October 9, 2017

ALDS 4: Astros 5, Red Sox 4

Astros  - 110 000 021 - 5 12  0
Red Sox - 100 020 001 - 4  9  1
If not for the magnificent and occasionally historic performances of Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel this summer, the Red Sox would not have won the American League East. They may not have even qualified for the postseason. So it was both strange and sad that those two pitchers, with the Red Sox six outs away from forcing a winner-take-all Game 5, could not hold a one-run lead.

Sale began his fifth inning of relief by giving up a game-tying home run to Alex Bregman leading off the eighth. Sale turned the game over to Kimbrel with two outs and a man on first, but Kimbrel was initially overthrowing his pitches and had poor command in general. He threw a wild pitch, walked George Springer, and gave up the go-ahead run on a hit to Josh Reddick. In the ninth, Kimbrel hit a batter and gave up two more hits, the last being a run-scoring double by Carlos Beltran.

That fifth Houston run was crucial because Rafael Devers opened the bottom of the ninth with an inside-the-park home run (on an 0-2 pitch!). It was Boston's third home run of the afternoon and it cut the score to 5-4. It also electrified Fenway Park, but Houston's Ken Giles retired the next three batters: Christian Vazquez grounded to third, Jackie Bradley struck out, and Dustin Pedroia grounded to second.

And so the 2018 season has begun ...

The first three innings of Game 4 were packed with drama. In keeping with the pattern of these postseason games, the Red Sox fell behind in the first inning. Springer began the game with a double to left-center. Rick Porcello (3-5-2-3-4, 70) threw a wild pitch before walking Reddick. Boston got two outs when Jose Altuva grounded into a double play, but Springer scored the day's first run. Porcello then walked Carlos Correa and plunked Marwin Gonzalez before getting the third out.

In the bottom half, Xander Bogaerts (0-for-14 in the ALDS) homered into the Red Sox bullpen. Mookie Betts singled with two outs and stole second, but Mitch Moreland struck out.

Porcello's experience in the first inning was repeated in the second. Yuli Gurriel tripled to right field. The ball was hit so hard Betts had to dive to his left to try to cut it off, but it bounced past him. Without the dive, Betts still would have chased the ball it into the corner. Porcello bore down and struck out both Evan Gattis (sasahe!) and Brian McCann, but Springer singled, giving the Astros a 2-1 lead. Porcello allowed a hit to Reddick and he walked Altuve before getting Correa on strikes.

This is probably the right time to talk about what a piece of garbage Mark Wegner is as an umpire. After also being forced to endure Angel Hernandez and Ted Barrett behind the plate in this series, the evidence is clear: this is one serious shitshow of an umpiring crew. First, the Red Sox were screwed on three separate checkswing calls: Moreland was called out to end the first (he did not swing), McCann was not called out in the second (Porcello ended up fanning him anyway), and Altuve (the pitch was ruled ball 4).

Wegner made his mark on this game in the bottom of the second. In the bottom of the second, Hanley Ramirez and Rafael Devers both singled and Christian Vazquez walked. Bases loaded, none out. Bradley had a 2-1 count. Wegner called strike 2 on a questionable low pitch and then called Bradley out on a pitch that was well outside.
Wegner then rung up the next batter, Dustin Pedroia, on a 2-2 pitch that was out of the strike zone.
Pedroia was livid. John Farrell argued and was eventually ejected.

Morton's 0-1 pitch to Bogaerts was low and after Wegner correctly called it a ball, the crowd at Fenway cheered him loudly. Bogaerts popped out to right and a promising inning that had begun with three baserunners was aborted by several blown calls. As it turned out, with Boston losing by one run, this inning turned out to be highly significant.

It cannot be disputed that: The outcome of this game was altered by Wegner's blown calls. Situations like this happen all the time, to every team, but MLB does not care. If MLB actually wanted the correct calls to be made as often as possible in its games, it would do something to solve this problem. But MLB sees no problem.

There were so many bad calls in such a short amount of time -- all of which went against the Red Sox, either extending an Astros's rally or cutting off Boston's chances to score - that it felt like the fix was in. It is a horrible feeling when you are watching a game and you see clear, unambiguous, objective evidence that the wrong calls are being made - and there is nothing you can do about it. You are angry and annoyed and frustrated, but there is more. You are forced to accept as your new reality what you know is clearly not true. You saw that pitch go out of the strike zone - but you have to accept it as an inning-ending, rally-killing, strike three. Everyone saw your team's runner beat the throw to the bag - but he will be forever remembered as being thrown out on the play. (Armando Galarraga pitched a perfect game on June 2, 2010. That is absolutely true. But in "reality", he didn't.)

