108-win Red Sox still viewed as un­der­dogs

Bob Night­en­gale: Bos­ton con­fi­dent go­ing into ALCS matchup with Astros

USA TODAY US Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Bob Night­en­gale

BOS­TON – The Red Sox, who re­turned home in the wee hours Wed­nes­day af­ter their party at Yan­kee Sta­dium in New York cel­e­brat­ing the Amer­i­can League Divi­sion Series cham­pi­onship over their sto­ried ri­val Yan­kees, woke up and braced them- selves for the sober­ing news.

The pre­lim­i­nar­ies are over. If they are go­ing to reach the World Series, win­ning for the fourth time in 15 years, they’re go­ing to have to take on the heavy­weight champs next.

Yep, the mighty Astros, win­ners of last year’s World Series, who might even be bet­ter than a year ago.

The Red Sox in­sist they’re con­fi­dent, and, yes, might have to change their mu­sic se­lec­tion. It’s silly to play Frank Si­na­tra’s “New York, New York,” mock- ing the Yan­kees once they get to Hous­ton. They might have to go coun­try and change to “Deep in the Heart of Texas,” the song played at ev­ery Astros game.

No mat­ter what song they choose, the Red Sox are strut­ting into the series with bravado, with their vic­tory to­tal at 111 games and a Texas-sized chip on their shoul­ders. They killed off the Yan­kees. Now, they’re seek­ing re­venge on the Astros, the team that ended their sea­son a

year ago when Hous­ton won the AL Divi­sion Series in four games.

Few out­side their club­house are giv­ing them a chance to win, al­most like the Yan­kees series when they were tied at one game apiece, and all the Red Sox heard was they were done.

“A lot of guys doubted us,” Red Sox short­stop Xan­der Bo­gaerts said. “I turned on the TV, and ev­ery­thing is, ‘Yan­kees in 4.’ I’m like, ‘What is go­ing on? How can we have 108 wins and they’re like the Yan­kees are go­ing to win in 4. I don’t un­der­stand.’ ”

This is a team that won more games than any other team in base­ball, the most in fran­chise his­tory, and some folks are treat­ing it as if it’s no more sig­nif­i­cant than win­ning the Grape­fruit League ti­tle in spring train­ing.

“I think the me­dia from the first day of spring train­ing was pretty neg­a­tive,” Red Sox co-owner John Henry said, “even though we won the divi­sion two years in a row.

“(We) just needed to be a lit­tle more ag­gres­sive in our ap­proach be­cause these guys are so tal­ented, they just needed some­body to say, ‘Go get ’em.’ And they went and got them this year, all year long.”

The Red Sox, un­der rookie man­ager Alex Cora, cer­tainly did just that, and he was a mas­ter­mind in their four-game series vic­tory over the Yan­kees, mak­ing bold and dar­ing moves that paid off ev­ery time.

Cora even took the ul­ti­mate gamble in Tues­day’s 4-3 vic­tory when he brought in ace Chris Sale in the eighth in­ning. If Sale strug­gled, or the Red Sox lost the game, they were done. Sale was sched­uled to pitch in Game 5, and af­ter pitch­ing only 17 in­nings in the fi­nal two months of the sea­son with an in­flamed shoul­der, just how long could he pos­si­bly have lasted in the elim­i­na­tion game? “I was ready to find out,” Sale said. We’ll never have to know.

Sale, who pitched a 1-2-3 eighth in­ning, is now ready for his own re­venge. Last year was his first post­sea­son, and it was ugly. He started one game, pitched in relief in an­other, and lost them both. He went home yield­ing an ugly 8.38 ERA, per­mit­ting four homers in just 92⁄ in­nings.

“My first go at it was god-aw­ful,” Sale said. “It was as bad as it can get. It left a bad taste in my mouth. It sucked. I look at what hap­pened the first time around, and ob­vi­ously I was try­ing to flip the script.

“And here we are.”

Yes, a team that won more games than any­one, with the largest pay­roll in the game, but some­how is be­ing viewed na­tion­ally as the “Lit­tle En­gine that Could,” with few giv­ing them a re­al­is­tic shot.

“We’re here, doesn’t mat­ter,” Sale says. “Any­body out­side of this club­house can say what­ever they want. We know who we are, and we know what we can do. Comes with the busi­ness, you know?

“Any­one can say what­ever they want, but we know who we are, we know we can do, so keep on com­ing with it.”

Just in case you think the Red Sox are go­ing to go timid now, Cora is not only dou­bling down on his gutsy moves but also push­ing all of his chips in by an­nounc­ing Wed­nes­day that David Price is stay­ing in the ro­ta­tion.

Sale is pitch­ing Game 1 Satur­day against Justin Ver­lan­der.

Price is pitch­ing Game 2 against Ger- rit Cole.

Yes, re­ally, the same guy who was booed off the mound in Game 2 of the Divi­sion Series, fac­ing just 10 bat­ters, and get­ting a mere five outs in the Red Sox’s 6-2 de­feat against the Yan­kees. Price has now started 10 games in the post­sea­son with three dif­fer­ent teams, and his team has lost all 10 games, with Price go­ing 0-9 with a 6.03 ERA. Only two other pitch­ers in his­tory have made at least 10 post­sea­son starts and had a higher ERA.

“I think there’s been guys around the league that they strug­gle their first 10 starts,” Cora said. “Like Ver­lan­der, no­body re­mem­bers that he wasn’t good early in his ca­reer in the play­offs, and now he’s kind of like the poster child of play­off base­ball.

“One thing for sure, (Price is) in the same spir­its to­day. He’s ready to roll, which is very im­por­tant for us.”

Well, con­sid­er­ing that ev­ery­thing he touched in the Divi­sion Series turned to gold, how can any­one ques­tion Cora now, or doubt the Red Sox’s swag­ger?

“From Day 1 in spring train­ing he’s been our guy,” Red Sox in­fielder Bock Holt said. “From the be­gin­ning, he told us how good we can be. We ob­vi­ously knew that, but we be­lieved him.

“There’s no rea­son to stop be­liev­ing now.”

NOAH K. MUR­RAY/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

BRAD PEN­NER/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Red Sox start­ing pitcher Chris Sale re­lieved in the eighth Tues­day for a 1-2-3 in­ning.

BOB DECHIARA/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Hous­ton re­liever Ken Giles and catcher Brian McCann cel­e­brate af­ter knock­ing the Red Sox out of the play­offs last sea­son. The teams will square off again this post­sea­son.

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