It will always seem to us like a game of what-ifs: what if Andrew Benintendi hadn't caught Alex Bregman's liner in the bottom of the ninth? What if umpire Joe West and the mandarins at TBS hadn't assumed that Mookie Betts would have made a miraculous catch to rob Jose Altuve of a home run in the first? What if the 'Stros hadn't left a staggering 26 men on base? What if Game 4 of the American League Championship Series hadn't seen Houston outmanaged, outpitched, and outhit when it counted?
The best that can be said of Wednesday night's contest at Minute Maid Park, which the Red Sox won 8-6, is that the Astros have now dug themselves a hole so deep, so massive, it will take nothing short of a miracle for them to win the ALCS. This is a team of miracles, as we've long observed in this space, but a triumph this time around may well require a superhuman capacity beyond the reach mere superhumans.
All praise to the Red Sox, who after a shaky start in the series, quickly learned to play like the champions we'd expected to face, and then with a ruthlessness and poise we really didn't expect. Boston seems to specialize in knocking its opponents off-balance early and often, a skill that was much in evidence again last night, when third baseman Rafael Devers singled in the first inning, scoring Mookie Betts and JD Martinez.
The Astros mounted at least something of a comeback in the second, when the suddenly-hot bat of Carlos Correa drew a hit that scored Josh Reddick. But the very next inning, Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts doubled, scoring Benintendi, giving Boston the lead 3-1 until the bottom half of the inning, when George Springer cut that lead in half with a solo shot to right field, and then Reddick tied the game with a single scoring Jose Altuve.
In the fourth inning, Tony Kemp homered, putting the Astros ahead, although again just briefly, as Bogaerts singled in the top of the fifth, once more scoring Benintendi. In the fifth, Correa stroked the second of his three hits of the night, scoring Yuli Gurriel, but in the sixth, Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. answered with a two-run homer to right. At that point, Boston led by just one and the ping-pong lead changes seemed likely to continue, but in the seventh inning, Lance McCullers Jr. walked Martinez home, and in the eighth, Betts scored on a Martinez single, giving the Sox a three-run lead.
The Astros mounted the beginnings of a comeback in the bottom half of the inning, when Bregman scored on an Altuve ground-out, and then almost scripted a Cinderella walk-off in the ninth. Craig Kimbrel, the Sox comme-si-comme-ca ace reliever, walked Reddick, Correa and Kemp. With two outs, Bregman strode to the plate, and with him the hopes of an entire exhausted city. Just as we'd expected, Alex soon hit a sinking liner to left, but the damn thing just didn't sink fast enough for Benintendi, who made a catch that was equal parts foolhardy and magnificent. And with that, Houston's hopes were sunk for the night, and perhaps longer.
Game 5 of the American League Championship Series between the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox begins at 7:09 p.m. at Minute Maid Park and will be televised by TBS. Game 6 will begin at 4:09 p.m. on Saturday afternoon at Fenway Park, and game 7 (if necessary) will be at 6:39 p.m. on Sunday.