October 18, 2018

ALCS 5: Red Sox 4, Astros 1

Red Sox - 001 003 000 - 4  8  0
Astros  - 000 000 100 - 1  5  1
The Boston Red Sox are the 2018 American League champions!

David Price (6-3-0-0-9, 93) was magnificent, setting a career postseason high with nine strikeouts. He retired 15 of his last 16 batters after allowing a leadoff single in the second inning. His command was impeccable; he went to a three-ball count only once, on his third batter of the night.

This game should silence forever the critics who have harped about Price's zero postseason wins as a starting pitcher. Not postseason wins only, however, because Price already had two of those. Those were ignored because they interfered with the necessary negativity of that narrative.

Not surprisingly, TBS committed a huge error on that point.

Price's "first career postseason win" actually came on October 11, 2008, more than 10 years ago.

Rafael Devers belted an opposite-field home run with two on in the sixth, giving the Red Sox some breathing room. Boston's first run scored on a solo shot by J.D. Martinez, a prodigious blast that struck halfway up the wall at the back of the left field stands.

Both dongs came off Justin Verlander (6-7-4-2-4, 97), the hearthrob of the TBS booth, who lamented, in the late innings, that this game was supposed to have been "scripted" for the Astros' awesome right-hander. ... Sorry, boys, but sometimes the better team wins. Game 1 of the World Series will be played at Fenway Park next Tuesday, October 23.

Craig Kimbrel pitched a nearly-uneventful ninth inning. After recording a quick strikeout, he walked Yuli Gurriel on four pitches. But Kimbrel was masterful against Marwin Gonzalez, painting with his fastball and getting three called strikes. Tony Kemp lifted a 1-1 pitch to deep left-center. Andrew Benintendi drifted to the warning track and the ball "settled" in his glove, sending last year's champions home for the winter.

And at 11:43 PM (Boston time), the celebration began ...

Jackie Bradley was named the ALCS's Most Valuable Player. Bradley had only three hits in the series, but he drove in nine runs.

The Red Sox won the pennant on first-year manager Alex Cora's 43rd birthday. The team sang "Happy Birthday!" during the postgame celebration.

Verlander came into the game having thrown 24 consecutive scoreless innings in postseason elimination games. The TBS crew of Brian Anderson and Ron Darling made him the focus of the night's narrative. The team with the most wins, with two hitters who may both finish in the Top 3 of the MVP balloting, was on the brink of the World Series? Whatever.

The mindset of the announcers for all five games can be distilled to this:
Astros: 103 wins - This powerful team should not lose a single game in the postseason
Red Sox: 108 wins - Nowhere close to the Astros' level of talent (& shaky bullpen)
This synopsis would also apply to the ALDS if you substitute "Yankees" for "Astros" and "100" for "103". And despite all evidence to the contrary - a mountain of facts that grew larger as each game was played - Anderson and Darling stubbornly stuck to their script, repeating the same worn-out anecdotes and heaping praise on everything the Astros did, even mundane stuff like taking one extra base on an error, making a routine catch of a line drive in the outfield, or (in the case of Alex Bregman in the eighth inning tonight) fouling off a 99 mph fastball. It was right out of the Calm Eyes And Elegant Gait School of Announcing.

And yet Verlander found himself in trouble in the second inning. Bregman made a throwing error on Ian Kinsler's ground ball with one out. Christian Vazquez singled with two down and Verlander walked Bradley, loading the bases. Verlander escaped by striking out Mookie Betts. In the third, Verlander threw a strike on an 0-2 count to Martinez. Plate umpire Chris Guccione blew the call on the pitch, which was nestled in the lower, outside corner of the zone. Martinez took advantage by crushing the next pitch to deep left.

(Check out Grumpy Gus scowling over Vazquez's head.)

There have been oodles of bad calls by the plate umpires in this series and TBS uttered nary a peep about them. Not this time. Verlander would throw only five more pitches in the inning and in that short time Anderson and Darling managed to complain about the bad call four times. They ended up referring to it nearly a dozen times during the game, acting like the blown call gave Boston a home run, as if it was a natural consequence or even part of the rules. But why not talk about Verlander's failure to make a better pitch on 1-2? Or maybe give a little credit to Martinez? Regularly bringing up the call, even many innings later, easily crossed the line into whining. Also, did that one incorrect call prevent Houston from scoring more than one run all night?

