ALCS Game 1: Houston Astros at Red Sox (October 13, 2018)

After the euphoria of eliminating the Yankees on Tuesday, I think I speak for all Red Sox fans when I say that I couldn't wait for the ALCS to start. By winning two straight games on the road at Yankee Stadium and dominating the Yankees in the ALDS, the Sox showed that they weren't regular season frauds and that they were a legitimate powerhouse team. However, we all knew that the defending champion Houston Astros were now in the way and would be an even tougher test than the Yankees for numerous reasons, not least of which that they've been playing their best baseball of the season over the last month. With a marquee match up of starters Chris Sale and Justin Verlander facing off, game one looked like it was going to be October baseball at its best. What we got instead was one of the strangest and most frustrating Red Sox games of the entire season.

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From the outset, Chris Sale did not look sharp in this one. I can't abide by the fans who think it was because of his one inning relief stint near the end of game four against the Yankees on Tuesday; he only threw fourteen pitches and then had three full days of rest before game one of the ALCS. Perhaps it was the pressure of the moment (this game was the biggest game everyone on the team not named Dustin Pedroia has played in) or the fact that game one was almost seen as "must win" with the uncertainty of David Price starting game two, but Sale just didn't have it. His velocity was down and his control was lacking. On a night when they needed him to go deep and eat some quality innings, he only lasted four innings. True, he only gave up two runs on one hit and he did strike out five, but he also walked four (which is a LOT for him) and just wasn't himself. Whether it was nerves, his shoulder, or something else it was exactly what the Red Sox didn't need. After a shaky second inning (where he was admittedly hurt but some atrocious defense from Eduardo Nunez...more on this later), he actually settled down and started mowing down Astros hitters. However, by then he'd thrown a Pomeranz-esque eighty-six pitches and was lifted from the game. The aforementioned damage in the second inning came when Sale, who had gotten two quick outs, put two men on via a walk and a hit by pitch. George Springer singled via a grounder toward Nunez that went under his glove. The replay showed that he may have stumbled on his way to field it, but an inning ending out turned into a two run single. Neither team was hitting much in this game and heading into the fifth, both teams only had a single hit to their names. It was Verlander's turn to melt down in the fifth when he suddenly lost his control after looking otherworldly to that point. He walked three in the inning, including Mitch Moreland to drive in the first Boston run of the night. With only one out, it looked like the Sox were poised to break it wide open, but on the very first pitch he saw, Mookie Betts swung and grounded to Alex Bregman who threw Nunez out to get the force at home. It was a terrible piece of hitting from Betts who has frankly looked absolutely awful at the plate this entire postseason. I love the guy, he's one of my favorite players and I want him on the Red Sox for many, many years to come, but he's looked lost at the plate this month and that at bat crystallized it all. Why the hell would you swing at the first pitch when the pitcher has literally walked three in a row immediately before you? It was terrible mental baseball from a player who is usually one of the smartest baseball minds in the game. Andrew Benintendi was up next and Verlander uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Jackie Bradley to score and tie the game. Benintendi then continued his miserable night (he finished 0-4 with three strikeouts) by getting rung up on an awful call by the home plate ump (who also had a lousy night for both teams). Benintendi slammed his bat and helmet down and justifiably argued it, as did Alex Cora who ended up getting tossed between innings. In the sixth inning, Carlos Correa singled off of Joe Kelly to drive in a run and give Houston a 3-2 lead and while that's how it stayed for the next few innings, it never felt as though the Sox seriously threatened. They spent the entire night flailing away at the plate and looked like they were pressing. One thing I did not like was how whiny and argumentative they were with the umpire all night; while he did blow a fair number of calls, it was bad for both teams and yet Houston comported themselves in a way Boston did not. Even players who are normally above that got into the act, most egregiously JD Martinez. He was rung up on a blown check swing (he didn't go) strike three that got past catcher Martin Maldonado, but instead of running to first base he stood there with his bat under his arms arguing with the ump. By the time he finally decided to run, Maldonado had the ball and easily threw him out at first. Cora's ejection ended up hurting the team when bench coach Ron Roenicke decided to put in Brandon "Blowout" Workman in the game. As I've said all season, Workman only belongs in blowout wins or losses, and this game showed yet again why that is. In the ninth, he gave up a solo homer to Josh Reddick and then a few batters later, a three run blast to Yuli Gurriel that put the game completely out of reach at 7-4. That's how the game ended and with that, the Red Sox completed one of the most disgraceful and embarrassing losses of the season. When the best part of the night is inadvertently hitting Joe West with an errant throw down to second base, you know it was a night to forget.

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Game one was seen as almost a must win with David Price starting game two and I'll say it right now: if the Red Sox play the way they did in game one, this is going to be a very short series. They looked over matched, overwhelmed, and under prepared, almost as though they figured the Astros would just roll over after seeing how the Sox dispatched the Yankees (remember, the Astros went one better by completely obliterating the Indians in a laugher of a sweep). The Sox spent the entire night whining and arguing calls and had petulant body language that I'd expect to see from Little Leaguers, not grown professionals. Truthfully, it was the first time all season where I've disliked this team. Meanwhile, the Astros looked poised, calm, and in control from the very beginning. They only outhit the Sox 5-3, but they looked to be in a different class from wire to wire. The three Boston hits came from Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and Steve Pearce but all were singles and no one on this team did any damage; remember, their two runs were via an RBI walk and a wild pitch. Defensively, Eduardo Nunez was directly responsible for the first three Houston runs as not only did he stumble on Springer's hit, but he threw a ball away and also muffed an easy double play ball when he dropped a ball on the transfer after cleanly fielding a sharp grounder. The night was just a disaster all around. (Ten walks and three hit batters from Red Sox pitchers aren't going to cut it). I hope that the team got it out of their systems and come back ready to play in game two. This series now hinges on David Price's start tonight and if that doesn't terrify you, it should. It's time to see what the 2018 Red Sox are made of, all of them.

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