BOSTON — Fenway Park transformed into a morgue Wednesday evening, and these Red Sox must pull off one heck of a feat in order to turn this place back into a ballpark before next spring.
The Astros, presumed deceased just two days prior here, placed themselves in the American League Championship Series driver’s seat with another big inning in Game 5.
A five-run sixth propelled the Astros over the Red Sox, 9-1, giving them a 3-2 lead in the series and putting them in position to secure their third AL pennant in five years when this battle resumes Friday night at Minute Maid Park. Such a triumph also would represent Houston’s first trip back to the Fall Classic since Major League Baseball concluded that the team illegally stole opponents’ signs to capture its first and only crown in 2017 as well as veteran skipper Dusty Baker’s first time in the finals since his 2002 Giants dropped a seven-game World Series to the Angels.
Lefty Framber Valdez delivered a terrific mound performance for the Astros, allowing a run on three hits over eight innings, to become the first Houston starting pitcher to pick up a win in this series, while Yordan Alvarez homered, doubled and singled as he drove in three runs. Five of the ’Stros’ seven runs were unearned, a callback to the defensive problems, not to mention the bullpen woes, that imperiled the Red Sox’s playoff hopes during the marathon of the regular season.
What a twist of fate in less than 24 hours, for when the Red Sox outscored the Astros by a collective 21-8 in Games 2 and 3, decimating the Houston pitching staff, Alex Cora’s bunch appeared set to become one of the least likely AL pennant-winners in a long time. However, that seeming inevitability blew up in Tuesday night’s Game 4 when the ’Stros broke open a 2-2 game with a two-out, seven-run explosion in the top of the ninth.
If that didn’t carry over immediately into Game 5, it did so eventually. Former Red Sox ace Chris Sale, who deliberately made his way back into active performance from 2020 Tommy John surgery, pitched a stellar first five innings, allowing only Alvarez’s solo blast over the Green Monster in the second inning. Valdez, however, trumped that effort by retiring the first 12 Red Sox he faced, and when dreams of matching Don Larsen faded with a Rafael Devers single and J.D. Martinez hit by pitch to start the fifth, Baker made a rare mound visit to chat with Valdez. The southpaw responded by retiring Hunter Renfroe on a 6-4-3 double play and Alex Verdugo on a groundout to Yuli Gurriel at first base.
And coincidentally or not, the Astros followed by blowing the game open against Sale, who walked Jose Altuve to start the sixth, saw first baseman Kyle Schwarber fail to catch a throw from Rafael Devers after the third basemen smoothly fielded Michael Brantley’s grounder and served up a two-run double to Alvarez. Ryan Brasier relieved Sale and saw another three runs come home on his watch before the inning mercifully ended (even as the game itself dragged on).
Now the Red Sox, with ace Nathan Eovaldi likely on the mound, must try to stop the Astros from mercilessly ending their season.