Price was sharp from the start. Bregman flied to left on his first pitch. Two strikeouts - of George Springer and Carlos Correa - sandwiched a two-out hit by Jose Altuve. Price shrugged off a leadoff single from Gurriel in the second by getting two fly outs and a called strike three on Martin Maldonado with a nasty curveball.

Price retired the Astros in order in the third on 12 pitches and struck out the first two batters in the fourth. Gurriel doubled to left and Price responded by fanning Marwin Gonzalez. Houston went in order in the fifth on only nine pitches. On the last one, Price fielded a dribbler to the third base side by Jake Marisnick and made a quick one-hop throw to first.

After the JDM HR, the Red Sox bats were fairly quiet until the sixth, when Mitch Moreland doubled to left. Kemp attempted another leaping catch at the wall, but this time the ball clearly hit the fence on its way into his glove. Kinsler lined an opposite-field single to right (he also doubled in the eighth, heating up in time for the World Series). Devers drove Verlander's first pitch to the opposite field and it landed in the left field seats for a three-run homer. The Red Sox led 4-0.

(Ryan Brasier celebrates Devers's homer in the bullpen.)

Price was at 82 pitches through five innings and Cora gave him the sixth. The first out came on Betts's leaping catch at the wall of Bregman's long drive. One nearby Red Sox fan made a show of not interfering with the play, raising his hands like he was being placed under arrest.

Springer grounded to third. Price ended the inning - and his night - with a three-pitch strikeout of Altuve.

Matt Barnes (who appeared in all five games in the series) started the seventh with two grounders to third, on which Devers smoothly ranged to his left and got the outs (TBS missed the opportunity to call him "Bregmanesque".) And then, with the Red Sox seven outs away from the pennant, we started seeing shots of sad Astros fans in the stands.

(I love the lone Astros earring hanging between the couple who might be thinking that, instead of Game 5 tickets, they could have spent that money on something enjoyable.)

Those crowd shots stopped when Gonzalez homered to left. (Anderson called the play with a level of excitement that should have been reserved for a game-tying blast. I would love to hear side-by-side recordings of Anderson calling hits and runs and catches by both teams. I'll bet the clips would be very "interesting", to use a word Darling uttered 3,054 times in this series. ... I counted.)

When Barnes walked Kemp, Cora summoned Eovaldi. (Eduardo Rodriguez had also been getting ready.) The fireballing Eovaldi started pinch-hitter Josh Reddick with an excellent curve. He followed that up with a cutter and Reddick flied to right.

When Reddick hit the ball, TBS's cameras switched to a shot of the second deck in right field. For a fraction of a second, I thought the game was now 4-3 and I was wondering why Anderson was not screaming like a schoolgirl at a Beatles concert. The cameraman hurriedly panned the shot down to the field in time to see Betts calmly catch the routine fly ball. That camerawork might have been worse than anything I saw on NESN this year.)

The ball is the white dot between the two panels of the car advertisement.

Eovaldi gave up a two-out single to Springer in the eighth. Joe Kelly started warming as Eovaldi fell behind Altuve 3-1. But the Astros' DH flied harmlessly to center.

After Robert Osuna finished his third inning of relief, we went to the bottom of the the ninth. Three outs to go! Cora did not hesitate in bringing in Kimbrel. (And Red Sox fans did not hesitate to reach for the antacids.)

Correa fouled off three pitches before swinging and missing an outside fastball at 99. Kimbrel threw four balls to Gurriel, causing a decent percentage of Red Sox to think, Here we go again.

But Kimbrel was as sharp as ever against Gonzalez, who never took the bat off his shoulders and watched three strikes whiz past him.

Strike 3! Paint!

Kemp took a strike and a ball before flying to deep left-center. And it was Benintendi who (for the second straight night) caught the final out of a Red Sox win.

