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Red Sox 5, Astros 4: Starting the ALCS off on the wrong foot

The offense struggled against Houston’s bullpen, and the Astros offense finally broke through.

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Championship Series - Boston Red Sox v Houston Astros - Game One Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

Despite a whole lot going wrong for the Red Sox early in this game, from wasted opportunities at the plate thanks to double plays and a lack of command from Chris Sale resulting in a whole lot of Astros base runners, they actually had a lead for a good chunk of this game. Kiké Hernández took over in the second and third, saving a Sale inning with a diving catch and then blasting what was at the time a game-tying home run. But the Red Sox offense scored all their runs in the third and couldn’t break through against the Astros bullpen, while the Red Sox pitching staff kept bending without breaking. But that can only last so long, and somewhat ironically it was a couple of solo homers from Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa that put Houston ahead and ultimately gave them a 1-0 series lead.

Alex Cora unleashed his first major surprise of the series before it even started, announcing Chris Sale as the Game One starter over Nathan Eovaldi. The southpaw has looked really rough of late, particularly with his command, getting knocked out after just an inning of work in the ALDS against the Rays. But the word from the Red Sox was that he had been working through his issues throughout this time off, and had fixed whatever it was that was causing him to struggle so badly. He was ready for this spotlight.

Unfortunately he was not. Taking the mound after a frustrating first inning for the Red Sox in which they tallied a pair of singles and a pair of walks but still failed to score thanks to an ill-timed double play, Sale was looking to keep the game scoreless. But he quickly got into trouble, walking Jose Altuve to lead off the game and then giving up a single a couple batters later. A wild pitch would move both of those runners into scoring position with the dangerous Yordan Alvarez at the plate.

All things considered, the inning from there went about as well as you could hope, with Houston just getting one run home on an Alvarez sacrifice fly. Boston’s lineup would again ground into a double play in a scoreless second, bringing Sale back out for another tightrope walk of an inning in the bottom half. This time it was line drive singles, which put two on with one out in front of Martín Maldonado, the one weak spot in this lineup. But Sale hit him with the first pitch he threw to load the bases and the top of the order coming up.

It seemed like certain disaster, but Sale made the big pitches when he needed to and got some help from the defense. He made Altuve look very un-Altuve like, getting three whiffs in a row for a huge second out with a strikeout. Then Michael Brantley hit a liner into center field, but after a late jump Kiké Hernández recovered and made an outstanding diving catch to end the inning with Houston somehow not scoring any runs.

Championship Series - Boston Red Sox v Houston Astros - Game One Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

And sure enough, Hernández was up to lead off the next inning. You always hear announcers say, “How often does a guy make a great defensive play and then get a big hit to start the next inning?” The answer to that question is actually not very, but it happened here. Hernández got a hanging curveball and he reached out and blasted it 448 feet out to the power alley in left field, and the Red Sox had this game all knotted up at one.

And they weren’t going to stop with the homer, either. With one out, Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers reached on a walk and single, respectively. It appeared like they’d get a third double play to end the inning when J.D. Martinez hit one right at Altuve, but the second baseman couldn’t handle it and the error both gave the Red Sox a lead and kept the inning going. Hunter Renfroe would add one more on an RBI double, and Boston left the top of the third with a 3-1 lead.

Despite looking a bit shaky in the first two innings, Cora went back to Sale for the third. He did start the inning with an out, but then gave up two straight singles, albeit one on a weakly hit ground ball. Sale buckled in for one more out, striking out Kyle Tucker to end his outing. He was far from perfect, and the command needs some work, but he made big pitches when he needed it and escaped his (albeit short) outing with only one run against him. It would stay that way, too, with Adam Ottavino ending the inning without any more runs.

After Boston wasted a one-out double from Hernández in the third, Ottavino came back out for a perfect fourth, the first 1-2-3 inning for either side in the game. The Red Sox offense followed it up with one of their own before Josh Taylor and Ryan Brasier combined to work around two base hits for a scoreless fifth.

The Red Sox got the leadoff man on in the sixth and moved him to third on a bunt and ground ball, but couldn’t get him in. That left the score at 3-1 with Tanner Houck coming out of the bullpen. He would have to face Jose Altuve with a man on and two outs, and he tried to keep him off-balance with a first-pitch slider. Unfortunately it hung over the middle of the plate, and the Astros star hit it way out into the Crawford Boxes for a two-run shot, and we were all tied up at three. He got out of it after that, but the damage was done.

Championship Series - Boston Red Sox v Houston Astros - Game One Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

It was still a tie game in the bottom of the seventh and Hansel Robles got the call out of the bullpen for that one. He looked good early on with two quick outs, but then Carlos Correa stepped in. He has a lot of big October hits over his career, and another one came in this at bat. Robles left a 2-2 changeup just above the zone, and Correa hit one out to deep left. It wasn’t hit all that far — 350 feet — but the Crawford Boxes make that an easy home run, and Correa knew it off the bat. Robles got out of it after that, but Houston now had a 4-3 lead.

Now the pressure was really on the offense, who had just six more outs to try and tie this thing back up. In a move that felt way too cute to me, Cora decided to pinch hit Danny Santana for Hunter Renfroe against a righty to start the inning, and Santana struck out (though it was after a pretty solid at bat). Boston did get a runner on in the inning with a two-out Christian Arroyo single, but that was all they would get as Travis Shaw ended the inning with a line drive that was caught just in front of the wall.

Hirokazu Sawamura, who was not on the ALDS roster, came on for the eighth to try and keep the deficit at one, but got into trouble with each of the first two batters reaching. That brought up Maldonado, who was trying to drop a bunt but was instead hit with another pitch to load the bases, this time still with nobody out. They were somehow able to escape it with just one run after a sacrifice fly and a double play, the latter being induced by Martín Pérez.

But it was a 5-3 game now and the Red Sox were down to their last chance in the ninth. Kiké Hernández did make things interesting, leading off the inning with his second homer of the day, but Boston couldn’t get that last run to extend this game. Houston’s 5-4 victory gives them a 1-0 series lead.

The Red Sox now look to even things up on Saturday in Game Two of this series. Nathan Eovaldi will be on the mound for that one with Luis Garcia going for Houston.


Courtesy of FanGraphs