The Houston Astros exploded for seven runs in the ninth inning and prevailed over the Boston Red Sox by a score of 9-2 in Game 4 of the ALCS on Tuesday night in Fenway Park. With the win, the Astros and Red Sox are now tied in the best-of-seven series at two games apiece.
The Astros took an early lead with Alex Bregman's solo home run in the top of the first, but in the home half Xander Bogaerts' two-run shot gave Boston the 2-1 lead. That score held all the way until the eighth, when Jose Altuve hit the 21st postseason home run of his career -- this one a solo blast off Boston reliever Garrett Whitlock -- to the tie score.
In the ninth, the Astros were able to push across the go-ahead run following a leadoff double by Carlos Correa off Nathan Eovaldi, Boston's Game 2 starter whom manager Alex Cora summoned to pitch in relief. Eovaldi struck out the next two batters and appeared to get strike three on Jason Castro. However, the pitch was called a ball and soon after Castro was able to line a splitter to right field and plate Correa. One Altuve walk later, Houston padded the lead with a bases-loaded double from Michael Brantley. Brantley himself scored the Astros' seventh run of the game on a two-out single from Yordan Alvarez. By the time the Red Sox were able to get that elusive third out, the score was 9-2.
The Red Sox had plenty of opportunities to build a more comfortable lead in the early and middle innings, but they went 0 for 9 in Game 4 with runners in scoring position and left 11 runners on base. The Astros' seven-run ninth, though, rendered all of that moot. Game 5 is set for Wednesday evening at Fenway Park.
Here are takeaways from Game 4.
Astros offense busts out in ninth
The Astros offense was dormant for the overwhelming majority of the game. All's well that ends well, though, right? With a 2-2 tie heading to the ninth, Red Sox manager Alex Cora elected to use his ace starter, Nathan Eovaldi, in relief. It was Eovaldi's first relief appearance since the 18-inning marathon in Dodger Stadium in the 2018 World Series.
Eovaldi gave up a leadoff double to Carlos Correa. He got Kyle Tucker to strikeout swinging and the Astros elected to put Yuli Gurriel on intentionally. Aledmys Díaz struck out and it looked like Eovaldi would get out of it. Backup catcher Jason Castro came through on a 2-2 pitch, though.
That was particularly interesting because Astros starting catcher Martín Maldonado is excellent behind the plate but basically provides no offense at all. Castro posted a 118 OPS+ in the regular season. Perhaps with the pitching kind of being in shambles this series anyway, Astros manager Dusty Baker decides to go with the hot bat behind the plate moving forward?
Regardless, the Astros weren't done. Jose Altuve followed with a walk and that was it for Eovaldi. Lefty Martín Pérez entered the game and Michael Brantley emptied the bases with a double. A well-placed and lightly-hit Yordan Alvarez single plated another run and then a Carlos Correa dribbler got thrown away. Then Kyle Tucker's infield hit brought home another run.
Just like that, a game that entered the ninth tied at 2-2 went to the bottom of the ninth 9-2 Astros. Eovaldi got charged with four earned runs in just 2/3 of an inning.
Strike zone issues?
Home-plate umpire Laz Diaz didn't have a good night, according to strike zone tracking measures. There was one pitch in particular that might stand out to Red Sox fans after this one. With a 1-2 count and the game tied in top of the ninth, Eovaldi's pitch to Castro was called a ball. It looked like it was possibly high and/or outside. This measure, via ESPN's Jeff Passan, shows that it just clipped the very corner of the strike zone.
Home-plate umpire Laz Diaz has missed 21 ball-strike calls tonight, according to @ESPNStatsInfo. That is the most of any umpire this postseason. The green dot in the upper RH corner is the Eovaldi curveball that would've ended top of the ninth with the score 2-2.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) October 20, 2021
It is now 9-2. pic.twitter.com/VzdyL4lth3
On that one pitch, it's awfully tough to expect an umpire to nail that call correctly in real-life speed, especially on a breaking ball that is still moving as it crosses the plate. As for the bad misses, they are bad misses (J.D. Martinez struck out on a terrible call in the third inning, for example) and shouldn't be happening at a high rate in Game 4 of the ALCS.
Altuve ties it with 21st playoff homer
The game was 2-1 Red Sox after the first inning. It was the exact same score going to the top of the eighth inning. Then, on the first pitch of the frame, Jose Altuve went deep to tie things up.
Boom. Brand new ballgame.
Altuve is still rising up the all-time postseason home run list. He's third all-time and he's on a ridiculous pace. Here's the top five (OK, so it's six names since two players are tied for fifth).
Bregman, Astros strike first
After getting steam-rolled in the early innings in blowout losses in Games 2 and 3 (Game 2 doesn't look as bad, but it was 9-3 going to the ninth before two meaningless Astros homers brought it closer), it seemed imperative that the Astros grab an early lead in this one. And they did. Alex Bregman homered with two outs in the first inning to give them an early lead.
That lead was short-lived, however.
Bogaerts, Red Sox immediately answer
With a runner on and two out in the bottom of the first, the Red Sox took the lead on a two-run Xander Bogaerts blast off Zack Greinke.
This felt like a big deal in addition to just taking back the lead, because while the Red Sox other thumpers had all been on fire this series, Bogaerts was 3 for 13 and without a home run. It wasn't an extended slump or anything, but he had just been missing out on all the fun. Until this one. He later added a double high off the center-field wall that would have been a home run in a few other ballparks. Suffice it say, he's just fine.
The rest of the Red Sox offense, however, took a bit of a nap in this one compared to the previous two games.
Astros starter woes continue
Prior to Game 4, Astros starters in this series had last just 5 1/3 combined innings. They allowed 14 runs on 13 hits in that paltry workload. Not only does this lack of depth from the rotation hurt the team in each game, but it also compromises the bullpen, especially here in Fenway Park when they are tasked with playing three games in three days. It wasn't expected for Greinke to be on a normal starter schedule. He had only thrown twice since Sept. 13 and hadn't thrown more than 28 pitches in either outing. A long first inning meant he only recorded four outs on 37 pitches, however, a much shorter outing than the Astros were likely desperately hoping for. Surely the ideal game plan from Baker saw Greinke going around three innings. Wishful thinking, perhaps.
Through four games, Astros starters this series sport an 18.90 ERA in 6 2/3 innings.
Pivetta, Javier get length
A big story so far this series that will continue is the search for pitchers to go multiple innings. The Red Sox have had better success and that's why they had a 2-1 lead heading into this game. Red Sox starter Nick Pivetta gave them five innings of work in Game 4 and only allowed the one run on Bregman's homer.
On the other side, we have to give credit to Astros reliever Cristian Javier for navigating three scoreless innings against this Red Sox offense that has been on another level this postseason. That's a Big Boy Outing.
In fact, let's singe the praises of the Astros' bullpen as a whole. They only allowed four hits in 7 2/3 scoreless innings to close this thing down. It wasn't just Javier. Brooks Raley stranded his inherited runner in the second. Phil Maton stranded the runner Javier left him. Kendall Graveman worked the seventh and the eighth before closer Ryan Pressley shut the lights off.
Next: Game 5
We'll stay parked at Fenway for the fifth game of this series and it will be a rematch of Game 1 on the mound. It didn't work out well for either starter then:
- Chris Sale: 2 2/3 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 HBP, 1 WP
- Framber Valdez: 2 2/3 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 2 K
Neither bullpen is really rested, but they'll go on fumes when needed. The ALCS is kind of a big deal, you know, and this is Game 5 in a series that is knotted up at two games apiece. The team with a 3-2 lead in a best-of-seven series in MLB playoff history is 75-33 in those series.