BOSTON — For several minutes, nobody knew what was going on.
Kevin Kiermaier appeared to give the Tampa Bay Rays the lead in the top of the 13th inning when he hit a deep fly ball off the base of the right field wall. With Yandy Diaz at first it was almost a given that the Rays would take the lead, until the ball ricocheted off right fielder Hunter Renfroe and then landed in the Red Sox bullpen.
You couldn't script a stranger play in such an important spot.
After the umpires conferred and reviewed the play, the play was ruled an automatic double. That meant Diaz was sent back to third, the game remained tied, and then Nick Pivetta made sure not to waste his second chance by striking out Mike Zunino to end the inning.
Minutes later, Christian Vazquez and the Red Sox were celebrating at home plate.
Vazquez's walk-off two-run home run in the bottom of the 13th gave the Red Sox a thrilling and improbable 6-4 win in Game 3 of the American League Divisional Series. Boston is now one win away from advancing to the American League Championship Series and can punch its ticket to the next round Monday in Game 4.
"When that happened, I was speechless ... I've never seen that before in my life," Kiké Hernández said of the Kiermaier play. "Luckily it went our way, and you can call it home field advantage if you want. Call it whatever you want, but we won."
After the game, umpire crew chief Sam Holbook and umpire supervisor Charlie Reliford explained the ruling, saying that according to official baseball Rule 5.06(b)(4)(H): "If a fair ball not in flight is deflected by a fielder and goes out of play, the award is two bases from the time of the pitch."
"It's just flat out in the rulebook," Holbrook said. "It's a ground-rule double."
The wild turn of events nearly didn't come to pass, as the Red Sox controlled much of the game before the Rays tied it up in the eighth inning.
After falling behind 2-0 in the top of the first, Kyle Schwarber hit a leadoff home run and Boston took a 3-2 lead on four straight singles to start the third. The latter two by Hernández (3 for 6) and Rafael Devers tied the game and gave Boston the lead respectively.
Hernández added a solo home run in the bottom of the fifth to extend the lead, and Nathan Eovaldi kept the Rays at bay. The starter allowed just a two-run home run over five innings while striking out eight, and Josh Taylor, Ryan Brasier and Austin Davis combined for another two innings of scoreless relief.
The Rays rallied in the eighth to tie the game at 4-4. Wander Franco hit a solo home run off Hansel Robles, Austin Meadows doubled and pinch runner Manuel Margot came around to score on an RBI double by Randy Arozarena.
Garrett Whitlock escaped the jam without further incident, pitched a scoreless ninth and then Nick Pivetta kept the Rays off the board for four more innings before Vazquez called game in the 13th.
With Pivetta having thrown 67 pitches in relief, Alex Cora said Eduardo Rodriguez will most likely start Game 4 for the Red Sox. First pitch is scheduled for Monday at 7:07 p.m. at Fenway Park.