Despite being six outs away from having a Game 5 forced against them, the Houston Astros pieced together a tenacious rally and knocked off the Boston Red Sox 5-4 to take the series, 3-1. The Astros will appear in the LCS for just the second time ever and their first since joining the American League in 2013.
Throughout the entire game, it seemed as if Boston was poised to add another chapter to its collection of remarkable playoff comebacks. After the two teams traded runs in the first few innings, it was locked at 2-1 Houston until the bottom of the fifth.
Just like the day prior, the first Astros reliever of the game was greeted rudely by a big cut from a Boston rookie. Yesterday it was Rafael Devers who took Francisco Liriano deep, today it was Andrew Benintendi who smashed one off Justin Verlander. The left fielder’s two-run shot gave the Red Sox a 3-2 lead and sent Fenway Park into a fracas. Hopes for Game 5 became a lot more real with Boston in front, but the euphoria was short lived.
Red Sox Manager John Farrell was ejected in the bottom of the second after HP umpire Mark Wegner rang up Jackie Bradley Jr. and Dustin Pedroia consecutively on debatable pitches. Bench Coach Gary DeSarcina was left to take over, and his strategies did not pay off. Red Sox starter Rick Porcello was lifted in the fourth in favor of Chris Sale, who came on in relief on short rest. Unlike Friday when he was shelled, Sale cruised through four innings and allowed his team to retake the lead. But despite 65+ pitches weighing on his not fully-rested arm, DeSarcina sent the ace back out for the eighth. Whether it was Farrell communicating with him from the clubhouse or not, it was not a wise choice.
Maybe it was adrenaline powering him or just sheer will, but Sale’s fatigue finally caught up to him and Alex Bregman led off with a bomb over the Monster to tie the game. However, he was still not pulled. It wasn’t until after Evan Gattis singled that Sale finally got the hook. However, things went worse for Craig Kimbrel and it quickly became evident that DiSarcina did not learn his lesson.
I don’t know if Kimbrel was rushed into the game and therefore didn’t have enough time to warm up or what, but the fireball closer did not look himself at all. He uncorked a wild pitch and then a walk to start his outing before giving up a single to Josh Reddick, giving Houston the lead back. What’s even more baffling is that he was sent back out for the ninth. The struggles continued and Carlos Beltran capitalized with a double to bring in Marwin Gonzalez and make it 5-3. Kimbrel was finally pulled for Addison Reed as boos showered the field. After being six outs from a winner-take-all, Boston was now three outs a way from losing its season.
To the Red Sox credit at the very least, they did not go down without a fight. Devers made some magic again with an inside-the-park homer to make it a one-run game and spark hope. However, Ken Giles struck out the next three batters and AJ Hinch’s squad took the series. It’s a great win for Houston considering the adversity the city has overcome this year, and a frustrating elimination for the Red Sox considering they had the game won.
If Kimbrel or even Reed had started the eighth instead of Sale, Boston could still be alive right now. What was the team’s coaching staff thinking? Your back against the wall in the postseason is not a good time to take risks, just ask Grady Little. Sale especially should have been on a short lease, but Kimbrel struggling with control shouldn’t have made anyone in the dugout ease back into their seats. It makes zero sense. These poor decisions make John Farrell’s future with the team very uncertain.
The Astros proved to be the far better team, out-pitching, out-hitting and (as we saw today) out-coaching the Red Sox. With an entire city on its back, they await either Cleveland or New York in the American League Championship Series.