And with that, the season is over. This Red Sox season went better than most anyone could have expected, but they couldn’t make it all the way. Needing their offense to wake up in the worst of ways, they were instead totally shut down by Luis Garcia and company as they went without a hit until the sixth and couldn’t score a run the entire way. There was some questionable managing, shaky defense, and a few bad pitches, but really it just came down to an offense that just got overmatched two games in a row. It was a hell of a season, but a tough way to end it.
No team ever wants to have their backs against the proverbial wall, unable to afford even a single loss lest their season be over. But if the Red Sox were going to be in that position, and they were on Friday night in Houston, they’d at least want Nathan Eovaldi on the mound. He’s been their ace all year and is a proven postseason warrior (as much as that can be proven, anyway), and going against an Astros lineup that is heating up like it is, you couldn’t ask for a better guy to call upon.
That said, there was a little bit of worry coming in as he was used in relief in Game Four, so potential fatigue was a concern. And he did come out with his fastball a tick or so below where we usually see in the first inning. Sure enough, the Astros were able to strike early thanks to some two-out magic. Alex Bregman kept the inning alive with a two-out single just off the end of his bat, bringing Yordan Alvarez to the plate.
He’s been a tough out these last few games, and he crushed another one here, sending one to the wall in the right-center field gap. Enrique Hernández had to run a long way to get there, but he did actually get under it. In fact, he may have caught up to it a bit too quickly as it clanked off the heal of his glove and fell for what was ruled a double but could have been called an error. Whatever you’d like to call the play, it resulted in a run for Houston.
But from there, Eovaldi was able to settle down and retire seven in a row to keep Houston at just one run through three innings. Unfortunately, the Red Sox offense stayed scuffling just as they have for the last couple of games. After beating up on Luis Garcia in Game Two, the tables were totally turned this time around and Boston’s only baserunners through four were on a strikeout that got by the catcher to lead off the game, and then on a walk in the second.
So it was still a 1-0 game when Eovaldi came out in the fourth, where Bregman and Alvarez struck again. This time it was the former leading off the inning, and he did it with his second single of the day. Alvarez then followed it up with another double, this one holding Bregman at third to put a pair in scoring position with nobody out. It seemed like the end of the road for the Red Sox, where Houston could pick up a couple more runs and cruise to victory. Except Eovaldi had other ideas. He struck out both Carlos Correa and Kyle Tucker on nasty breaking balls, and then after putting Yuli Gurriel on intentionally to load the bases, Eovaldi picked up one more strikeout to end the inning and keep the score at 1-0.
That felt like it had to be a turning point for this offense, who was still looking for their first hit. Instead, they went down in order in the fifth. Eovaldi would then come back out for the bottom half, giving up a hit and recording one out before being pulled for Josh Taylor, who got out of the inning without the inherited run coming across.
So that brought us to the sixth, where Alex Cora made a truly bizarre decision to bring in Danny Santana as a pinch hitter, which not only insert their worst hitter into the lineup but also took their best pinch running option off the bench. He predictably started the inning with a strikeout, but Boston finally got some life when Hernández broke up the no-hitter with a two-out triple. That put the tying run just 90 feet away, but Rafael Devers swung at the first pitch and popped it up to Correa at shortstop to strand the runner and keep Boston down a run.
Taylor then came back out to start the bottom half of the sixth with Alvarez due back up, and the Red Sox were playing him to go the other way as he has so many times in this series. This time, though, he pulled it into the right field corner, and with nobody there he was able to get to third with a leadoff triple. That brought Tanner Houck into the game, and he quickly hit the first batter he faced.
But then with runners on the corners, he induced a hard-hit grounder to first base, and Kyle Schwarber’s skills at first were tested. He made a nice pick to start the play, then tagged the runner and the bag to get the double play. Unfortunately, as that was happening, Alvarez came in to score and make it a 2-0 game. It was a quick-moving play, and while Schwarber may have had a play at the plate if he timed the throw right, getting the two outs felt like a fine move from where I was sitting.
And being down one or two wasn’t going to matter if the offense didn’t get it going. With Kendall Graveman coming on for Houston in the seventh, J.D. Martinez reached on a one-out walk, which was followed with a base hit from Alex Verdugo to put runners on the corners. Cora then went back to his bench, calling on Travis Shaw to pinch hit for Christian Arroyo. It pretty much could not have gone worse from there, as not only did Shaw strike out but Verdugo was off on the 3-2 pitch and was caught stealing, ending the inning on a strike-em-out, throw-em-out.
Houck came back out and tossed a perfect seventh, leaving the Red Sox six more outs to try and extend their season. They didn’t do anything with the first three of those, going down in order in the eighth. Cora strangely then did not turn to Garrett Whitlock in the ninth, instead starting with Houck again before calling on Adam Ottavino. The latter gave up a three-run homer to Kyle Tucker, and that was the dagger.
The Red Sox didn’t score a run in the ninth either, ending their season with a goose egg after a 5-0 loss to send Houston to the World Series.
The Red Sox are back in action February 25 against Northeastern down in Fort Myers. At least we hope so. It’ll be a long winter.