NEW YORK — Boston Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel might have gotten lucky.

New York Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez came very close to hitting a game-ending grand slam in the bottom of the ninth inning Tuesday night.

Kimbrel served up a down-the-middle fastball at 98 mph to Sanchez, who demolished it high into the night sky.

It was too high.

The ball died at the warning track, and Kimbrel got a groundout from Gleyber Torres to end the 4-3 win, finish the American League Division Series and send the Red Sox into a celebration on their rivals’ home field for the second time in less than three weeks.

“The 3-2 to Sanchez was pretty nerve-wracking, but it got to the second out, and we were able to get through it,” Kimbrel said.

Wild from the start, he walked Aaron Judge to start the inning, then gave up a single to Didi Gregorius to bring the tying run to the plate in Giancarlo Stanton. But Stanton didn’t have it in this series (4-for-18, no RBI), and Kimbrel got him to chase a slider for strike three.

With one out, Kimbrel walked Luke Voit to load the bases, then plunked Neil Walker on the first pitch of the at-bat to bring in one run. The Sanchez at-bat almost ruined his night.

“I’m not going out there trying to do that,” Kimbrel said. “I’m trying to have a 1-2-3 inning, but it doesn’t always work out like that. At the end of the day, we got the win, and we’re looking forward to Houston.”

The final out was challenged at first base and upheld, delaying the celebration for one minute.

“This game was one of the toughest games, one of the most nerve-wracking games,” shortstop Xander Bogaerts said. “I don’t think the most nervous game or something like that, but I think the final outs of that game, with guys on base and Gary Sanchez hit that ball up and the air and I’m like, ‘Oh my God.’ Then you’ve got (Andrew Benintendi who) was going slowly back to the wall and I’m like, ‘Stop going back! You’re making me nervous.’ And he caught the ball, and we won, and it was amazing.”


Next up, the Houston Astros, who demolished the Cleveland Indians in a three-game sweep.

“I don’t know too much about them, just they have a good team,” joked manager Alex Cora, who was the bench coach for the Astros last year. “What they did to the Indians, that was impressive. It seems like they’re playing their best baseball of the season at the right time. They can pitch. They’re playing good defense. They’re swinging the bat well. They’re a complete team.

“I’ve been talking about them the whole season, so now we go. Best of seven. They know me. I know them. It should be fun.”

The Astros took 3-of-4 from the Sox in the ALDS last year and now get a chance at a rematch.

“It’s about time, it’s about time,” Bogaerts said. “It was tough in this first round for a while, but I think this is a group we have that is pretty special.

“We know they’re a good team, but we have the best record this year, and we start at home. We start at home, so our confidence is pretty high.”

Game 1 will be Saturday at Fenway Park at 8:09 p.m. ET and Game 2, also at Fenway, will be Sunday at 7:09 p.m. ET. Both games are on TBS.

The Patriots play the Chiefs on Sunday Night Football at 8:20 p.m. ET.


Home plate umpire Angel Hernandez made headlines after four of his calls at first base were challenged in Game 3, and three of them were overturned.

He called the balls and strikes last night, leading to Yankees starter CC Sabathia questioning Hernandez’ ability after the lefty allowed three runs in three innings before getting pulled.

“He’s absolutely terrible,” Sabathia told reporters. “He was terrible behind the plate today. He was terrible at first base. It’s amazing how he’s getting jobs umpiring in these playoff games.”

Red Sox starter Rick Porcello went five innings, giving up one run.

“Throw it to the bottom of the plate, CC,” Porcello said. “I thought Angel Hernandez called a good game. You have to get it over the right part of the plate to get strikes called. That’s all I have to say about that.”


The Red Sox celebrated by playing Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” in their clubhouse after the game. The Yankees celebrated with that song on a boombox carried by Aaron Judge throughout Fenway Park after Game 2. …

Mitch Moreland was again on the bench with hamstring soreness, though Cora said he was available to pinch hit (he didn’t). Tzu-Wei Lin is now working out with the team in case Moreland needs to be replaced on the roster going into the ALCS. …

According to ESPN, playoff teams who score first are 14-2 this year, with both losses by the Indians. The Red Sox scored first both nights in Yankee Stadium and will now play in the ALCS for the 11th time in franchise history. …

The Red Sox hit .400 with runners in scoring position this series; the Yankees hit .154.

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