal to batters what was coming, believing it would improve the batter’s odds of getting a hit.

The Astros haven’t been found guilty of anything since.

“Are we aware that there are certain teams out there that are better at relaying signs at second base? Yeah, absolutely,” White Sox reliever Aaron Bummer said Monday. “But does that change anything to say it’s sketchy too much? Maybe. I have no idea.”

Houston catcher Martin Maldonado on Monday posted on Twitter that it’s “always good to get a extra motivation.”

Astros third baseman Alex Bregman, who played for the Astros in 2017, had little to say Monday when asked about Tepera’s comments.

“Whatever works,” Bregman said. “It’s all good. We’re just focused on winning games. That’s it.”

White Sox manager Tony La Russa didn’t provide an opinion on Tepera’s comments, but he approved of his reliever’s right to say whatever he wanted.

“I don’t get into that stuff,” La Russa said. “I just don’t get into it. And I try to realize this is America, and players can say what they want to, and I can say that I don’t want to get into it if I want to. I think that they’re a very good team, and they’re tough to beat. That’s what I think.”

White Sox fans chanted, “Cheater! Cheater!” when Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Bregman batted on Monday.

“They’ll probably have to deal with it forever, really, because people don’t forget,” Baker said. “They pass along information seemingly from one generation to the next. This is just something, I feel badly, but this is something we have to deal with.”

The Astros lead the series 2-1. Game 4 was postponed Monday because of weather and will be played on Tuesday. Game 5, if necessary, will be played on Wednesday night in Houston. And if that happens, all eyes will be on the Astros once again.

“People can say whatever they want,” Bregman said. “It’s all good.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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ALDS Game 4 between Houston Astros, Chicago White Sox postponed until Tuesday

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Given an extra day of rest due to the postponement of Game 4 until Tuesday, the Houston Astros will instead start Lance McCullers Jr. against the Chicago White Sox, the team announced.

Game 4 of the American League Division Series was originally scheduled for Monday afternoon, but it was postponed until Tuesday because of rain in the forecast.

Jose Urquidy had been Houston’s scheduled starter for Monday’s game, but manager Dusty Baker instead will look to close out the series with McCullers, who was dominant in Game 1 while holding Chicago without a run in 6 2/3 innings.

The Astros lead the best-of-five series 2-1.

White Sox manager Tony La Russa said he will stick with Carlos Rodon in Game 4 on Tuesday, with Game 1 starter Lance Lynn available out of the bullpen.

La Russa said Lynn or Lucas Giolito would start a potential Game 5 Wednesday at Houston depending on how things go Tuesday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Tampa Bay Rays stung by controversial ground-rule double in ALDS Game 3 loss to Boston Red Sox

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BOSTON — Kevin Kiermaier felt sure that Yandy Diaz was going to score and give the Tampa Bay Rays a 5-4 lead in the 13th inning of Sunday night’s pivotal ALDS Game 3 against the Boston Red Sox.

The Rays outfielder hit one off the Fenway Park right-field fence, the ball bouncing on the ground before deflecting off Red Sox right fielder Hunter Renfroe‘s right hip and skipping over the fence.

Had the ball not bounced over the fence, Diaz would have easily scored. Instead, crew chief Sam Holbrook called the umpires back toward the infield and they made a decision: the ball would be ruled a ground-rule double and Diaz would need to return to third base. The score would remain tied at 4, only to be broken a half-inning later by a walk-off homer from Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez, cementing a 6-4 Boston victory and setting up an elimination game for Tampa Bay on Monday in Game 4 at Fenway Park.

“I can’t believe that happened or we don’t get the chance to score right there,” Kiermaier said. “For one, I crushed that ball. I was hoping to leave the yard. I got a lot of snap and crackle but no pop. First and foremost, for that to happen right there, it just doesn’t make sense to me.”

Holbrook said the entire six-man crew of umpires came to the same conclusion based on the Rule 5.06 in the MLB umpire handbook, which states that any fair ball deflected by the fielder into the stands leads to the batter and runner being entitled to advance two bases.

“Very simple,” Holbrook said. “From an umpire’s standpoint, very simple textbook in the rule.”

After the ruling, Rays manager Kevin Cash asked if there was anything he could do in the situation. The umpires went to replay to double-check that Renfroe had not intentionally kicked the ball out. Cash agreed that Renfroe did not intentionally ricochet the ball out of the ballpark.

“That’s just the rule,” Cash said. “That’s the way it goes. It was very unfortunate for us. I think it was fairly obvious that [Kiermaier] or Yandy was going to come around to score, but it didn’t go our way.”

Renfroe said he attempted to catch the ball before it bounced off the wall.

“Happened to look up and the wall was right there,” Renfroe said. “Hopefully, thankfully, bounced over the fence and they issued a ground-rule double.”

Cash wished the play had created a different result, but expressed acceptance over the outcome.

“Certainly in the moment, you can appreciate somewhat of a blanket rule, but we put a lot on these umpires and now we’ve introduced video to umpires,” Cash said. “I think it would be a very easy call if somebody stepped in and said it was stating the obvious that he was going to score. Saying that, it’s been a rule for a long time and we’re going to play within the rules that are presented to us this season.”

But the rules did not take the sting out of the moment for the Rays’ clubhouse.

“It’s a heartbreaker,” Kiermaier said. “Plain and simple.”

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