Game 4 of the ALDS between the Astros and Red Sox was certainly not a conventional affair. But it sure was an entertaining one, with ace starters looking like ace relievers — at least for a time — and an ace reliever failing to hold off Houston’s final rally. However we got there, the Astros won it 5-4 and will move on to the American League Championship Series to take on the winner of the Indians-Yankees series.
Early on this one felt like it’d be a high-scoring game, but neither team was able to capitalize when it mattered. The Astros threatened often in the first three innings, but left six on base, and only managed two runs: one on a run scoring double play in the first and a second on a George Springer RBI single in the second.
The Red Sox scored their first run on a Xander Bogaerts solo shot in the first and threatened several other times in the first few innings, but came up empty. Most notably when they had the bases loaded and nobody out in the second, but Astros starter Charlie Morton struck out Jackie Bradley Jr. and Dustin Pedroia before getting Xander Bogaerts to fly out. Both strikeouts were controversial, with some bad calls, particularly strike three to Bradley. The borderline strike three to Pedroia led to John Farrell’s ejection as he protected a livid Pedroia.
The Red Sox blew another opportunity in the third, as Morton looked profoundly hittable, giving up a solid single to Andrew Benintendi, and then a hard shot by Mookie Betts which was caught by Alex Bregman, who then doubled Benintendi off first. That was unfortunate for Boston, because the very next batter, Mitch Moreland, doubled and it likely would’ve plated a run. Morton then gave up a 400 foot foul ball to Hanley Ramirez before Ramirez singled. An aggressive send by third base coach Brian Butterfield resulted in Moreland getting nailed easily at home. Morton was steadier in the fourth, striking out the side, leaving a game the Red Sox could’ve broken open at 2-1 in favor of Houston.
That’s when things got weird, with a couple of ace starting pitchers coming on in relief.
The Red Sox called on Chris Sale to relieve starter Rick Porcello in the bottom half of the fourth. Sale was sharp and pumped, flashing a 99 m.p.h. heater at times. He retired the side in order in the fourth and held Houston scoreless in the top of the fifth as well. In the bottom of the fifth A.J. Hinch countered by bringing in Justin Verlander for his first ever relief appearance. The thinking was probably “let’s shut down the Red Sox here rather than risk a Game 5.” That didn’t work out quite as planned, as the notoriously slow-starting Verlander walked Xander Bogaerts and then gave up a long homer to Benintendi to give Boston the 3-2 lead:
Verlander settled down and held Boston scoreless in the sixth and seventh. Sale continued to dominate as well, holding Boston scoreless in the sixth and seventh himself. He was up to 65 pitches after he was done working in the seventh, but in a move that will be second-guessed by Red Sox fans for a long time, Sale was sent out back for the eighth. Whatever was the theoretically correct decision at the time turned out to be wrong in hindsight, as Sale allowed a homer to Alex Bregman to tie the game at 3:
He then let Evan Gattis reach on a single before giving way to Craig Kimbrel. Kimbrel threw a wild pitch, allowing pinch runner Cameron Maybin to reach second. Josh Reddick then singled in Maybin, putting the Astros up 4-3.
Ken Giles held Boston scoreless in the bottom of the eighth. Kimbrel continued on in the top of the ninth, allowing two base runners before giving up a two-out double to Carlos Beltran off the Green Monster, scoring a run to make it 5-3. The insurance run would prove to be necessary because, of course, this one couldn’t end conventionally. It had to be weird.
The last bit of weirdness: Rafael Devers led off the bottom of the ninth with a long drive to deep left center that bounced off the wall and eluded a leaping George Springer and ricocheted a hundred feet, allowing Devers to score on an inside-the-park homer to make it 5-4:
Giles bore down at that point, however, getting Christian Vazquez to ground out to short for the first out, struck Jackie Bradley Jr. out swinging for out number two and then retired Dustin Pedroia on a grounder to second to end the game.
While I think a lot of people expected this series to be decided in large part by the pitching of Chris Sale and Justin Verlander, I don’t think anyone would’ve expected the deciding game to come down to their work out of the pen. Indeed, if anyone would’ve said so, I would’ve asked to have some of whatever it was they smoking.
But that’s the playoffs in 2017, folks. Unorthodoxy prevails. The unexpected should be expected. And the Boston Red Sox are the first playoff team to go home for the winter.