October 20, 2021

ALCS 5: Astros 9, Red Sox 1

Astros  - 010 005 102 - 9 11  0
Red Sox - 000 000 100 - 1 3 2

It's shocking and humbling and frustrating how quickly a team's fortunes can change in baseball.

On Tuesday night, the Red Sox began ALCS Game 4 having hit seven home runs, including three grand slams, in the previous two games. By outscoring the Astros 21-8 (with a team OPS of 1.022), they led the series 2-1. 

Less than 25 hours later (24:34, to be exact), the Red Sox are in serious danger of having their season come screeching to a halt in Houston on Friday night. Their offense has suddenly deserted them and their bullpen has sprung several leaks. They lost 9-2 on Tuesday and 9-1 on Wednesday, as the Astros have taken full advantage of the slightest mistake or blown call. 

Houston leads the series 3-2 with Game 6 on Friday night and Game 7 (if necessary) on Saturday. In postseason series with the current 2-3-2 format that have been tied 2-2, the team winning Game 5 on the road has won the series 18 of 23 times (78%).

These past two games are the first time in the 110 years of playing in Fenway Park that the Red Sox have allowed nine runs and been held to five or fewer hits in consecutive games. Boston had five hits on Tuesday and they managed only three today.

In Games 2 and 3, the Red Sox hit .301 (22-for-73). In the last two games, they have batted .131 (8-for-61).

The Red Sox managed five baserunners in this game. They had eight baserunners in just the second inning of Game 3.

Framber Valdez retired the first 12 batters with ease, thoroughly dominating the Red Sox for eight innings (8-3-1-1-5, 93). It was a stunning reversal of how Houston's starters have fared in the first four games. After Valdez got a double play to end the seventh inning, here were the Astros' starters' stats:

Games 1-4:   6.2 IP  14 H  16 R  11 BB  5 K  46 BF  191 pitches
Valdez (G5): 7.0 IP   3 H   1 R   1 BB  5 K  24 BF   79 pitches

Boston had little, if any, patience at the plate. However, with Valdez throwing strikes pretty much non-stop, they had little choice. Valdez went to only two three-ball counts: his first batter of the game and his 22nd (the third batter in the seventh). He threw either no balls or one ball to 19 of 27 batters (70%).

As Kyle Schwarber batted with two outs in the sixth, Valdez had thrown only 19 pitches to the previous eight Red Sox batters. If you tossed out Christian Arroyo's strikeout to start the inning, it was 15 pitches to seven batters. 

Valdez became the third pitcher in Astros postseason history to throw 8+ innings and allow one run in a road game. Mike Scott and Nolan Ryan both did it at Shea Stadium in back-to-back games of the 1986 NLCS. Valdez is also the first Astros pitcher ever to throw 8+ innings and allow one run (or no runs) against the Red Sox (home or road, regular season or playoffs).

Chris Sale seemed equal to the task for five innings. He had given up an opposite field solo home run to Yordan Alvarez leading off the second, but had come back in the fourth and struck out Carlos Correa and Ken Tucker to strand runners at first and third. The fastball on which Tucker fanned was clocked at 98.5 mph, the fastest pitch Sale had thrown since August 12, 2018.

As far as runs allowed, he was nearly matching Valdez, but his teammates were not helping him out. As mentioned, Valdez was perfect through four. Alex Verdugo smoked a line drive down the left field line that landed foul by (at most) three inches. He ended up grounding meekly to first. After Sale escaped that fourth-inning jam, the top of the Boston lineup was retired as if they were sleepwalking, three routine ground balls hit right at the third, first, and second basemen.

Sale needed only eight pitches in the fifth and seemed to buy himself another inning of work. In the bottom half, Rafael Devers hit a hard ground ball into right field for a single. Valdez's next pitch hit J.D. Martinez in the left leg. With two men on and no outs in a 1-0 game, FanGraphs gave the Red Sox a 55.9% chance of winning the game. But Hunter Renfroe (1-for-12 in the series with seven strikeouts) grounded into a double play on a 2-0 count. Verdugo ended the inning with a grounder to first. Boston's chances were down to 35.1%.
Jose Altuve led off the sixth with a walk. Sale had thrown a low slider for a strike on 1-1, but plate umpire Dan Iassonga blew the call and said it was a ball. This missed call was not on par with Game 3's ninth inning error by Laz Díaz, but the difference between 1-2 and 2-1 is not insignificant. Who knows what would have happened if Sale had been ahead in the count? That speculation does not, however, excuse what followed.

Michael Brantley grounded to third. Devers came in on the grass and fired to first. His throw had Brantley beat by at least two steps, but the ball handcuffed Schwarber and he dropped it. Alex Bregman tapped back to the mound for an out and the runners moved up. Alvarez went the other way again, this time for a double off the wall, making the score 3-0. The deficit felt like 15-0.

That ended Sale's day and Ryan Brasier came in. He struck out Correa for the first out, but then let the game get out of hand. Tucker beat out an infield hit, Yuri Gurriel doubled into the right-field corner (4-0), and Jose Siri blooped a hit to short right (6-0). The Red Sox's victory chances had fallen to 3.6%.

