October 18, 2021

ALCS 3: Red Sox 12, Astros 3

Astros  - 000 300 000 -  3  5  2
Red Sox - 063 002 01x - 12 11 0
The Red Sox pounded the Astros' pitching staff for the second game in a row, hitting four home runs, including a 430-foot grand slam by Kyle Schwarber (on a 3-0 pitch!).

On Alex Cora's 46th birthday, the Red Sox took a 2-1 lead in the ALCS. With more logical bullpen choices in Game 1, the team could have been on the verge of a sweep.

Boston's offensive punch in the past two weeks has been historic.

The Red Sox are the first team in MLB history to have 10+ hits in six consecutive games of the same postseason.

The Red Sox are the first team in MLB history to hit three grand slams in a postseason series.

It's also the first time in Red Sox history (regular season or postseason) that the team has hit three grand slams in a two-game span. In 2021, the Red Sox hit a total of three grand slams in the entire regular season!
Good Eddie was in the house on Monday night! Eduardo Rodriguez (6-5-3-0-7, 97) was fucking nails, with the exception of the fourth inning. And who really cares? Houston's runs at that point were like a bit of lint on your shoulder: you just brush it off and get on with the important tasks of your day. In the other five frames, Rodriguez faced 16 batters, allowed one single, and struck out seven. 

Rodriguez had the Fenway crowd on its feet, roaring, after he struck out the side in the second, consistently hitting the mid-90s with his fastball. Astros starter Jose Urquidy also had the crowd on its feet, roaring, but that was because he got lit up like Luna Park.

Urquidy threw a clean first inning, got Xander Bogaerts on a called third strike to open the second, and was ahead of Alex Verdugo 0-2. But he could not put him away, and trouble ensued. Verdugo battled, fouling off five pitches and eventually walking on Urquidy's 11th offering (it was the longest plate appearance of Verdugo's career). J.D. Martinez smashed a double off the Wall in left-center. Verdugo stopped at third and after Hunter Renfroe walked, the bases were loaded. Christian Vázquez went the other way, lining a single to right, scoring Boston's first run.

Christian Arroyo chopped a ground ball to Jose Altuve at second. The ball took a high hop and Altuve, who had his glove down, could not adjust. The ball hit him in the chest and rolled away behind second base. Martinez scored on the E4. Fox's Joe Buck and John Smoltz worked overtime to explain away how The Great Altuve could have made an error. Buck claimed the ball took "two weird hops" even though numerous replays showed the baseball took zero weird hops. They were still spinning this yarn in the later innings. (Is a denial of reality a requirement to work for Fox in any capacity?)

Urquidy missed with his first three pitches to Schwarber. Then he came in with a strike and Schwarber was waiting for it like a snake in the grass. He crushed it, sending it high and deep to right field and causing pandemonium throughout Fenway Park.

Schwarber's shot was only the second postseason grand slam by a Red Sox lead off batter. The other one was courtesy of Johnny Damon, who also gave the Red Sox a 6-0 lead, back in 2004 ALCS 7, and prompted the greatest exhalation of nervous energy in New England history. And they wore the same  #18! Schwarber's shot also got David Ortiz, who on this day 17 years ago won two do-or-die games in extra innings against the Yankees with walkoff hits, in a mood to dance!

Astros manager Dusty Baker must have been in shock because he left Urquidy in to face four more batters! He did get an out, but Kiké Hernández and Bogaerts both singled and by the time Urquidy (1.2-5-6-2-1, 57) was sent back to the dugout, he had thrown 46 pitches in the inning.

Yimi García got the third out in the second, but got torched in the next inning. With one out, Renfroe worked an eight-pitch walk. On the first pitch to Vázquez, Renfroe stole second. He continued on to third when All-Star Altuve failed to glove Martin Maldonado's one-hop throw. The ball went into center. Jose Siri's throw to third was off-target, as well, but the play was backed up and Renfroe had to stop . . . but only for a minute because Vázquez popped the next pitch into short left field. Michael Brantley came in at less-than-full speed and watched the ball fall in front of him. Renfroe scored. (He is the first Red Sox player with a stolen base and two runs scored in a postseason game despite having no hits.) Arroyo hit Garcia's next pitch on a line into the first row of the Monster Seats for a two-run homer and a 9-0 lead.
The Red Sox are hitting .405 and slugging .750 in the first three innings of games this postseason. Those averages are currently above the major league records for a single postseason (minimum four games). The 2007 Red Sox batted .377 and the 1989 Cubs slugged .646. . . . The Red Sox have outscored the Astros 20-1 in the first three innings of this ALCS.

As mentioned, the Astros scored three runs in the fourth, on Kyle Tucker's three-run homer. Of the five hits Houston managed off Rodriguez, four came in this inning. However, EdRo rebounded nicely. Rafael Devers made a great backhand pick and throw for the final out of the fourth and Rodriguez retired the Astros in order in both the fifth (nine pitches) and sixth (14 pitches). In fact, Yuri Gurriel's single following Tucker's long-ball was Houston's last hit of the night. The final 16 batters managed only two walks, both of which were immediately erased on double plays.

