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Scattered thoughts after a Game Four loss

It was a frustrating game on a few different fronts.

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Houston Astros Vs. Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park in ALCS Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

After a couple of relatively easy wins to take a 2-1 lead in the ALCS, the Red Sox came back with a frustrating one on Tuesday. Despite holding a lead for much of the evening, they failed to add insurance, leaving them vulnerable to a couple of bad pitches, and a couple of bad calls, being enough for a loss and an evened-up series. Here are some scattered thoughts on the loss.

  • To me, the number one story of this game was the lack of finishing from the Red Sox offense. They went 0-9 with runners in scoring position on the day. After Xander Bogaerts’ homer in the first to give them the 2-1 lead, it seemed like it was going to be another big day for the offense. They weren’t totally shut down, either, as they had runners in scoring position in each of the first five innings. But none of them came home. It’s a combination of bad situational hitting, bad luck, and good pitching, and it’s fair to say it’s not necessarily something to worry about carrying over into future games. They were getting on base, and that’s the hardest part. The issue is that they’re in a playoff series, and the future doesn’t worry as much as the here and now. Small sample noise can swing a series. Whatever you want to blame the missed opportunities on, they were the main reason they lost this game, and could loom large in this ALCS.
  • The Astros bullpen should get some credit here, though. While Boston had opportunities for the first few innings against the relief corps, Houston’s pen overall went 7 23 innings without allowing a run. Phil Maton, Kendall Graveman, and Ryan Pressly were particularly impressive over the last four innings, allowing just a walk while striking out six. The Red Sox missed some hittable pitches, but by and large this was a well-pitched game by an Astros bullpen that isn’t exactly the strength of that roster.
  • We have to talk about the Laz Diaz of it all. I think this is a case of multiple things being true at the same time. His strike zone was wide all night, particularly on the outside corner. The missed strike three call from Nathan Eovaldi that could have ended the top half of the ninth and directly preceded the go-ahead hit was a true borderline, 50/50 call. That the zone had been so wide all night makes that specific call more egregious than it would be in a vacuum. The game would have been totally different if the call went the other way. The Red Sox had plenty of chances to not let a questionable call so drastically change the game. The Red Sox benefited from bad calls in this game, too. The pitchers still could have made better pitches after the questionable call. Alex Cora could have called upon a better pitcher after Eovaldi. All in all, it’s frustrating, and it was a major factor in the loss, but I wouldn’t put it at the top of the list and it’s unfortunately part of the game.
Championship Series - Houston Astros v Boston Red Sox - Game Four Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images
  • Looking more generally and not necessarily at it as determining the outcome of the game, it’s just a shame Diaz had a chance to make those calls in the first place. When everyone is concerned about a wonky zone before the game even starts due solely to who’s behind the plate, and they’re right, it’s an issue that needs to be addressed.
  • The two late pitching moves from Alex Cora warrant conversation. We’ll start with Nathan Eovaldi, whom I was fine getting into the game. I think it is more difficult than we sometimes let on for a starter to pitch on their throw day. It’s a totally different environment, and there are real effects for the pitcher going forward. Eovaldi will still start Game Six, but this appearance on Tuesday will absolutely have the potential to affect him on Friday. Those are all valid reasons to be wary about the decision. That said, Eovaldi has done this before and done it well, and Cora generally gets a good read on his pitchers with things like this. It didn’t work out, but I was fine with the move in realtime and any criticism would be revisionist on my part.
  • What I wasn’t fine with was going to Martín Pérez in the ninth trailing by one and the bases loaded. I know Cora was hunting the lefty/lefty matchup with Michael Brantley at the plate, and Darwinzon Hernandez is a risk with the bases loaded. I didn’t want him to go to Chris Sale, either. But Pérez is the worst pitcher on the roster and can’t come into the game at that point. I’d have probably stuck with Eovaldi for that at bat with Ryan Brasier or Hansel Robles if the inning continued. And really, I’d have had Austin Davis on the roster, who would have been perfect for that spot. Regardless of all that, though, the moral of the story is that Pérez just can’t pitch in that spot. Maybe whoever else you choose gives up a hit too, but you go down with your best, and this wasn’t that.
  • On the other hand, Garrett Whitlock is their best and he just made a bad pitch to José Altuve on the game-tying homer. It was a weird call to start off with a fastball inside, and Whitlock made it worse by missing his spot in the wrong direction. That’s an easier run to swallow, though, than the onslaught against Pérez. Whitlock has been so great all year, but even the best make mistake pitches sometimes. This one just came at at a bad time, and was thrown to a hitter who took advantage.
  • The result will overshadow it, but Nick Pivetta had another big outing and is just having a really impressive postseason. He gave Boston five big innings here, and in a regular season game he probably goes deeper than that. The home run to Alex Bregman was a bad pitch, but for the most part all three of his offerings were working and he neutralized an offense that is not easy to keep at bay.
  • Although it didn’t lead to a win this time, getting another Astros starter out early is still important. Zack Greinke lasted just 1 13 innings, putting more of a strain on this Houston bullpen. They pitched extremely well today, but now the Red Sox face Framber Valdez on Wednesday, who they’ve already hit hard in this series. If they can get to him again, it’s hard seeing the Astros bullpen being able to do that two days in a row.
  • A sneaky big play in this game was all the way back in the bottom of the first when Bregman corralled a bullet from Hunter Renfroe to end the inning. Boston’s offense looked relentless at that point and Greinke had absolutely nothing. If that ball gets down the line, at least one run comes home and potentially two, and who knows what happens after that. It felt like the Red Sox had a chance to just demoralize Houston, and they even got the kind of hard contact they were looking for. Bregman just made a big play, and it may have helped swing the series.
  • Speaking of Renfroe, the Red Sox are going to need something from him soon. The ninth inning in this game started with a double on a ball that could have been catchable from Renfroe (I thought it would’ve been a tougher play than others seemed to think, for whatever that’s worth), so they’re not even getting the plus defense. He worked some good at bats in Game Three and made some good contact here, so he feels like he’s on the verge of a breakout. But to this point, he’s been the rare non-factor in this Red Sox lineup all postseason.