It's not a good feeling when your favourite team cannot execute (as we have just seen). It's bad, but when the umpires are at fault, it's different. There is a second layer of distance. We know we cannot affect the outcome of a game, sitting in the stands or at home. But when we watch our team's players also unable to right an obvious wrong, there is a greater feeling of helplessness. And because MLB is (so far) unwilling to fix these blatant problems, our only choices as fans are: accept it or walk away. (I'll admit there was a point in 2016 when I thought I would have to walk away. But that's a post for another day.)

The Red Sox hit the ball hard in the third and came up empty. Andrew Benintendi singled but was doubled off first when Betts lined a bullet to third. Moreland doubled to right and when Ramirez dropped a single into short left, he tried to score. He was easily thrown out.

Chris Sale began warming up in the top of the third and he took the mound in the fourth. (It was his first relief appearance since May 8, 2012.) He struck out McCann, got Springer on a pop to second and retired Reddick on a comebacker. It went so smoothly that, even though Boston still trailed 2-1, the entire mood of the game changed for me. I got a little optimistic. In the fifth, Devers ran in on the grass, bare-handed Altuve's bunt, and made an exceptional throw to first. Sale then struck out Correa and Gonzalez popped to center.

During that inning, Justin Verlander began warming up for the Astros. It wasn't an elimination game for Houston, but manager A.J. Hinch was not taking any chances. So when Morton walked Bogaerts with one out in the bottom of the fifth, Verlander came in. It was apparently his first relief appearance ever, as he did nothing but start in college, the minors, and the majors. He ended up pitching 2.2 innings and allowed only one hit, but it was a doozy. Benintendi, his first batter, crushed a 2-2 pitch to right field for a two-run homer. The Red Sox led 3-2. For the rest of the inning, the crowd chanted both "Jus-tin, Jus-tin" and "Up-ton, Up-ton".

Sale struggled in the top of the seventh. Springer led off with a single and Correa singled with two outs. Sale struck out two batters, including Gonzalez to end the inning, but he was not as sharp as he had been. He threw 24 pitches in the inning, bringing his total to 65. It was unclear what acting manager Gary DiSarcina was going to do. Stay with Sale? Use Addison Reed in the eighth and Kimbrel in the ninth? Use Kimbrel for two innings?

Sale took the mound for the eighth, with Kimbrel warming behind him. (Maybe if someone got on, Kimbrel would come in for a four- or five-out save.) It did not work out that way. Alex Bregman hit Sale's 2-1 pitch into the Monster Seats - and the game was tied at 3-3. After Gurriel grounded out, Gattis lined a ball over the third base bag. Devers thought it was foul, as did the ball attendant, who gloved it. But umpire Dan Bellino had called it fair. Gattis was awarded first base and Cameron Maybin ran for him. McCann lined to right for the second out and the Red Sox made the move for Kimbrel. (After the game, Farrell defended using Sale in the eighth.)

Kimbrel was overthrowing his first few pitches, yanking them outside to Springer. One of them was wild and Maybin took second. Springer fouled off a 3-0 pitch before walking. After a mound visit, Kimbrel faced Reddick. The count went full and Reddick fouled off two pitches before grounding a single into left, bringing Maybin in with the go-ahead run. Altuve flied to center, but the damage - as they so often say - had been done.

Houston's closer Ken Giles relieved Verlander (2.2-1-1-2-0, 40). He needed only 11 pitches to set the Red Sox down, and eight of those were to Betts, who tapped back to the hill. Moreland grounded to third and Ramirez grounded back to the mound.

Looking at my scorecard now, Kimbrel had a much worse outing that I remember as it was happening. Not that I thought he was good, but it had to have been one of his worst games of the year. He had no command of his fastball and missed with a lot of pitches up and out of the zone. He struck out Correa to start the ninth, but hit Gonzalez on the back foot. Bregman flied to the edge of the track in center. But the third out was elusive. Gurriel singled to right and pinch-hitter Carlos Beltran fell behind 1-2 and fouled off four pitches before doubling off the wall in left, a ball that looked catchable, but scraped the wall on the way down. Reed came in and quickly got McCann for the third out.

