BOSTON — If Game 1 of the American League Championship Series is any indication, buckle up for a wild ride.
In a game that featured Alex Cora getting ejected for arguing balls and strikes, a nightmare of a game from Eduardo Nunez at third base, Chris Sale and Justin Verlander not at top form, the Astros beat the Red Sox, 7-2, at a frenzied and frustrated Fenway Park Saturday night. David Price is up next for the Red Sox against Gerrit Cole as Game 2 is set for Sunday night at 7:09 p.m. before the series moves to Houston on Tuesday for Game 3.
The Red Sox rallied from an early 2-0 hole and tied the game, 2-2, before it all went south quickly from the bottom of the fifth to the top of the sixth. Andrew Benintendi was called out on a controversial third strike, Alex Cora was ejected and Nunez botched an easy double play chance to open the door and the Astros took full advantage. Houston’s bullpen shut the door with three innings of scoreless relief. Appropriately, the game ended when Nunez grounded out to third.
Boston could only manage three hits while Houston homered in its 14th consecutive postseason game, dating back to it’s 2017 World Series title run. The Astros have not lost in this postseason, sweeping the Indians in three straight in the ALDS.
While Nunez’s inability to turn a routine grounder into a double play led to an unearned run in the sixth, his counterpart Alex Bregman had a clutch game in the field, handling all seven chances cleanly.
Chris Sale did not have it in Game 1. From a game-opening walk to George Springer, it was clear Sale didn’t have sharp command and control. He also didn’t have his normal fastball.
The lefty opened the game throwing a fastball that was sitting between 90 and 91 MPH. When he did dial it up a notch, he drilled Martin Maldonaldo on the right hand with a 95 MPH fastball in a second inning that the Astros finally broke through. Sale was under the gun in the first two innings but managed to get through four innings, allowing just two runs on one hit, walking four and hitting a batter.
“Early in the game it was off,” Cora said. “But at the end you saw it 93, 94. He finished strong. It was hard for him today. It was one-pitch pitcher fastball glove side. Beside that, I think he threw three good sliders in the third inning to finish off and then the last inning was a lot better. So velocity-wise he finished strong. But I decided — he wanted to go out again and I was like, no, man, it’s going to be a long series, we need you.”
In the first, Sale avoided a first-and-second one-out situation when Alex Bregman’s bloop to right ricocheted off Mookie Betts’ glove as Betts was charging to make the catch. But Betts recovered to make the throw to second and, upon review, the safe call was overturned at second for the second out of the inning.
The next batter, Yuli Gurriel struck out swinging to end the first. Sale would not be as lucky in the second. After getting the first two outs of the inning, the Sox ace walked Carlos Correa. he drilled Maldonado and then walked Josh Reddick. Sale appeared poised to escape again when he got ahead of Springer with two strikes. But Springer, who tore up the Indians in the Astros’ ALDS sweep, worked the count full. On the eighth pitch of the at-bat, Springer laced a 93 MPH fastball under the glove of Eduardo Nunez for a two-run single and a 2-0 Astros lead.
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Sale settled down in the next two innings. After walking Bregman to open the third, he managed to get out of it when Bregman was thrown out trying to steal second with one out following by a Tyler White strikeout. Sale then recorded his only 1-2-3 inning in the fourth on 17 pitches and was done after 86 pitches. Sale was pulled after four innings, allowing only the Springer liner under the glove of Nunez for a hit. But he walked four and hit a batter, giving way to Joe Kelly to start the the fifth for Boston.
Verlander, by contrast, was a picture and pitcher of efficiency, needing just 48 pitches to get through the first four innings. Betts singled to right to open the game and took second on a one-out wild pitch to J.D. Martinez. After Martinez walked, the Red Sox appeared ready to strike first when Fenway awakening. But Xander Bogaerts hit into a 6-4-3 double play to end the frame.
Verlander would retire the side in order in the next three innings before Steve Pearce battled back from an 0-2 hole to single on a 3-2 pitch to open the fifth. A walk to Eduardo Nunez brought the crowd to its feet. Jackie Bradley Jr. worked a four-pitch walk to load the bases for pinch-hitter Mitch Moreland, batting for Sandy Leon. Moreland worked a full-count before taking Ball 4 low for the first Boston run of the game. Mookie Betts then hit a first-pitch grounder to third and the Astros got the force at the plate for the second out. With Andrew Benintendi up, Verlander fired a wild pitch that Maldonado couldn’t corral and Bradley scored the tying run.
But on a 3-2 pitch, Benintendi was called out on a 98 MPH pitch on the outside corner by home plate umpire James Hoye. He slammed his shin guard, bat and helmet to the ground. As that was going on, Alex Cora yelled from the dugout and was ejected from the game. He came out as furious as Benintendi was but had to watch the rest of the game from his office as bench Ron Roenicke took over.
“I was arguing balls and strikes and he threw me out,” Cora said. “I guess Verlander executed his pitch and he called it strike. Andrew didn’t agree. I didn’t agree. It’s a big pitch right there. It’s ball four, bases loaded. They got Pressly in the bullpen. Most likely Verlander comes out of the game.
“But you can’t argue balls and strikes. And I did. It’s kind of like embarrassing that it happens in the playoffs. That wasn’t cool watching the game in the clubhouse. I got a job to do and manage the team in the dugout. But sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do and you’ve got to defend your players. And at least Andrew stayed in the game and he had a few more at-bats and he played left field while I was watching in my office.”
— Andersen Pickard (@andersenreports) October 14, 2018
The tensions only got higher from there. Kelly drilled Alex Bregman to open the sixth. Gurriel then chopped a ground to Nunez at third, who appeared ready to start a 5-4-3 double play. Instead, he dropped the transfer from his glove to hand and everyone was safe with none out. Kelly then induced a White strikeout and a Gonzalez strikeout before Correa fought off an inside 3-1 pitch to center for a single scoring Bregman and giving the Astros the lead again, 3-2.
The eighth inning provided more fuel against the umpiring crew as Vic Carpazza rung up J.D. Martinez for the third out on a check swing on a Lance McCullers pitch in the dirt.
Josh Reddick added insurance in the ninth with a leadoff solo homer over the Red Sox bullpen against Brandon Workman. The Astros didn’t stop there against Workman. Springer and Altuve walked and Gurriel homered down the right field line for a 7-2 lead.
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