Carlos Correa grounded out to end the top of the sixth and as Rodriguez walked off the field, he tapped his right wrist, the same "My time" gesture Correa had made at the plate after homering in Game 1. (He did it before he began running out of the box!) Alex Cora screamed out at Rodriguez: "Hey! . . . No! No!"

After the game, Cora said: "We don't act that way. . . . I let him know. We don't have to do that."

Rodriguez said it "was just part of the game". . . .Correa thought it was funny. "Why would it bother me? . . . We should all go out there and have fun. I love it. It was great.

There was also a fan behind the Astros dugout that mocked Correa as he made his way back to the Astros dugout after being called out on strikes in the second.

Devers walked to start the home sixth. Two outs later, Phil Maton came in and Martinez took him over everything in left for a two-run dong. In the ninth, Devers went to the opposite field off Ryan Stanek for a solo dinger.

The Red Sox have now hit 20 home runs in eight postseason games this month. That ties the franchise history in a single postseason, with the 2003 team.

Kiké Hernández had a bad night at the plate, only two singles in five trips. He has 17 hits in his last six postseason games, which is a new major league record for a six-game postseason span.

José Urquidy / Eduardo Rodriguez

In 2021, you never knew which Eduardo Rodriguez you would get when he took the mound.

Would it be six shutout innings (July 2) or four runs in five innings (July 7)? 

Six runs in 3.1 innings (July 29) or five shutout innings with 10 strikeouts (August 4)?

Six runs and eight hits in 3.2 innings (September 7) or one earned run in six innings (September 13)?

The Red Sox need Good Eddie, who turned in five solid innings in ALDS 4 last Monday, to show up tonight. If Nick Pivetta is not needed in relief, he will probably start Game 4. Chris Sale is expected in Game 5.

Rodriguez faced the Astros twice this season, on May 31 and June 10. In each start, he allowed six runs in 4.2 innings.

José Urquidy has not pitched since October 3, the final day of the regular season.

In six postseason games, Houston's starting pitchers have a 7.17 ERA in 21.1 innings. The bullpen's ERA is 3.69 ERA in 31.2 innings.

The Astros have scored at least five runs in all six games. Only the 1987 Twins have had a longer stretch to begin a postseason (seven games).

Ken Rosenthal (The Athletic) reports on Kiké Hernández's batter's box adjustment that has led to the Red Sox outfielder setting records for extra-base hits (9), hits (15), and total bases (34) in a five-game postseason span, and has him batting a cool .500 in the playoffs (16-for-32).

Throughout his career, Hernández has struggled to hit breaking balls. In the regular season, he is a career .196 hitter against breaking pitches, according to Statcast. But this postseason he is 7-for-10 with three homers off breaking stuff. The difference, Red Sox hitting coach Tim Hyers said, stems from an adjustment most hitters are unwilling to make: Hernández, just before the postseason began, moved slightly closer to home plate.

"He's scooted up a hair, trying to get the ball maybe a hair closer to him," Hyers said. "That little bit has helped him out. His plan, seeing the ball close to him, getting it up and not chasing the breaking ball away. He's just not missing it right now. He has found a good move, his mechanical move. His upper body and lower body are just in sync so well. Getting the ball close to him, it's worked for him."

Hernández was 10 years old when he first met Alex Cora. He was a bat boy for Cora's winter-league team in Puerto Rico. Hernández later played for Cora in the 2017 World Baseball Classic and he chose to sign with the Red Sox in part because he wanted to play for Cora again. . . . Hernández was also childhood friends with Christian Vázquez. The current Red Sox teammates were also Little League teammates in Puerto Rico. "I've known Christian -- I played with Christian when I was 7 years old in Puerto Rico. He's always been a stud ever since we were that young, he's always been a stud."

NLCS: Atlanta leads the series 2-0 after two walkoff victories in its home park. Three other teams have won the first two games of a postseason series via walkoffs: 1969 Orioles (ALCS vs Twins), 1981 Astros (NLDS vs Dodgers), 1997 Marlins (NLDS vs Giants).

Watching NLCS 2 last night, I found it astonishing, in 2021, that thousands of adults will mime the racist tomahawk chop like brainless automatons while yelling the accompanying racist chant. I also found it entirely predictable, because there are tens of millions of racists in the US.

How in the world has Atlanta avoided the scrutiny and pressure that led (finally) to Cleveland changing its nickname and dumping Chief Wahoo into the dustbin of history? During the 2019 postseason, the team spewed some bullshit buzzwords: "We will continue to evaluate how we activate elements of our brand, as well as the overall in-game experience." The following summer, the team said it would not change its name (Cleveland said the same thing for years), but it would review the use of the tomahawk chop chant. Whether it did that or not (I lean strongly to not), it's obvious the team's front office remains in full support of racism.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred showed some rare backbone when he moved the 2021 All-Star Game out of Atlanta after Georgia's governor signed into law various voter suppression and nullification laws that will disproportionately affect Black voters. The Governor signed the bills while sitting directly under a painting of a famous slave plantation. I'm sure that was a silly coincidence.

Has Manfred been putting any pressure on the Atlanta team to change its offensive name?

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