NEW YORK -- Before he became the youngest player in the majors this season, Rafael Devers belted 18 home runs for the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs. By his manager's count, 14 came with two strikes and 13 were hit either to center field or the opposite way to left.
"That says a lot about the hitter," Portland manager Carlos Febles said. "You don't see many power hitters hitting homers with two strikes. They all do damage early in the count. The ability to go the other way, not try to do too much, it's something you don't expect out of a 20-year-old kid."
At least to Febles, then, it must not have been surprising to see Devers drive a two-strike pitch into the left-field bullpen at Yankee Stadium in the top of the ninth inning Sunday night. The solo shot -- Devers' fourth homer in 58 big-league at-bats -- got the Boston Red Sox even in the finale of a three-game series in August that had a decidedly October feel.
But to everybody else, including many of Devers' teammates, it was downright jaw-dropping considering the pitcher it happened against. Not only is Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman left-handed, but he routinely lights up a radar gun with triple digits. This particular pitch was clocked at 102.8 mph.
"I've seen 100," Devers said later, "but never 103."
Yet the kid didn't flinch. Neither did Andrew Benintendi in the top of the 10th inning. The second-youngest player in the Red Sox's lineup delivered a bases-loaded single against reliever Tommy Kahnle to drive in the go-ahead run in a 3-2 victory that stretched Boston's lead in the American League East to 5½ games.
For most of the season, New York has fallen for its Baby Bombers, the collection of young talent that has the Yankees in playoff contention one season sooner than expected. Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino and Clint Frazier have energized a fan base and put the Yankees in position to reach the postseason.
But the weekend belonged to the Baby BoSox. Devers, who won't turn 21 until late October, notched a pair of hits, including a two-run double, in Saturday's 10-5 victory before coming off the bench Sunday night and taking Chapman deep. And with half his family visiting from Cincinnati to celebrate his grandfather's 85th birthday, the 23-year-old Benintendi homered Friday night, stroked a pair of three-run homers Saturday and recorded the game-winning hit Sunday night.
"It’s just another series," Benintendi said, typically taking it all in stride. "I mean, I’m glad I could help the team win. I was struggling the last few months, weeks, and to help the team win, it feels pretty good."
Indeed, the Red Sox's youngsters made it all seem like old hat. Breeze into town, take two of three games from the second-place Yankees, maybe even catch a Broadway matinee. No big deal.
Make no mistake, though: It's a very big deal. When Benintendi is hitting like this out of the No. 3 hole -- he's 16-for-35 with three doubles, four homers and 12 RBIs in his past nine games, including nine RBIs in the three games against the Yankees -- the lineup is deeper and more dangerous. And since he was called up last month, Devers has given the offense a jolt, none bigger than his swing against Chapman.
"I just see him, he's just like any other pitcher," Devers said through an interpreter. "Obviously he's an All-Star, but I just go about every at-bat the same. I felt more emotion rounding the bases knowing that I had tied the game."
But if the Baby BoSox are making it all seem blase, their teammates aren't. Ace lefty Chris Sale, who struck out 12 batters in seven innings for his 16th double-digit strikeout game, was in the trainer's room when Devers become only the second left-handed batter ever to take Chapman deep and the first since Luke Scott on June 26, 2011.
"I literally jumped up when he hit it," Sale said. "You can't help but smile. Talk about a moment in a game, for a guy like him, a young guy, a rookie, it's huge. And that's why you love him. That's why he's here, and those are the things we've almost come to expect out of him."
Red Sox manager John Farrell said Devers "doesn't fear the moment" and called it "an incredible swing." And perhaps he was so flabbergasted by Devers' dramatics that it caused him to forget Rule 8.06(c) that stipulates a manager or coach can't make multiple mound visits while the same batter is at the plate. How else to explain Farrell's failed attempt to bring in closer Craig Kimbrel in the middle of an at-bat in the bottom of the ninth after pitching coach Carl Willis had just visited reliever Addison Reed?
But all was well that ended well for Farrell and the Red Sox. And thanks to Devers and Benintendi, it ended with a 10th victory in the past 11 games.
"We've had our troubles against New York so far this year," Farrell said. "To win a couple here after dropping a tough game Friday night says a lot about our guys, says a lot about our resolve."
And the way that it all happened says that the youngest players among them are steeled for the challenge of a pennant race.