Alvarez had three hits against Sale, something no left-handed batter had done against the Boston lefty since . . . David Ortiz, on July 30, 2015, when Sale was the White Sox lefty.

Christian Vázquez doubled to the left field corner with one down in the home sixth. Valdez stranded SNCV there, needing only four pitches to retire Kiké Hernández on a fly to right and Schwarber on a grounder to shortstop.

Altuve singled off Hansel Robles to start the seventh, took second on the pitcher's throwing error on a pickoff attempt, and scored on Brantley's single to center. Robles did get a double play, though, and Darwinzon Hernandez got the third out.

Devers homered down the right field line with one out in the seventh. J.D. Martinez walked, but any faint ray of hope was snuffed out when Renfroe hit into another double play, which led to some justified booing. (Renfroe is 1-for-14; his hit came in the third inning of Game 1. He walked twice in each of Games 3 and 4.)

Hirokazu Sawamura came into the eighth with a runner on first and one out. He allowed a single and a walk, loading the bases, all while working at a glacial pace. Somehow he stranded the three runners when Altuve flied to left. It suddenly felt like anything was possible.

(Ha ha ha. Just kidding. I have no real idea why I was still watching at this point. . . . A few innings earlier (and a few runs earlier), I figured if the Red Sox were to come back, I'd certainly want to see it. But in the eighth . . . just a completist mentality, I guess. Which I also had (more than ever in my life, I'd say) in 2004 Game 3. Maybe there will be a connection across the years (he said, grasping at any available straw, no matter how thin and reedy).)

Martín Pérez was sent to pitch the ninth. He allowed a leadoff, first-pitch single (hey, it's kind of his thing) and walked two (one was intentional). Later in the inning, with two outs, Gurriel singled in two runs.

Valdez put the Red Sox down in order in the eighth and Ryan Stanek did the same in the ninth.

And so to bed Houston . . .

Framber Valdez / Chris Sale

Chris Sale will be making his first postseason appearance at Fenway since Game 1 of the 2018 World Series.
Ian Browne and Brian McTaggart, mlb.com:
Sale will be out to avenge one of the worst stretches of his career at a time his team needs him most. Over his two starts in this postseason, Sale has recorded a total of just 11 outs, giving up nine hits and six runs. He also took an early knockout in Game 162, coming out after recording just seven outs at Washington. However, Sale seems determined to get back on track and has been working tirelessly on ironing out his mechanics.
[M]y delivery. Getting comfortable with it, being able to repeat it a lot. I think that's where
a lot of my inconsistencies have come, not being able to repeat that. A lot of dry throws, a lot of heavy bullpen sessions, stuff like that. The more repetition I can get, the better off I'm going to be. . . .

This is crunch time. This isn't, "Let's work back from Tommy John and try to find some stuff." We need it now. Look where we're at. . . . I got to do my job.

The winner of today's game will advance to the World Series by winning one of two possible games in Houston.

And . . .

Happy Winning-The-2004-Pennant Day!!

The Ultimate "How It Started . . . How It's Going":


allan said...

Rut row, Runter.
Renfroe is trending on Twitter (11:36 PM ET).

Paul Hickman said...

Basically we just hit the shits !

The whole Barn has fallen in on itself in the last 2 days

I have been forced to hide behind the Couch as a parade of Pitchers you NEVER ever wanna see stroll in & get "torched" & destroy any remaining & lingering hopes of a comeback !

But we just need to win 1 game of Baseball - it's not impossible & we have done it before

Win Game 6

Worry about Game 7 ..... IF we get there

We need Nate to help turn the tide & the Offense needs to reappear from out of the Swamp, or wherever it has gone to

The last 2 games almost everybody has been swinging too early in the count - even "Kyle the Kareful" has looked dreadful at times ! Generally he's the most patient with the best sense of the strike zone.

The last 4 Games has seen a single half innings "obliterate" the Game - that's all it has taken to win

I fancy that Game 6 ( & hopefully 7 ) will look far more like Game 1 - close & lower scoring ?

We need to grind out a win to flip the script back & put the pressure back on the home team

So can we win a Game with a score of say 3-1, 4-2, 5-3 etc.

Well it amounts to Nate Pitching a Cracker for 5-6 innings & Houck, Whitlock, Pivetta etc. putting the rest together & can that lot limit Houston to say 1-2-3-4 runs at most ?

It is possible & I would suggest that Alvarez, Gurriel & Tucker are the main dangers for mine - get those 3 out consistently & it is indeed possible

So really it may boil down to the old chestnut of hitting with RISP

Think I saw the stat last night for the last 2 games & it was something like 5/18 v 0/18 !!! It seems like 0/625 .....

Change that & we can win Game 6

That is ultimately the simple truth - we don't have to score a dozen, just a handful might do it ?

Can we squeeze out a win & push it the distance to that fabled friend or foe - Game 7

Despite the last 2 nights from Hell ...... I am still hopeful, I don't really know why ? Maybe just a hunch I had from the start of the ALCS that we would see a Game 7 ?

Everybody wrote Houston off days ago

Now everybody is writing The Sox off

They were wrong then

They are wrong now

You don't make it this far to roll over & go home when it gets a bit tricky

I still believe

I know Alex Cora & all the players still do too

It's up to Nate

He has the ball

He sets the Tone ....