Red Sox emerge victorious in Game 6 of ALCS, will return to the World Series

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It was the Tigers’ game to lose, but ultimately, the Red Sox won it. Shane Victorino delivered a timely grand slam in the bottom of the seventh to give the Red Sox a three-run lead. In doing so, he tasked the sterling Red Sox bullpen with getting six outs to punch their ticket to the World Series. Craig Breslow and Koji Uehara were more than up for the task.

Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz was effective through five innings, but as he attempted to make his way through the Tiger lineup for a third time in the sixth, he wore down. It was to be expected, as he missed half the season due to bursitis in his right shoulder. Reliever Franklin Morales was of no help to Buchholz either, failing to strand runners that were on base for him when he entered the game with no outs.

But even after the Tigers took a 2-1 lead in the sixth inning, it felt like the Red Sox still had the momentum. The Tigers could have blown the game wide open, but Brandon Workman closed what was a gaping wound and got them out of trouble. As long as they could keep the game close, they knew they had a chance against the Tiger bullpen, which ranked among the worst in baseball during the regular season, and which they took advantage of previously in the series.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland kept starter Max Scherzer in the game to start the bottom of the seventh inning. The right-hander had worked his way out of several jams, getting strikeouts when he needed them most. It wasn’t to be after Jonny Gomes led off the inning with a double and Xander Bogaerts drew a one-out walk. Leyland went to his bullpen, asking them to preserve their one-run lead.

They couldn’t. Lefty Drew Smyly allowed a line drive up the middle to Jacoby Ellsbury,  mishandled by shortstop Jose Iglesias, loading the bases up with one out. Leyland brought in right-hander Jose Veras to pitch to Shane Victorino, who was once again a full-time right-handed hitter rather than a switch hitter. Veras got ahead of Victorino 0-2, but hung a curve ball that he wishes he could have back. Victorino smashed it into the stands in left field atop the Green Monster, taking the Red Sox from down 1-2 to ahead 5-2. In terms of odds, the Sox went from 63.5% underdogs at the end of the top of the seventh to 94 percent favorites after the grand slam.

From there, it was a matter of the Red Sox bullpen doing its job. Craig Breslow shut the Tigers down in the top of the eighth and Koji Uehara finished the job in the top of the ninth. Uehara struck out Iglesias with — what else — a splitter in the dirt, sending the Red Sox back to the World Series for the first time since 2007, when they swept the Rockies. They will match up against the Cardinals at home in Games 1 and 2, starting on Wednesday. It will be a rematch of the 2004 World Series, which the Red Sox won to break the 86-year-old “Curse of the Bambino”.

Red Sox look to punch their ticket to the World Series tonight

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Thanks to some amazing defense, some big hits and — to continue to beat this horse, a bad call by Joe West — the Red Sox have a 3-1 lead in the ALCS and look to clinch the AL Pennant tonight down in Houston.

If you believe in momentum, you’d have to say it’s on Boston’s side. If you believe that momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher, however, you’d have to say things favor Houston more than the standing of the series would suggest. All of which makes me wish Game 5 was starting right now, because it figures to be a tense and exciting affair.

ALCS Game 5

Red Sox vs. Astros
Ballpark: Minute Maid Park
Time: 8:09 PM Eastern
TV: TBS
Pitchers: David Price vs. Justin Verlander
Breakdown:

If someone told you that you had to win one baseball game against the Martians to save the human race, you could do far worse than calling on Justin Verlander to be your starting pitcher. Among the pitchers still in the postseason, he’d almost certainly be your choice right now.

Does Verlander himself appreciate the situation? This is what he said about that yesterday:

“I mean, these are all must-win games at this point. Every time you take the mound I don’t think there’s any difference whether it’s 2-2 or 3-1.”

Look, we’re asking him to beat the Martians here, not win the National Math Bee, so let’s let that go. The point is that after all of these years he’s still one of the most dominant pitchers in the game and after the exhausting, see-saw battle of Game 4, he stands the best chance of giving Houston what it needs: a quick, quiet and drama-free win.

Not that the Red Sox are likely to roll over for that. They didn’t the first time they faced Verlander in this series. They Astros won, yes, and Verlander limited them to two runs on two hits. But he also issued four walks and wasn’t his sharpest overall. Boston didn’t capitalize on his mistakes as best they could, but he’s not invincible.

For Boston it’s David Price. He allowed four runs on five hits and four walks over four and two-thirds innings in Game 2, not factoring in the decision. That’s not great, but given the talk leading up to that game being all about how Price is a postseason flop, the fact that the Sox won it in the end had to bouy him at least a little. As does the fact that, here, tonight, it’s not 100% on his shoulders. Sure, the Sox want to close this out, but with a 3-1 lead there is less pressure on Price than on his former teammate Verlander. Worth noting, though: Price is on short rest and warmed up in the bullpen last night in case he was needed to bail out Craig Kimbrel. He may not go deep into this game.