Back on September 15th, Hanley Ramirez blasted a three-run shot that gave the Red Sox a stunning 7-5 win over the Yankees, and ended a small two-game slide, and it sent New York reeling. But it started something really special for the Red Sox, and Hanley's blast may go down in Red Sox lore if it leads to bigger and better things.
As I write this, the Sox have not lost since, winning 11 straight. They have not blugeoning teams during this run, as they have scored as many as seven runs twice (in their first two wins). They became the first team in MLB history to score exactly five runs in five consecutive victories.
Four of the eleven wins have been won by one run, something that was a big problem for the Red Sox earlier in the 2016 season. The starting pitching has been very good, but the bullpen has been close to lights-out. The return of Koji Uehara and Joe Kelly has boosted the pen tremendously, and Craig Kimbrel has been nearly unhittable since he returned from knee surgery in early August. The Sox have held the opposition to two runs or less in five of the games during the streak.
The pitching has made the difference, and it was on display yesterday in St. Pete against the Rays. Eduardo Rodriguez had one of the finest outings of his young career, striking out 13 in just 5 1/3 innings. (That means just three of the Tampa Bay outs were NOT Ks.) But he threw 113 pitches, and John Farrell went to his pen for Heath Hembree, and he was spectacular, striking out all five hitters he faced.
When Hembree fanned his last hitter, the Sox had combined to strike out 11 straight hitters, a new MLB record, breaking Tom Seaver's record of 10 straight he set against the Padres in 1970. But the pitchers were far from through. Joe Kelly struck out two batters in the ninth, and the Sox had fanned 21 Tampa Bay Rays though nine innings, the first time in history that had happened. But since the game was tied at 2, the record won't count, as the game went to the 10th inning.
Dustin Pedroia scored in the top of the 10th on David Ortiz' double (in one of the craziest home plate slides you will ever see), and Kelly came back out for the 10th. He allowed two hits, but struck out two batters as well, and after Brad Miller lined to left, the Sox had their 11th straight win, and set an MLB record for most strikeouts in a 10-inning game, with 23.
The Sox are peaking at the right time, and now have a Magic Number of 2 to win the division (they have already wrapped up a postseason berth). It is also interesting to note that the Yankees, who have been eliminated from the AL East race, have an elimination number from the Wild Card race of 2. It is possible that the Sox could win the AL East and eliminate the Yankees from the postseason on the same night, possibly as early as Tuesday.
Boy, how sweet would that be?