Some final notes on TBS:

Betts began the game by fouling out to Bregman as Anderson exclaimed: "Bregman's got the stirrups on tonight!!"

Anderson described Bregman's errant throw in the second inning as "an unforced error". Anderson has a horrible habit of using non-baseball terminology while talking about a baseball game. He said (multiple times) teams "held serve" if they prevented the other team from scoring and he was especially fond of noting that a player "stuck the landing".

Darling called Nolan Ryan "Nollie" (wasn't that what got Robin Ventura in a headlock?) and Anderson claimed that Ryan's seven no-hitters "will never be accomplished".

After Price struck out Bregman in the bottom of the third, Anderson said the lefty had "the banjo effect going on". I have no idea what this means.

Astros manager A.J. Hinch said his team had their backs to the wall and they needed a win to keep their season alive. Darling was impressed, describing Hinch's "great gift" of speaking so openly and honestly ... when all he did was spout the same cliches that every manager always says in that situation.

During the ALDS, Anderson kept referring to someone named "John Carlos Stanton". In the ALCS, he called Boston's catcher "Voss-quez".

When Gurriel doubled on the ninth pitch of his fourth-inning at-bat, Darling said he had "outwaited" Price.

In the top of the sixth, Anderson said: "The Astros have McCullers warming up, among others". At the same time, the camera showed us McCullers throwing all by himself.

In the seventh, Anderson said the Red Sox have "turned the script" in this game and Darling followed by saying this game "was scripted" for Verlander ... and it would have happened if it wasn't for those meddling, script-flipping Red Sox.

Late in the game, Darling says that despite what happens on the field, "managers always push the right buttons in the postseason". ... Somewhere in America, Zach Britton did a spit take, a former Red Sox manager I refuse to name silently nodded his head, and Dave Stapleton threw his remote at the TV.

When Gonzalez homered, giving the Astros one run, Anderson says (probably to himself as much as to us): "These games can turn in a flash."

In the end, of course, the Red Sox failed. As you may recall from the end of Game 2, Anderson said the Red Sox desperately hoped to bring this series back to Boston. But the ALCS ended in Houston. Damn.
What's going on in New York, you ask?

Ken Davidoff, Post:
Look away, Yankees fans: The Red Sox are back in the World Series. Their 13th pennant in franchise history arrived Thursday night in the same all-business, conventional-wisdom-bashing manner that got them this far, as noted Octoberphobe David Price — on short rest! — outpitched future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander for a 4-1 Red Sox victory over the Astros in American League Championship Series Game 5 ...

Rafael Devers produced the killing blow: A cheapie three-run homer, the other way, into the inviting left-field seats ...
David Price / Justin Verlander
Betts, RF
Benintendi, LF
Martinez, DH
Bogaerts, SS
Moreland, 1B
Kinsler, 2B
Devers, 3B
Vázquez, C
Bradley, CF
Mark Feinsand of MLB.com (you may recall his name from various Schadenfreude posts because he wrote for the Daily News):
David Price has started one game in his career on three days rest - and that was after throwing 14 pitches in relief four days earlier. In other words, tonight will be the first time he's ever made back-to-back starts on short rest. Should be interesting.
The first comment, from DinoMartini59: "So, he's undefeated on three days rest"

An ideal situation could develop this evening, whereby at around midnight:
1. David Price has earned his first postseason victory (as a starting pitcher), leading the Boston Red Sox to the 2018 American League pennant.

2. We are experiencing a warm, fuzzy feeling inside, in no small part because we know we never again have to listen to hours of inane statements from Brian Anderson and Ron Darling.

3. We are happily look forward to the fantastic - and once-utterly-unthinkable - opportunity of watching the Red Sox win a FOURTH World Series championship in our lifetimes.

Boston Globe Gets The Most Basic Baseball Facts Wrong

In today's edition of its 108 Stitches newsletter, the Boston Globe states:
IN GOOD STANDING: In League Championship Series history, 31 of 38 teams (82 percent) that claimed a 3-1 lead in a best-of-seven series have advanced to the World Series. Only three American League teams have ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in the ALCS: The 1986, 2004, and 2007 Red Sox.
This is wrong (and very easily fact-checked, if a newspaper editor felt that doing so was important).

