Red Sox Enter Must-Win Territory in Houston in the ALCS

Brian Garland

The Boston Red Sox battled back from a 7-2 loss at Fenway Park in Game 1 and a 4-2 Houston Astros lead early in Game 2 to tie the American League Championship Series at 1-1 heading to Houston.

Red Sox ace Chris Sale was hospitalized over the weekend for a stomach virus, though Alex Cora expects that Sale will be available to pitch once again in Game 4 or 5. Sale pitched Game 1 and was noticeably slower with his pitch velocity, from the usual 97 miles per hour on his fastball to 92 miles per hour at his worst in Game 1.

The pitch velocity was one issue for Sale in the first game and lack of control was the other. Sale walked four Houston Astros batters in Game 1, where in most Sale starts it is unusual for him to walk any batters in a seven inning start. 

Game 2 starter David Price was no more effective in four and two-thirds innings pitched, but he was no more lucky than Sale. Costly fielding errors and walks allowed Houston’s George Springer to drive the first two Houston runs home on a double. 

Marwin Gonzalez extended Houston’s lead to 4-2 in the third inning with a 2-run home run. At this point, the Astros hold the advantage in the series, about to take the series back to Houston with a heavy 2-0 lead over the Red Sox.

The struggles of the pitching rotation and bullpen are fatal flaws for most teams this time of year, but not for the Boston Red Sox. They prove time and again that they are too resilient to keep out of a game.

Down 4-2 in the bottom of the third inning, Boston’s bats come alive. Xander Bogaerts singles.  Steve Pearce knocks a double that moves Bogaerts to third base, and young Rafael Devers takes a walk to load the bases with one out.

Up comes veteran second baseman Ian Kinsler with a prime opportunity to bring runs home. He takes three strikes, two and three while swinging, and heads back to the dugout. 

A golden opportunity to sacrifice is gone. Only a walk or a hit will bring Boston back in the game against Houston’s second ace pitcher and Cy Young candidate Gerrit Cole.

With two outs in the bottom of the third inning, Jackie Bradley Jr. emerges from the on-deck circle. The bases are still loaded, and the slumping Bradley has to be the hero.

Bradley patiently takes two balls to jump ahead in the count, 2-0. A walk would do fine for Bradley, batting a disappointing .160 in the postseason. He swings away. Bradley receives a perfect pitch, a 96 mile-per-hour fastball right over the middle of the plate. The right location for Bradley, though a bit too fast for him.

Bradley shortens his swing. He received an excellent pitch to hit from Gerrit Cole on 2-0, but that’s in the past. Cole is down 2-1 in the count with nowhere to put any baserunners after walking Rafael Devers previously to load the bases. 

Cole cannot afford to leave another pitch outside the strike zone and Jackie Bradley knows it. He prepares for the next pitch. 97 miles per hour, another fastball. Same speed, same spot, just lower. And boy, does Bradley like the ball in the lower middle. He pops Cole’s fastball the other way into the corner in left field.

Fenway Park has seen over 100 years of baseball, yet a new trick was discovered on this day by Jackie Bradley Jr., possibly by accident. Astros left fielder Marwin Gonzalez tries to play the ball after it jumps down from the wall, just like every other Green Monster shot that stay in. This ball was different though. It bounces off the bottom of the wall immediately on to the dirt of the warning track. 

The momentum carries the ball so high as it slices left that it reaches the top of the padding in the left field box that connects to the Green Monster in left field.  Gonzalez is understandably baffled by the bounce the ball takes, and it rolls all the way down the padding as Xander Bogaerts, Steve Pearce and the sluggish Rafael Devers rush all the way home. 5-4 Red Sox.

For five innings, Boston’s bullpen does the improbable and protects this one-run lead for four innings, until a passed ball brings Mookie Betts home to take a 6-4 Red Sox lead. 

The insurance run helps keep the Astros away for two more innings, until a George Springer double, a passed ball by Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel and a Jose Altuve RBI single with two outs in the 9th inning brings Houston closer, 7-5. 

Kimbrel recorded a nail-biting save in Game 4 of the ALDS against the New York Yankees, allowing two runs in the 9th to make it 4-3 with Yankee runners on first and second with two outs before Eduardo Nunez and Steve Pearce stretched out to get Gleyber Torres in time on a ground out to clinch the series.

Kimbrel survives another scare in Game 2 of the ALCS, as Houston’s Alex Bregman popped out to Andrew Benintendi at the tip of the warning track in left field. 

The cliche for the playoffs is “survive and advance”. The Red Sox have proved that they can survive so long as their pitching does not allow so many runs that the bats cannot make up. Even so, no lead is safe against the 2018 Boston Red Sox.

In Game 3, Red Sox flamethrower Nathan Eovaldi starts against former Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel. Since the Red Sox lost Game 1 at home, they have to make up their ground on the road in Houston.

It is worth noting that five years ago this week, the 2013 Red Sox came back in Game 2 of the ALCS against Detroit after a David Ortiz grand slam tied a 5-1 game in the 8th inning. Boston defeated the Tigers in the ALCS and the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series to win the championship. That is the resiliency found in this year’s team, and comebacks like Bradley’s double and Ortiz’s grand slam can make a team special. 

Brian Garland is the Sports Editor for The Comment.

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