The Houston Astros pulled away from the Red Sox for a 9-1 victory in ALCS Game 5 on Wednesday and have now shocked Boston by taking back-to-back games at Fenway Park. The Game 5 result means that the Red Sox -- who were just six outs away from a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven ALCS on Tuesday night -- now face a 3-2 deficit heading to Friday's Game 6 in Houston. The Astros, meanwhile, are now just one win away from their third AL pennant in the last five years and have two chances at home to get it done.
Let's run through some Game 5 takeaways.
Yordan Alvarez jumpstarts Astros offense
Alvarez got the scoring started in top of the second with a solo shot off Red Sox starter Chris Sale.
Alvarez would single off the Green Monster next at-bat and while the Astros didn't score that inning, it did lead to stressful pitches for Sale.
Then came the top of the sixth.
Jose Altuve singled and then Michael Brantley reached on an error when Red Sox first baseman Kyle Schwarber dropped the throw on what looked like a groundout. Alex Bregman followed with a weak grounder right back to Sale on the first pitch. Alvarez picked him up with a two-run double to right field.
With the Astros adding another run in the seventh, it meant that after the first inning in Game 4 up until the Rafael Devers' homer in the bottom of the seventh of Game 5, the Astros had outscored the Red Sox 15-0 in the span of 14 1/2 innings. Quite the contrast from Games 2-3.
They also tacked on two more runs in the ninth inning, giving them nine runs in the ninth inning in Games 4 and 5.
Valdez steps up for Astros
Astros starters in Games 1-4 of the ALCS had worked just 6 2/3 innings, allowing an absurd 16 runs in that time. As a result, the bullpen also had some issues in Games 2 and 3. Manager Dusty Baker couldn't really do much to help his team win in those games with his pitchers performing so poorly. The bullpen was excellent in Game 4, but the possibility of another short start left open the option of his bullpen being gassed and losing Game 5.
Instead, Valdez dominated. He became the first ever pitcher to start the game by retiring more than nine straight hitters in Fenway Park in postseason play. He got 12. Yes, he had a perfect game going through four innings. Devers singled to lead off the bottom of the fifth. Valdez hit the next batter with a pitch, but then got a double play and then another groundout to shut things down.
In his eight strong innings of work, Valdez only allowed one run (a solo homer to one of the best power hitters in baseball) on three hits while striking out five and walking just one. He only looked like there might be trouble in that fifth inning, but got out of it with groundballs. That's what he was doing all night. He was so dominant, Astros outfielders barely even got any action. He got a whopping 14 groundball outs compared to just three flyouts (and two of those were his last two batters faced). He had heavy sinker usage (60 of his 93 pitches), so this was excellent execution of a clear game plan. When he wanted to get whiffs, he broke out the curve, which got swings and misses seven of the 30 times he threw it.
Per the Fox broadcast, Valdez is the second pitcher ever to go at least eight innings and allow three or fewer hits in the postseason in Fenway Park. The other? Bob Gibson.
This was an ace-type outing when the Astros desperately needed it. Kudos to Valdez.
Sale looked like old self... for five innings
The final numbers don't look amazing for Sale (5 1/3 IP, 3 H, 4 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 7 K), but it was very encouraging given how bad he'd looked late in the regular season and through two playoff starts. The seven strikeouts had the look of vintage Sale. He was pumping 96-97-mph fastballs and getting misses with his wipeout slider. He wasn't Prime Sale or anything, but he was a lot of the way back. The difference between the best version of Sale and this one was he clearly ran out of gas in the sixth inning. He was dealing before that.
Sale is likely done for the series -- I'm not sure how smart it would be to bring him in relief in a possible Game 7 -- but if the Red Sox take both games in Houston to advance to the World Series, they'll have to feel good about giving Sale a start early in the series.
While we're here, let's point out that, amazingly, this was the first American League playoff game this postseason in which both starting pitchers went at least five innings. This was the 14th AL playoff game.
Red Sox offense completely cools off
The Red Sox offense had been historically great in Games 2 and 3 of this series. They'd been a wrecking crew pretty much the entire playoffs after getting shut out in Game 1 of the ALDS. A two-run Xander Bogaerts shot in the first inning of Game 4 looked like business as usual.
Instead, the wheels have fallen off. After looking totally hopeless, the Astros pitching staff has held the Red Sox to just one run in the 17 innings after Game 4's first inning.
- Kiké Hernández was the hottest Red Sox hitter of them all going 17 for 29 with four doubles and five homers from ALDS Game 2 through ALCS Game 3. He's 1 for his last 10.
- Kyle Schwarber hit the game-breaking grand slam in Game 3. He's now 0 for his last 10.
- J.D. Martinez has been hitless in the last two games after driving home six with four hits, including two home runs and a double, in Games 2 and 3.
- After being one of the few Red Sox to hit the ball in Game 4, Bogaerts returned to struggling, posting an 0 for 4 night.
With those key pieces struggling, the offense suddenly becomes a bit punchless. Devers can only do so much on his own (he had two of the Red Sox's three hits and homered for the only run).
Also, Hunter Renfroe grounded into two double plays and struck out. He's now 1 for 14 this series. Given that Schwarber has only been playing first base for a few months and every once in a while it shows, it might be a good idea for Red Sox manager Alex Cora -- who has now lost consecutive postseason games for the first time in his managerial career- -- to mix things up moving forward. That would entail playing Schwarber in left field with Bobby Dalbec at first base, pushing Renfroe to the bench.
We obviously have to credit the Astros pitchers here while also acknowledging the offensive barrage from the Red Sox that once looked too relentless to be contained has fizzled.
Next: Game 6 in Houston
Thanks to both starters getting some length into the game and the day off for travel on Thursday, both bullpens will be nice and rested for Game 6. Trailing three games to two and going on the road means the Red Sox are facing steep odds at coming back, but it's happened before (Red Sox fans can attest).
Garcia left Game 2 early with a knee injury. He hasn't been replaced on the ALCS roster and all indications are it was a minor malady. The 24-year-old right-hander was 11-8 with a 3.30 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in the regular season. He was shelled in both of his postseason starts. He was a lot better at home than the road this season, but the Red Sox touched him up in Minute Maid Park in Game 2.
Eovaldi, 31, was 11-9 with a 3.75 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in the regular season. He has a 3.45 ERA in 15 2/3 innings in his three starts this postseason, but he was also charged with four earned runs in 2/3 of an inning in taking the loss in Game 4.