The Royals came back from 1-3 against the Blue Jays in 1985, the first year the ALCS went to a best-of-7.

It has been done three times in the NL: Atlanta (1996), Marlins (2003), and Giants (2012).

Benintendi: "That's Probably The Most Excited I've Been After A Catch"

Jen McCaffrey of The Athletic put together an oral history of Andrew Benintendi's game-saving, game-ending catch last night:
Astros manager A.J. Hinch: "I'm always checking out where the left fielder is. I see he kind of creeps inside the fence line where that corner is in left center. So when the ball was hit, two parts I was looking at was how Benintendi was closing and whether or not it was going to drop in ... But as he dives, we're all waiting in anticipation. ..."

[Red Sox manager Alex] Cora: "We've been attacking Alex to the edges of the strike zone and he's put some good swings on it. He's been patient and he attacked a pitch up in the zone. He didn't barrel it. And Benny had a great jump."

[Jackie] Bradley: "First thing I'm thinking is at least it's not going far, but the next thing I started thinking, I see Benny running in and see him leave his feet, I'm like just don't get by him, block it up, block it up ..." ...

Xander Bogaerts: "[W]hen he hit that ball, it was a bit low. I had some doubts. I did. After he caught it, it was a relief. It was a huge relief. ..."

Carlos Correa: "I was just running, trying to score and then I hear the fans go: Ahhh. At that point, I realized he caught it." ...

Benintendi: "I felt like I got a good jump on it. It wasn't hit that hard. I got in on it real good. ... I timed it up well. That's when it was either do-or-die. ... That's probably the most excited I've been after a catch. I was telling someone, I blacked out. I had no idea what was going on."

[Craig] Kimbrel: "I gave him a big hug. He might get a big Christmas present." ...

[Brock] Holt: "Whenever I got in here [to the clubhouse] and could breathe again ... if he doesn't catch that, they all score and we go home tied 2-2. ... [T]o make that catch in that situation, that's a tough play coming in like that, but he made it and we're up 3-1 and we're going to try to come here tomorrow and finish the thing."

Bogaerts: "I'm going to sleep real good, tonight. I'm going to dream of Benny and him catching that ball."

Normandin: "MLB Let The Astros Off The Hook For Cheating"

According to stories gathered by Marc Normandin, MLB has "crystal-clear evidence" that the Astros have been cheating in this postseason - and most likely during last year's World Series, as well. Indeed, multiple teams have been angry at Houston's "shady action" for several years.

However, Commissioner Rob Manfred has no desire to draw attention to those ugly facts during these high-profile games, even though he has vowed in the past to vigilantly enforce the sport's electronic surveillance rules.

Pressure from other teams will likely lead to a punishment for the Astros at some point, but for now, Normandin writes, nothing will happen "while so many people are following these games".

October 17, 2018

ALCS 4: Red Sox 8, Astros 6

Red Sox - 201 012 110 - 8 11  1
Astros  - 012 110 010 - 6 13  0
The Red Sox are one win away from the World Series after coming out on top of a heart-stopping nail-biter in Houston. Boston led 8-5 when manager Alex Cora asked Craig Kimbrel to get the final six outs. He allowed one run in the eighth and walked the bases loaded in the ninth. Alex Bregman batted with two outs and the potential winning run on first base. He smacked Kimbrel's first pitch towards left field. The ball was sinking fast. Andrew Benintendi sprinted 45 feet in only 3.2 seconds and made a diving catch four hours and forty-three minutes after the first pitch.

According to Statcast, there was only a 21% chance of Benintendi catching Bregman's sinking liner. On catches with such a low probability of being caught, Benintendi had been 0-for-22 this season.

Looking at only the end of each half-inning, the score changed 11 times in eight innings: 2-0, 2-1, 3-1, 3-3, 3-4, 4-4, 4-5, 6-5, 7-5, 8-5, and 8-6.

