To say that it was not Boston’s finest hour is to risk egregious understatement. Playing in game one of the American League Championship Series on Saturday night, the Red Sox looked more like the Boys from Bone-town than Beantown, doing almost as much to help the Astros win, 7-2, as the Astros themselves. It must be said that there are few teams who would not have emerged triumphant from a match in which the opposing squad walked 10 batters and hit three more. Then again, the Sox had home field advantage at storied Fenway Park, an alleged advantage that seemed to maintain the illusion, at least for a while, that the two greatest teams in the American League—and perhaps all of baseball—were evenly matched.
Where was the explosive offense we’d been led to expect? Wherefore the mighty arm of Boston ace Chris Sale? And how did a team that had played so exquisitely on its way to 108 wins end up ill-prepared for a matchup that had been predicted at least since April?
This may well prove a true contest yet, as Houston did not capitalize on Boston’s mistakes nearly as often as they should have, leaving a slew of runners on base and managing just two hits through the seventh inning. But only a fool would bet against the Astros at this point, especially since Houston seems well able to cling to its habit of winning even on off days like Saturday.
Aided mightily by Justin Verlander—who like his team somehow finds a way to be superb even when not quite playing his best—the ’Stros capitalized on Sale’s mistakes early in the second inning, after the Boston pitcher walked two batters (Carlos Correa, Josh Reddick) and hit another (Martin Maldonado). By the time the bases were loaded and the count went to 3-2 on George Springer, the stage seemed set for heroics, and soon enough they came when our George rifled a shot past a diving Sox third baseman Eduardo Nunez, scoring two.
Verlander struggled with control in the bottom of the fifth inning, loading the bases before walking in one run and then hurling a wild pitch allowing a second to score. The tie held for just one half-inning, however, at which point Correa’s sleepy bat sprung to life and the shortstop blooped a single into center that scored Alex Bregman. Boston’s greatest hope at that point was that its middle-inning relievers might keep things close, but Boston does not have those kinds of relievers, and in the eighth inning, the Astros—by which I mean Yuli Gurriel—blew the game wide open with a three-run homer, lofting a ball into the seats in left field, and giving Houston a 6-2 lead. Reddick added a solo shot of his own in the ninth inning, and soon Fox’s cameras were trained on what looked like thousands of Boston faithful streaming for the Fenway exits.
Verlander’s masterful ability to pitch his way out of trouble is probably the biggest reason the Astros won game one, but the relief pitching by Ryan Pressly, Lance McCullers Jr., and Colin McHugh was similarly fine, so much so that you almost felt sorry for the Sox on one of the team's most miserable nights in recent memory.
The American League Championship Series continues tomorrow with game two at Fenway Park in Boston. The first pitch is at 6:09 pm local time and the game will be broadcast by Fox.