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The Red Sox deserve this ALDS celebration, but the work isn't done yet

The Red Sox deserve this ALDS celebration, but the work isn't done yet

Its approaching midnight, and the party is still going on. These Red Sox got a few days rest, but as with everything else that has defined this totally unexpected 2021 joy ride, theyre going to make sure and live the moment before moving on to the next one.

Kyle Schwarber is still blinking away his champagne tears, somewhere behind second base on Fenway Parks pristine grass. He is one of the few Red Sox players to avoid the latest team-issued accessory, preferring instead to earn the burn rather than wear goggles, which is his own fault, really. No complaints either. Hes just as enjoying this wild, unscheduled open-air Red Sox family picnic as he is enjoying the sport.

Christian Arroyos giddy, gleeful voice as hell be hanging with his wife, Paige, when suddenly the bell ringes.

Arroyo hollers, The Kyle Schwarber legend lives.

Red Sox victory over the Rays brought drama, excitement, inspiration, and another walkoff all the way to the ALCS | Dan Shaughnessy

Arroyo performs a perfect imitation of his teammates charming moment from an earlier night, when the first basemen celebrated erroneous play after dozens of defensive mistakes. From raised arm to fist-pump to tip of the cap, Arroyo gets Schwarber exactly right, as if hed done it before.

Its not as if these Red Sox are interchangeable parts, but in many ways, these are. It may well be their most distinctive and powerful attribute.

It was that togetherness, that interchangeability, which reigned through the festivities as they sat for hours on their home turf late Monday night, as their families, friends, and champagne cans from one pocket and Budweiser canas of another pulled champagne bottles from another pocket.

Its what has allowed this crazy, unexpected season to continue in such a bizarre, unusual way: an abiding belief that anyone, on any night, can accomplish the one thing the team needs to win.

Schwarber wasnt even the star of this one. Kik Hernndez, with the winning sacrifice fly, as well as Travis Shaw and Christian Vzquez, whose singles got the ninth-inning rally going, and Arroyo, who with his perfect sacrifice bunt kept the engine revving, along with Garrett Whitlock, the key relief appearance,and Eduardo Rodriguez, mitigating the redemptive start.

Yes, this is happening: The Red Sox are heading to the American League Championship Series.

Schwarber's self-deprecation went viral in Game 3. Thats how it is with this 2021 group, these last-four-standing baseball warriors in red, white, and blue, those ALCS-clinching upstarts picked by the vast majority of us to go nowhere but pushed by their best to keep playing. Give em a 5-0 lead, and then take it all away, as the Rays did Monday. Theyll fight you either way. You never know whos going to land the knockout punch.

It doesnt matter how big the deficit is or when we get down, exclaimed Alex Verdugo, who, by the way, declared the ubiquitous goggles useless, because their foam lining allowed the champagne to soak through. We felt this was like our first-half team, when we had the most comeback victories, and its just keep fighting until the very last out. Do that and great things are going to happen.

I think everyone counted us out to start the year and we knew we had a strong group of guys. Were hungry. We had a great time at the party. And if we keep winning, we cant stop partying.

The party started at 10:34 p.m. Hernandezs fly ball to left unleashed chaos on Monday, shaking Fenway sagging beams to their core, releasing the home dugout to encircle the team's hottest hitter at his most fiery moment.

Schwarber, who like so many of his teammates was perched and ready for what they were certain would be Hernndezs walkoff effort, said Schwanber.

I was on top of the railing there, and as soon as he hit it, I was over the fence, saying, OK, catch it. catchit, capture it... catch, OK, got it and ran, run, ran., a man who had previously been jailed for eight years. I went straight to Kik.

Verdugo also did.

I was running down the line as the ball was still coming in the air, he said. There was Kik, then [Hunter] Renfroe, and I was under there just giving body punches to everyone. Then I got out of there quickly.

The ever-elegant Xander Bogaerts joined them, but, as always, he remained grounded by his veteran knowledge.

I was looking down, he said, because I dont want anyone stepping on me with their cleats. You dont want anyone hurting you. No time for that.

Plenty of time to reflect, though, on a season taking another magical turn through the playoffs, with Jeremy Cora as the manager, guiding the wheel in all the right directions, attending naysayers' every intention, and on the nighttime playoff game that lifted everything to new heights.

The final hundred or so fans had to be practically pushed out the gates, floating as they did to an organists rendition of the Phil Collins classic Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now.).

Look at them now.

How the partnership between Chaim Bloom and Alex Cora helped the Red Sox reach the ALCS was a factor in how the team made it to the playoffs.

No one wanted the party to end. Jason Varitek, not coach Jason Bogaerts, who finally made his way toward the dugout only to stop and grab Bogeertes by the hand, interlacing his fingers and sharing a side bear hug before releasing him again. Chaim Bloom, chief baseball officer at the ALCS, was not pictured, but rather in champagne-soaked red shorts, a black ALSC T-shirt, shower slides, and he walked around the field in soiled baseball short heels, an ALDS T shirt, slide-covered showers and backward white baseball cap. Not the different groups of family who posed for photos, but the parents who found their professional ballplayer kids and wrapped them in long embraces. Not the manager who was enthralled by his daughter's expressions as he hugged her and cried.

Bogaerts said, It was so nice to see all that." A lot of relief. These last two games were quite tumultuous, with two walkoffs. I dont know how often that happens. It was a great time. Just being able to win, to see all the fans.

Were not done, but we should celebrate.

Finally, as the clock ticked past midnight, the last holdouts departed the dugout, where the crisp breeze of the October evening had turned the warm embrace of those new championship T-shirts into clingy, damp hugs ready for the showers.

The topic now shifts to the ALCS. These Sox will be on hand for an opening game on Friday night in Houston. Take your pick on who will be next up for the hero.

Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. tara.sullivan can be reached at tara@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Globe_Tara

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