Offense shuts down in loss
Sox head to Houston trailing 3-2 in ALCS
The Red Sox were finally getting what they’ve waited so long for from Chris Sale in the playoffs. Their lefthanded ace was dialed in, emotional and after two years away from the game, ready to lead the Sox to a pivotal win on a big stage.
And then came the sixth inning.
And now, suddenly, the Red Sox’ season is on the brink of ending.
Sale looked much better, at times vintage-like, but the Red Sox may have bit off more than he could chew on Wednesday night. Sale couldn’t overcome the powers of Yordan Alvarez, the Red Sox proceeded to unravel for a second consecutive night and their offense continued its sudden disappearing act, producing just three hits in a 9-1 loss to the Houston Astros in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series, falling behind 3-2 as the series heads back to Houston.
Two nights after they had taken a 2-1 series lead and seemed to be in full control, the Red Sox now suddenly need to win twice in Houston this weekend to advance to the World Series. They’ll hand the ball to Nathan Eovaldi for a do-or-die Game 6 on Friday night at Minute Maid Park.
The situation seems dire, but it’s not anything the Red Sox aren’t used to.
“I feel like this is a team that this is our story,” J.D. Martinez said. “We’ve been written off all year. Nobody, I don’t think anyone in here, either, thought we were going to be here. To that we know what we’re capable of, and I think no one is not believing in themselves or not believing in our team that we can go out there and go off.”
For the first time in his managerial career, Alex Cora lost a second consecutive game in the postseason, and he’ll be questioned for a decision he made to let Sale face Alvarez in the sixth.
The Red Sox trailed 1-0, with Sale’s only blemish of the night coming on Alvarez’s solo homer to left in the second inning. The lefty otherwise looked strong, finding a gear he hadn’t found in years when he struck out Kyle Tucker on a 98.5-mph fastball to end the fourth, inciting an emotional reaction from Sale as he walked off the mound.
“I left my nuts out there on that mound tonight, that’s for damn sure,” Sale said.
But after a quick fifth, Sale pitched into the sixth for the first time since Sept. 28 against the Orioles, and it didn’t go according to plan. He allowed a leadoff walk to Jose Altuve, then Michael Brantley reached when Kyle Schwarber dropped a throw at first, allowing a running Altuve to get to third. Alex Bregman followed with a ground-out tapper back to Sale, putting runners on second and third with one out.
Then came the decision, with Alvarez coming up for a third time after his solo homer in the second and wall-ball single in the fourth. Ryan Brasier was warming with Sale at 86 pitches, but even with an open base at first, he stayed in the game. Then came an unexpected outcome: Alvarez was all over Sale’s first-pitch fastball, sending it the other way for a two-run double.
Cora said there was no consideration to walking Alvarez in that spot, and he felt confident in Sale there even after Alvarez had crushed him twice.
“Sometimes we get caught up too much on third time through the order,” Cora said. “He was throwing the ball great. The stuff was really good. He was throwing 97 with a good slider . ...
“I understand how people think, but there were two lefties coming up, too, in that pocket, right? Brantley, who he did an amazing job early on, and we had Alvarez. Still he is who he is, but he is Chris Sale. He is a lefty. He has made a living getting lefties out . ... You got to tip your hat to the kid (Alvarez), to the guy.”
It proved to be the final pitch of Sale’s night. Cora turned to Brasier, who struck out Carlos Correa but then let the floodgates open on him. Tucker singled, Yuli Gurriel doubled, Jose Siri singled and suddenly, the Astros led, 6-0.
That deficit proved to be far too much for a struggling Red Sox offense to overcome. After sending Framber Valdez out early in Game 1, the Astros lefty was dominant on Wednesday. He was perfect through four innings before the Red Sox finally got their first hit of the game on Rafael Devers’ leadoff single in the fifth. The Sox failed to capitalize in that inning after Valdez hit Martinez with a pitch to put two on with no outs.
Hunter Renfroe grounded into a double play, and Alex Verdugo grounded out with Devers presenting the tying run at third.
It was their only real threat of the game. Devers’ solo homer in the seventh was their only run, as Valdez finished a dominant eight innings. The Red Sox have now scored just one run in their last 17 innings.
“He was unbelievable,” Martinez said of Valdez. “I mean, going through my atbats, and I was thinking I don’t think I got one pitch that I could have done anything with, and that’s credit to him and his execution. They’ve been pitching really well.”
The task is simple as the Red Sox go to Houston for Friday’s Game 6 and a potential Game 7 on Saturday: Win two in a row, or the season is over. They remain confident, knowing they’ve been in these situations several times over the last month.
“We did it in 162, and we did it in the Wild Card game,” Cora said.
Added Christian Vazquez: “We don’t quit . ... We’re going to play two games in Houston for a fact.”