Jackie Bradley's two-run homer in the sixth erased the Astros' 5-4 lead and put the Red Sox ahead for good. JBJ has driven in nine runs in the last three games.

The Red Sox scored two runs in the first inning for the third consecutive game. Mookie Betts was hit with the second pitch of the evening and J.D. Martinez walked. Astros starter Charlie Morton (2.1-3-3-2-2, 53) threw a wild pitch before Rafael Devers singled both runners in. In the bottom half, Jose Altuve batted with a man on first. He hit a fly to deep right. Betts tracked it to the wall and leapt, but his glove became entangled in the hands of several fans and the ball fell back on the field. It appeared to be a double, but right field umpire Joe West had actually called Altuve out because of fan interference. After a lengthy review, the call stood.

A few innings later, Houston manager A.J. Hinch, an in-game interview, said that West told him
there was fan interference on the field, and my argument was more about the fact that the ball was leaving the yard, the trajectory was there. Jose paid kind of the ultimate price for something out of his control. I'm not sure if Mookie makes that catch, he's a great athlete, but how it's an assumed out is unbelievable.
Hinch gave an incorrect reason for West's out call to the TV audience - which must have been a deliberate lie since West spoke to him immediately after the call was confirmed. When TBS announcers Brian Anderson and Ron Darling discussed Hinch's comments, they failed to set the record straight and correct Hinch's erroneous statement. West did not assume that Betts would catch the ball. West said, basically, Betts never had the proper opportunity to catch the ball, because several fans prevented him.

The Astros scored in the second when Josh Reddick doubled and Carlos Correa singled. Boston came right back and matched that run in the third. Benintendi nearly homered to center, but the ball hit about two inches from the top of the padded wall for a double. After a wild pitch put him n third, Benintendi scored on Xander Bogaerts's double down the left field line. That hit ended Morton's evening.

Rick Porcello (4-7-4-1-3, 68) gave up three runs over the next two innings, two of the runs coming on home runs. George Springer hit Porcello's first pitch of the third for a homer to right. Altuve followed with a double and scored on Reddick's two-out single. Tony Kemp homered down by the right field pole in the fourth, giving Houston a 4-3 lead.

The Astros' lead was short-lived. Benintendi doubled to left-center with one out in the fifth and scored on Bogaerts's groundball single to center. Houston took a 5-4 lead in the bottom half off Joe Kelly. Yuli Gurriel singled and took second on a two-out wild pitch. Correa's single scored the run.

Again, the Red Sox did not allow the Astros to enjoy the lead for very long. Reliever Josh James retired the first two batter sinthe sixth, but Christian Vazquez doubled to center and Bradley (after walking in his two prior plate appearances) crushed the first pitch he saw to deep right. Boston retook the lead 6-5.

Ryan Pressly gave up a single to J.D. Martinez in the seventh and walked Bogaerts and Steve Pearce. The bases were loaded with two outs. Lance McCullers came in from the pen - and he walked Brock Holt, forcing in Boston's seventh run. The score improved to 8-5 in the eighth. Betts singled, took second on a wild pitch, and scored on Martinez's single.

Entrusted with protecting a three-run lead, Kimbrel allowed a single on the first pitch he threw in the bottom of the eighth. Kemp lined a hit down the right field line - and he tried for a double. Betts ran over to the line, grabbed the ball, spun around, and fired a near-perfect throw to Bogaerts at second, seemingly without taking any time to look where he as throwing. It was a stunning play.

Kimbrel was extremely fired up and threw two called strikes to Bregman. Perhaps that play had jolted Kimbrel from whatever funk is ailing him lately. Or perhaps not ... as his next pitch hit Bregman. Springer followed with a double and Houston had men at second and third and the potential tying run at the plate with one out. David Price was warming up in the Boston bullpen. Altuve grounded out to Bogaerts on the first pitch and a run scored. Kimbrel ended the inning by striking out Marwin Gonzalez.

As it turned out, the ninth inning was extremely similar for both teams. They each loaded the bases, almost exclusively on mistakes by the opposing team and it took a diving catch in the outfield for each team to put a zero on the board and leave three men on base.

