ALCS Game 4: Red Sox at Houston Astros (October 17, 2018)

Before I get to the game, I want to revisit something I mentioned earlier in this postseason: there is no acceptable reason why games should be starting at close to 9pm on the East Coast. I understand that for game four it was the Red Sox' and Astros' turn to get the prime time slot and I know that Houston is on Central Time, but still, when the first pitch is at 8:40pm you are robbing the region where more than half of the country lives by starting the games so late. I watched this game from the first pitch to the final out and it was 1:15am by the time it was over. I stayed up with my wife and two oldest daughters and we all crawled off to bed around 1:30am, but getting up for work on five hours of sleep wasn't my idea of a fun Thursday morning. I know I'm just another voice in the wilderness and that I'm also preaching to the choir, and of course I'm not going to stop watching, but it's a ridiculous situation and one that MLB could easily rectify. And they wonder why their viewership among younger fans is down every October...

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Now, as for the game itself...WOW! The ebbs and flows and twists and turns and heart-stopping drama of game four was postseason baseball at its best. Heading into the game it seemed like it would be a bit lopsided. The Red Sox had Rick Porcello starting and he had looked downright dominating in his last start and his relief appearances this month. Opposite him was Charlie Morton who finished the season with a sore shoulder and had only pitched once in the last three weeks. When Boston scored a quick two runs in the first inning it looked like it was trending in that direction. With Mookie Betts and JD Martinez on base, Rafael Devers singled to drive them in and make it 2-0. The Sox caught a break, too, when a Jose Altuve home run was ruled an out due to fan interference in the bottom of the inning. Replay showed that Mookie was pretty clearly about to catch it when his glove was knocked away by fans trying to catch the ball. The Astros and their fans whined about it the rest of the night, but in my opinion it was the right call (and also a little karmic justice for the blown call on Tony Kemp's catch the night before). In any event, Houston got a run in the second off of a Carlos Correa single. For as shaky as Morton looked, Porcello wasn't much better. It was clear from the start that he just didn't have it and even when he got them out, the Astros were hitting him hard. The game was back and forth in the early innings as Boston would score and then Houston would counter.  As with game three against Dallas Keuchel, there was the nagging feeling that the Sox were leaving runs on the field and that they should have done more damage against Morton. Xander Bogaerts' RBI double in the third increased the lead to 3-1, but Houston tied it in the bottom of the inning when George Springer hit a solo home run and then Josh Reddick singled a bit later to drive in Altuve. They took the lead in the fourth when Kemp hit a solo homer that curled just inside the right field foul pole. That was it for Porcello and as I said on Twitter immediately after, when a weak player like Kemp homers off of you, you know it's just not your night. Red Sox fans, myself included, were shocked Alex Cora had even sent Rick out for the fourth inning after he'd gotten rocked in the third and it looked like we were vindicated. However, Cora has done just about everything right this season so I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Boston tied it at four in the fifth when Xander drove in Andrew Benintendi with a singe, but yet again Houston answered in the bottom of the inning when the suddenly red hot Correa's single pushed Yuli Gurriel across to give them a 5-4 advantage. With Morton gone after just 2.1 innings, by this point the Sox were a fair bit into the Astros bullpen. With two outs and Christian Vazquez on base via a double that just barely missed going over the fence, Jackie Bradley crushed the first pitch he saw from Josh James over the right field fence for a two run homer and an instant 6-5 lead. It was Bradley's third huge RBI hit in as many games and gives him nine RBI over that span, all with two outs. That quieted the crowd and as the Boston bullpen began to shut the Astros down you could see and hear the desperation and panic start to set in. The Sox added another run in the seventh when Brock Holt walked with the bases loaded to push JD across and make it 7-5. They more insurance in the eighth when JD singled with two outs to drive in Mookie. At this point Cora made a strange decision to try and get the six out save with Craig Kimbrel. Kimbrel has been shaky for the last two months and almost always only works clean ninth innings. His longest save this season was four outs and he'd never tried for six before in his career. He was erratic again in the eighth when with one out Altuve drove in Alex Bregman on a fielder's choice to cut the lead to 8-6. It could have been a lot worse and I need point out the fantastic play Mookie made in throwing Kemp (who led off the inning) out at second when he tried for a double. Betts fielded the ball, pivoted and threw an absolute bullet in one motion that hit Bogaerts right in the glove for the easy tag and out. It was one of the greatest plays I've ever seen and he made it look easy. In the ninth it looked like Boston was poised to break it open: with the bases again loaded and two outs, Mookie lofted a ball to the gap in right center field looked like it was going to drop in. It would have easily scored two if not three runs, but Reddick made a fantastic diving catch to grab it and end the inning. That saved the game for the Astros and when they came up in the bottom of the ninth, Cora had shockingly sent Kimbrel back out to get the final three outs. Given how bad he'd looked in the eighth I and everyone else in Red Sox Nation couldn't believe it. He got the first out quickly on a foul pop up caught by Ian Kinsler, but then he began to fall apart again. With the bases loaded and two outs, Bregman lined one to shallow left field that looked like it was going to drop in and end the game, but Benintendi made the very gutsy decision to go all out for it and he made an incredible diving catch to end the inning and the game. He instantly jumped up cheering and yelling as the Sox ran out of the dugout in front of the stunned Astros and their fans. It was a fitting ending to one of the most intense and exciting postseason games I've seen in a long time. The win puts Boston up 3-1 in the series with three games left to win one (including two at home).

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This one was all about clutch hitting, defense, and the bullpen. Porcello was not good, only going four innings and giving up four runs on seven hits. With Justin Verlander slated to start game five for the Astros and uncertainty over who would start for the Sox with Chris Sale still ill, I felt all along that game four was a must-win lest they go back to Boston down three games to two. The relief corps trio of Joe Kelly, Ryan Brasier, and Matt Barnes were excellent which leads us to Kimbrel. I don't know if he's hurt, mentally shaken from pitching in high pressure games, tired, or something else but he is an absolute mess right now. He's walking way too many batters (three in this game alone), his command is all over the place, and he just cannot get the job done the way we were used to seeing. I keep hoping he'll sort it out and return to form and there's still time for that to happen, but my goodness does he make some of these games much more difficult and stressful than they need to be. As for the hitting, the Sox were outhit 13-11 but they made all of theirs count. An incredible seven of their eight runs were driven in with two outs which is just staggering. Simply put, the Sox made all of the clutch hits Wednesday night and Houston did not. Combined with some of the best defense they've played all season it's easy to see why they're a game away from winning the pennant and going to the World Series. Game five will pit Verlander against David Price and I think I speak for most Red Sox fans when I say that makes me nervous as hell. Still, it's good to have the cushion of two home games at the end of this series with Chris Sale and (most likely) Nathan Eovaldi on the horizon. I'm getting greedy, though...I had said all along I wanted the Sox to take two of three in Houston but now I'd love for them to sweep them all and go for the series win in game five. If Price can give them a quality start and they can get to Verlander early, that may just happen. No matter what, I'll be watching; even another late start to the game could never keep me away. I can catch up on sleep once the Sox are finished playing, right?

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