"It feels great," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "It's probably a little different each time, different emotions, but it certainly doesn't become less enjoyable or less satisfying, and it's nice to know that we have more baseball to play. We'll see how the week unfolds and keep everybody healthy, feeling good, and try to win, and see what happens."
Though the 92-65 Red Sox are still in mathematical contention for the American League East title, their most likely entry into the playoffs will be as the Wild Card winner, which would earn them an AL Division Series matchup with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, a best-of-five set that would start in Anaheim on Oct. 1 or 2.
The only way the Red Sox can win the AL East is to run the table over their final five games and have the 95-62 Rays go 1-4. Tampa Bay would win the division if the teams finished with the same record, because it won the head-to-head season series. For Boston, it was just thrilled to know that they are one of the eight teams moving on.
When it was over, the Red Sox playfully jumped on top of each other before retreating to the clubhouse for the celebration. Several players also came back on the field to celebrate with the fans.
"It feels great," said Red Sox left fielder Jason Bay. "I can't really describe it right now. I'm just jumping around like a kid. We've been on the doorstep for a while, but to finally get in and be able to celebrate, it does feel pretty special for me. Especially the journey that I carved to get here."
By earning their spot into the postseason, the Red Sox officially eliminated the Yankees, who are out of the postseason for the first time since 1993.
Veteran knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, the only player to be on Boston's past eight postseason entries dating back to 1995, earned the win, allowing six hits and four runs (all of which were scored in the fifth inning) over six innings. Wakefield walked one and struck out six.
"It was unbelievable," said Wakefield. "I thought we'd squeak it out last night, but the guy who we were facing tonight was, obviously, a hurdle but our offense did a great job."
Fittingly, Kevin Youkilis (two-run homer in the fourth) and Dustin Pedroia (two-run double in the fifth) provided two of the biggest hits of the night. They've been Boston's most consistent offensive players all season.
|With a two-run double Tuesday night vs. the Indians, Dustin Pedroia moved into a third-place tie with Tris Speaker on the Red Sox's all-time list for doubles in a season.|
And it was equally appropriate that Bay, who has been so productive since coming over in the trade for Manny Ramirez on July 31, drove in the go-ahead run, a two-out RBI single up the middle in the fifth.
Indians manager Eric Wedge opted to intentionally walk Youkilis, giving Bay a chance to come up big again.
"Not that you need any incentive, but sometimes somebody gets walked in front of you, you want it a little extra," said Bay. "It was nice to get it, and to have it hold up. The bullpen came through huge, and it held up. My hit at that point put us ahead, but you look at David [Ortiz], you look at Youk, you look at [Pedroia]. Everybody pitched in today, and that's kind of the way it's been since I've been here."
Doing it against Lee meant something as well, considering that the postseason is always filled with top-notch opposing starters.
"If we're going to win, we're going to have to beat guys like that," said Bay. "To come out and do it just kind of shows what this team is made of."
Clinging to a 5-4 lead after reliever Manny Delcarmen loaded the bases with two outs in the seventh, Francona went to lefty Hideki Okajima to face Victor Martinez. And Okajima, amid a tense, eight-pitch at-bat, got Martinez to pop a 3-2 pitch to Youkilis to end the threat.
Jonathan Papelbon came on to escape a two-out, bases-loaded jam in the eighth. He then navigated the ninth for save No. 41, giving the Fenway faithful good reason to erupt.
"It's amazing," said Red Sox center fielder Coco Crisp. "This is where you want to be at this moment. There's nothing better. We've still got a chance to try to go all the way."
The first step is complete.