Kimbrel threw 38 pitches and got only three swings and misses - and they all happened in a four-pitch span to start the ninth. (Kimbrel: "I went out there and gave everything I had. It wasn't quite good enough today."

Houston's final, fifth run loomed large, especially when Devers hit a fly (again, on an 0-2 pitch) that caromed off the wall above Springer's leap towards right-center. When Devers sprinted across the plate standing up, the Astros had not even got the ball back to the infield. (Devers is the youngest player in postseason history to hit an inside-the-park homer.)

Red Sox Postseason Inside-The-Park Home Runs
Patsy Dougherty - October 2, 1903 - World Series Game 2, against Pirates
Larry Gardner - October 11, 1916 - World Series Game 4, against Dodgers
Rafael Devers - October 9, 2017 - American League Division Series Game 4, against Astros
Fenway was rocking - but the Red Sox were still down by one. And Giles retired the next three hitters without allowing the ball out of the infield.

Perhaps the biggest question for the winter: Who will manage the Red Sox's next game?

Charlie Morton / Rick Porcello
Pedroia, 2B
Bogaerts, SS
Benintendi, LF
Betts, RF
Moreland, 1B
Ramirez, DH
Devers, 3B
Vazquez, C
Bradley, CF
Now I know that the Astros were specifically advised to not let the Red Sox win yesterday. Did they listen? They did not. And now ... well, there is no telling what might happen.

[11:40 AM: Rain is in the forecast. One SoSHer: "Pouring now at the park"]

Postseason Series In Which The Red Sox Needed To Win
Three (Or Four) Consecutive Games To Avoid Elimination - And Did

1986 ALCS - Down 1-3 to Angels, won next three games: 7-6 (11), 10-4, 8-1
1999 ALDS - Down 0-2 to Cleveland, won next three games: 9-3, 23-7, 12-8
2003 ALDS - Down 0-2 to A's, won next three games: 3-1 (11), 5-4, 4-3
2004 ALCS - Down 0-3 to Yankees, won next three games: 6-4 (12), 5-4 (14), 4-2, 10-3
2007 ALCS - Down 1-3 to Cleveland, won next three games: 7-1, 12-2, 11-2


allan said...

Why is the guy who is 0-for-14 batting #2?

paul hickman said...

You did the Trick Allan !!!!!!

paul hickman said...

Dutchy into the Bullpen !!!!!

paul hickman said...

BUGGER !!!!!!!

Ah well it was still a fine season & we may have lost to a team that goes a long way ? Who knows ......

My major hobby horse is still the best of 5 Divvy Series - it has NEVER made any sense & never will - I hope I live long enough to see it banished .......

Thanks for your Blog Allan , it is tremendous. Have a Good Winter everyone , see you in 2018.

P.S. Go The Tribe !!!!!!!!!

FenFan said...

Allan, thank you again for taking us along for the ride. I come back here time and time again because this site is not just a recap that I can read in the paper. You clearly understand the nuances of the game and your perspective, win or lose, is almost always from an angle that seems unique. You make me THINK, and I appreciate that.

I echo Paul's sentiments: Go Spiders!

hrstrat57 said...

Not good enough bottom line.

MFY go down tonight hopefully.

Interesting offseason coming up.

Thanks once again Allan for being the Blogmeister.

Fun season.

Nick Sincere said...

What do all those other teams who won 3 or 4 consecutive games have to do with this team? Jk, thanks for the blog, it's my lifeline to the Sox.

Jim Goodale said...

Yeah, it really was Kimbrel's worst outing of the season. And why trade for an 8th inning guy if your manager won't use him in the biggest spot of the season (by all accounts, Farrell was calling the shots)?
Anyway, what really galls me is that their Cuban is better than ours and also almost 3 years older (and actually playing in the Majors and probably for less money). I wonder if the 'stros would trade Gurriel for Rusney straight up? Go Tito--and I join the chorus of all the folks thanking you for the great blogging.

johngoldfine said...

I know JOS is a labor of love, and I know love can sometimes be a burden and a trial, not all unicorns, rainbows, and WS championships. Thanks for everything you have done here and also for anything, if anything, you decide to do in the future.

allan said...

Thanks for the extremely kind words. They mean a lot.

I enjoyed the blog more this year than I have in several seasons.