ALCS Game 2: Houston Astros at Red Sox (October 14, 2018)

It was a great night to be a Boston sports fan. The Patriots had the Sunday night game and were taking on the undefeated Chiefs at home, but before that was the more important of the night's two events: game two of the ALCS. After looking outclassed and overwhelmed against the poised Astros in game one, Boston needed to approach game two as a must-win scenario. With the next three games of the series in Houston, the Sox could not go on the road down two games to none and feel good about their chances. After losing a mediocre Chris Sale start (and maybe now we know why: it was announced during game two that he's in the hospital with a stomach virus), all eyes turned to David Price and his abysmal career postseason record to salvage a split. Regardless of how Price pitched it wouldn't amount to much if the Boston bats didn't wake up, but thankfully the team got enough of both on a night when they desperately needed them.

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Before going any further, I want to just say that no, David Price wasn't great and no, he didn't come close to exorcising his postseason demons with his performance in game two. With that being said, he wasn't awful and two of the four runs charged to him weren't his fault (looking at you, Xander Bogaerts). The Sox went for the quick strike and scored first in the bottom of the first when Andrew Benintendi followed up Mookie Betts' leadoff double with an RBI single to make it 1-0 after just five Gerrit Cole pitches. With the bases loaded later in the inning, Rafael Devers singled to drive Benintendi in and it looked like Boston was going to blow the game wide open and knock Houston starter Cole out early, but they squandered their chance and settled for two runs. In the top of the inning George Springer doubled down the right field line with two outs to drive in Carlos Correa and Martin Maldonado to tie the game, but I don't put those runs squarely on Price's shoulders. Prior to that, Xander took his sweet time with a routine grounder that should have been the third out of the inning and instead lengthened it for Houston. You can't give away outs in any game, but especially not in October and against a good team like the Astros who will make you pay (which they did). The next two runs surrendered were on Price when he gave up a two run home run to Marwin Gonzalez in the third to put Houston up 4-2. It seemed like the same old David Price and just took the wind out of everyone's sails; everyone except the Red Sox, that is. They came storming back in the bottom of the inning led off by Steve Pearce who doubled. They'd eventually load the bases with two outs for Jackie Bradley who ripped a double into the corner that glanced off of the Green Monster. He was aided with some luck from quirky Fenway Park as the ball hit the ground and then bounced up onto a ridge on the side wall and rolled toward the infield as Gonzalez gave chase. That allowed all three runners to score and gave the Red Sox a 5-4 lead. Boston got another strange run in the seventh when Mookie Betts walked and then advanced to second, third, and home all on passed balls. That gave the Sox a much needed insurance run without the benefit of a single hit! It still felt too close to comfort until the eighth when, with Devers and Mitch Moreland on base, Mookie smacked a double to center field to drive in a run and extend the lead to 7-4. Craig Kimbrel came in to close out the game in the ninth and I think I can speak for all Red Sox fans when I say that I prayed we wouldn't get a repeat of his performance from game four of the Yankees series. For a moment it looked like it'd be as easy as 1-2-3 as he got the first two outs in short order. Then, he gave up a double to Springer and a single to Jose Altuve which cut the lead to 7-5. With the dangerous Alex Bregman coming to the plate representing the tying run it looked like it might fall apart and it nearly did, but Kimbrel induced a fly out on a ball that had Benintendi with his back flat against the Monster in order to catch it. That was the ball game as the Sox got a series-tying 7-5 win.

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Before I look at the hitting, I want to focus on the pitching. Price went 4.2 innings and gave up four runs on five hits. He did strike out four but he also walked four and while he wasn't as good as he needed to be, he wasn't as bad as it looks at first glance either. As mentioned above, the first two runs he gave up should never have happened had the inning ended with that play to Bogaerts. Price wasn't great, but he kept the game close enough for the Sox to come back and win it. He still needs to be better (a LOT better) in the postseason and I'm not sure if that can ever happen, but for now it was sufficient. The narrative that he was terrible in this game is lazy at best and inaccurate at worst. He was mediocre, yes, but far from terrible (see: game two of the ALDS). The bullpen was fantastic and again exceeded any and all expectations I had for them. Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier, and a particularly filthy Rick Porcello combined to throw 3.1 innings of no hit ball in relief with only one walk (Brasier). It wasn't until Kimbrel in the ninth that Houston threatened and scored. As for the hitting, it looks like this might have finally been the game where Mookie broke out of his career postseason funk. He was 2-4 with two runs scored, an RBI, and a walk; hopefully he's shaken out of the postseason doldrums he's been in because as he goes, so usually go the Red Sox. Everyone contributed in this one apart from Christian Vazquez (0-4), Ian Kinsler (0-4 as he continues to have a miserable postseason apart from his RBI double in game four against New York), and JD Martinez. JD is an interesting case because since game two of the Yankees series he hasn't done much of anything at the plate. He seems to be waving at pitches and pressing; it's sure frustrating watching him right now. He was 0-4 with two strikeouts in this game and the team really needs him to start producing if they want to have a good chance to win the series. Bradley had the most key hit of the game with his three-RBI double and Devers went 2-3 and played solid defense at third. He should get the bulk of the playing time there over Eduardo Nunez for the remainder of this series just for his bat alone...we'll see if Cora finally decides to do the same with Brock Holt at second in place of the unproductive Kinsler.

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The series now shifts to Houston for the next three games. Game three on Tuesday will pit Nathan Eovaldi against Dallas Keuchel in what should be an excellent pitching match up. If the Red Sox can continue to hit and minimize their mistakes, they've got a good chance of getting the series back to Boston for game six. There is no margin for error against the defending champions so the Sox will need to play nearly perfect baseball in order to win this series, but if they play the way they did in game two then I like their chances.

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