Tony Sipp struck out Devers to start the ninth, but he walked Pearce and surrendered a hit to Holt. Collin McHugh relieve Sipp and got pinch-hitter Mitch Moreland to fly to center. Bradley was plunked, loading the bases for Betts, who lined a 1-0 pitch to short right-center. Reddick ran in and caught in with a diving catch.

In the bottom of the ninth, Cora stayed with Kimbrel, who had thrown 14 pitches in the previous inning. Ian Kinsler, in for defensive purposes, made a great basket catch in foul territory, cutting in front of Betts to record the first out. (On my scorecard, I wrote "basket cas-" before realizing my mistake. A telling slip, perhaps.) Kimbrel then walked both Reddick (bcbbb) and Correa (bbfbb) on five pitches each.

I thought Cora might go to Price if the Astros got a baserunner, but he did not budge from the bench. Tyler White stepped in as the potential winning run. He lifted an 0-1 pitch to right. It was shy of the warning track, but my heart still might have stopped for a second or two. Kemp was next - and Kimbrel walked him, also (bsbbcb). Two outs and Houston had the top of its order ready to bat. Bregman lined Kimbrel's first offering to left and Benintendi - who deserved the "save" in this game far more than Kimbrel - made one of the most memorable catches of the season.

The AL pennant can be won tomorrow night.

TBS continues to suck. Here is some of why:

When Devers delivers in the first inning, Ron Darling says the Red Sox have put "two points" on the board.

On the Mookie/Interference play, Darling says he "strongly believes" that Betts went into the stands to try and make the catch. What? An outfielder tried to prevent a deep fly ball from being a home run? Wow. It's this top-shelf observation and analysis that gets Darling the big bucks. He and Anderson also refer to the umpires' correct call as "a break for the Red Sox". Darling called Betts "Mookie Wilson", but he quickly corrected himself.

In his obsession that Astros pitcher Josh James can throw over 100 mph, Anderson gushes that James "goes back to the heat" to strike out Devers in the third. However, all five of James's pitches to Devers were 101-102.

In the fourth inning, Darling is a little too honest when he says they have been "bragging" about Houston catcher Martin Maldonado's arm. After Kemp homers, Darling claims that the interference call in the first inning "woke the Astros up". (They sure took a long time getting out of bed.) Later in the inning, Darling drops a doozy: "This game is all about the Astros winning."

Anderson praises George Springer's "good hustle" - in going from first to second on a wild pickoff throw.

After J.D. Martinez is called out at first on a video review, Darling says "The Astros finally get a call." ... A few innings later, he says "They've gone through their bullpen like sieves."

In the eighth inning, we are told the Red Sox have not attempted a stolen base in the ALCS. ... Only four inning earlier, Bradley was thrown out trying to steal second.

Finally, Anderson crows that Reddick's catch in the top of the ninth "saved the game". (We may not like Joe Buck, but he is light years ahead of Anderson and says much more with only 20% of the words.)
Rick Porcello / Charlie Morton

Rick Porcello:
I'd much rather throw the shit out of my arm now and have it feel shitty for three months with a ring on my hand.
Charlie Morton has pitched only four innings since September 15 and has not appeared in a game since the final day of the regular season, back on September 30. I don't have the stats on guys who make starts on 17 days of rest, but I doubt they do all that well.

When Porcello and Morton faced each other in Houston on June 3, Boston won 9-3.

Jackie Bradley is the first position player in postseason history to start a game batting ninth and hit a grand slam. Two pitchers have done it, though; both Orioles and in the same postseason: Mike Cuellar (1970 ALCS Game 1) and Dave McNally (1970 World Series Game 3).

Elias: Alex Bregman has reached base on a walk or hit-by-pitch 10 times in this ALCS (8 BB, 2 HBP), the most over a three-game span in postseason history. ... George Springer has driven in two runs in each ALCS game. He's the first leadoff hitter in postseason history with three straight multiple-RBI games.

NLCS 4: The Dodgers won 2-1 in 13 innings, knotting the series at 2-2. Game 5 is in Los Angeles today at 5 PM.