What a game, and what a heartbreaking way for the season to end. In many ways, this season-ending contest was a microcosm of the Red Sox season. Rick Porcello was counted upon and didn’t do the job, though he was somehow better than he seemed. Chris Sale was incredible for the first part of his outing, but the Red Sox probably leaned a little too hard on him and he gave up a back-breaking home run. The offense had some chances to take control of the game early but Boston’s lineup couldn’t come through with the big hit in the first third of the game. These were problems all year, and they led to the early exit. The one part of the loss that wasn’t a microcosm was Craig Kimbrel, who simply didn’t get the job done in the ninth. He was nails all year, but in the biggest game of 2017 he didn’t come through.
When we take a step back and look at this season, we’ll see it for everything it was. That is, a division-winning year with great pitching and clutch hitting, albeit one with some serious flaws. Right now, though, in the immediate aftermath of this heartbreak, it’s hard to think about much of anything. And that’s okay. That’s baseball. The season ends in heartbreaking fashion at one point or another for 29 of the 30 fanbases. Unfortunately, the Red Sox were not the one lucky team. It’s okay to focus on how much that sucks right now, especially after a game like this. There were second-guesses to be had and we’ll be discussing that all winter, I’d imagine. More than anything, though, I’m just bummed. This season ended too early, even if they lost to the better team.
As has happened in every game this season, the Astros got on the board first thanks to a shaky first inning from the Red Sox starter. Rick Porcello was playing that role this time around, and his command was clearly off in this game. He kicked things off by allowing a double to George Springer, who would then move over to third on a wild pitch. After walking Josh Reddick, Porcello finally made a big pitch to induce a huge double play from Jose Altuve. The Astros did get a run on the play, but the two-outs-for-one-run tradeoff was one Boston would certainly take. Porcello would get into more trouble in the inning with a walk and a hit by pitch, but once again he made a huge pitch and struck out Alex Bregman to end the inning with just a 1-0 deficit.
This time around, the Red Sox didn’t waste much time getting back into the game, as it took exactly one batter. Xander Bogaerts was hitting second on Monday in order to see a few pitches before taking his cuts, and that worked out masterfully. He got a fastball right over the heart of the plate from Charlie Morton and he didn’t miss it, lining it right into the bullpens for a game-tying solo homer. Boston would get another runner into scoring position with Mookie Betts singling then stealing second, but he was stranded there.
Unfortunately, Porcello still didn’t have it in the second. He led that inning off by allowing a triple to Yuli Gurriel, though it could have been less damaging as Betts attempted a sliding stop on the rolling ball but it got by him to the wall. Either way, there was a runner at third with nobody out. Porcello came back with a couple big strikeouts to get to two outs, but then allowed a solid single to Springer to give Houston back their one-run lead. Once again he’d get into more trouble — this time allowing a single and a walk to load the bases — but once again he got out of it with a big strikeout, this time against the powerful Carlos Correa.
In the bottom of the second, the Red Sox hit their lowest point of the game. Things started out great with two singles and a walk to load the bases with nobody out and Morton on the ropes. They had to get something here. Instead, Jackie Bradley and Dustin Pedroia both struck out on borderline calls, with the latter’s resulting in an argument that would end with John Farrell’s ejection. For what it’s worth, the strike three call to Bradley looked bad to me but the one to Pedroia wasn’t all that bad of a call. Either way, the Red Sox were suddenly down to two outs and Bogaerts hit a lazy fly ball to end the inning without a single run being scored. It was a gut punch to be sure.
Porcello then came back out for the third in what seemed like a questionable decision, but it worked out as he allowed just one double in a scoreless inning. That was his last inning of the day, and while he wasn’t sharp and got into some bad jams, he did a great job of pitching himself out of the trouble he created. The bottom half of the third would be another frustrating one for the Red Sox, meanwhile. Andrew Benintendi led off with a single. He made a mistake after that, though, on a Betts line drive right at Bregman. Instead of freezing, Benintendi took a step or two towards second base and was doubled up at first base in a momentum killer. Sure enough, Mitch Moreland followed that with a double. In the next at bat, Hanley Ramirez it a mammoth shot that just went foul before settling for a bloop single into left field. That wouldn’t matter much as Moreland was sent home for no apparent reason and gunned down by a mile. There’s running aggressively and running stupidly, and the Red Sox were on the latter side in the third inning.
With Porcello out of the game and rain coming down, the Red Sox decided they weren’t messing around and turned to Chris Sale out of the bullpen, his first time in this role since 2012. He was great. He got Boston’s first 1-2-3 inning in the fourth, and after the Red Sox lineup went down in order themselves in the bottom half, Sale came back for the fifth and retired three more in order.
That would bring us to the bottom of the fifth and this game was ready to jump up to another level of nuttiness. Morton was still in the game to start the inning for the Astros, and he got one out and allowed one walk before getting removed. Coming in for Houston in a surprising move (to put it lightly) was Justin Verlander. The Astros ace had never pitched out of relief even dating back to his college days, and suddenly he was being brought in with runners on base. The plan backfired as Benintendi came to the plate first. He made up for his error on the basepaths by taking a hanging breaking ball and hitting it into the seats in the short right field corner, causing the Fenway crowd to explode and giving Boston their first lead of the day.
From here, it was all up to the bullpen and that meant it was all up to Sale. He was up to the task for an inning, at least. He came out for the sixth and he did allow a baserunner, but it came on an error as Gurriel hit a ground ball to third base that Devers tried to back hand rather than get in front of. That would put a runner on second with just one out, but Sale came back with two strikeouts to get out of the jam. He’d then come back out for the seventh against the meat of the Astros order. Springer led things off with a single before Sale got two big outs after that. That brought up Correa, who would get a single of his own to put two on with two outs and Marwin Gonzalez coming up. Sale put on a clinic in this at bat, eventually ending things with a filthy back-foot slider to strike him out and end the Astros chance.
After the Red Sox failed to get to Verlander in the seventh and the lead still at 3-2, Sale came back out for the eighth. It was a call not everyone agreed with, though for whatever it may be worth (probably not much), I thought it was the right call. It didn’t work. Alex Bregman led things off and he got a changeup right over the heart of the plate and didn’t miss. The third baseman rocked it into the Monster Seats and in the blink of an eye this game was all tied up again.
Sale would stay in the game after this, getting a ground ball for out number one before allowing a ball just down the third base line to Evan Gattis in the next at bat. It was right on the border of being fair or foul, but it was called fair and went past the bag before the ball girl went to pick it up. This would be a break for the Red Sox, as the umps ruled Gattis had to stay at first after the play. Sale stayed in for one more batter, getting a lineout before handing things off to Craig Kimbrel. The home run Sale allowed was brutal, but all-in-all this was an incredible and clutch outing for the Red Sox ace.
Kimbrel was clearly amped up to start this appearance and was yanking fastballs to his glove side in a first at bat that led to a walk. With two outs and two on, Reddick came to the plate. Kimbrel was noticeably calmer in this at bat, but Reddick put up a great fight getting to a full count and fouling off fastball after fastball. Kimbrel finally caught a bit too much of the plate with one and Reddick slapped it through the left side, allowing a run to score and Houston to regain the lead.
So, it was up to the Red Sox offense to come back again like they’ve done so many times this year. The Astros continued to play with urgency, sending their closer Ken Giles out for six outs. The eighth inning did not go well with the Red Sox hitting into three ground outs for a quick frame. Kimbrel came back out for the ninth and continued to struggle, eventually allowing Houston to get an insurance run and open up a two-run lead.
That insurance run would appear to loom large to start off the bottom half of the ninth. Devers came up and smacked a ball to deep center field. Springer went for the leaping grab but came up short, leaving nobody to get the ricocheting ball. Devers kept running all the way around for an inside-the-park home run. 5-4 Astros. Giles would settle down from here, though, getting a ground out and strike out to leave it all up to Pedroia. He couldn’t come through, ending a tough at bat with a ground out to end the game, and with it, the season.
So, that’s the end of the story of the 2017 Red Sox. We’ll have a ton more on this team, of course, and the offseason ahead. But for now, we try to get over this crazy game and a wild season. Good bye 2017. See you soon 2018.