Tomase: Red Sox’ road to World Series now goes through Houston originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
If the Red Sox want to make the World Series, they’re going to have to win at least one more game in Houston.
An American League Championship Series that seemed firmly in their grasp is now a best-of-three, and two contests will be played deep in the heart of Southeast Texas.
The Astros guaranteed that with a gutsy 9-2 victory at Fenway Park in Tuesday’s Game 4, silencing the potent Red Sox offense and reminding everyone that they’ve been one of the best teams in the American League over the last five seasons for a reason.
The little things that had carried the Red Sox throughout the playoffs just weren’t there. Ace reliever Garrett Whitlock surrendered the tying homer to Jose Altuve in the eighth. Right fielder Hunter Renfroe failed to make a circus catch on Carlos Correa’s leadoff double to right in the ninth. Starter Nathan Eovaldi, so unhittable in big moments, finally cracked.
But most of all, the Red Sox offense finally met its match vs. a Houston staff that allowed only three hits. And suddenly the complexion of this series has completely changed.
Things certainly started well. Veteran Zack Greinke allowed a towering two-run homer to Xander Bogaerts in the first and for a while it looked like it would be enough, standing as the winning run until Altuve led off the eighth with a no-doubter of his own off the seemingly indominable Whitlock.
Eovaldi allowed the go-ahead single before lefty Martin Perez entered and lit a match, the final score belying how taut the game actually was.
So now the Red Sox will get a chance to take care of business at home in Game 5 before returning to Houston for Games 6 and 7. Win two, and they’re on to the fifth World Series of the John Henry era, and easily the most unexpected.
“The hard part’s getting in,” Henry said before the game. “It’s very tough to do. Once you get in, then you sort of expect to see people rise to the occasion. But with this fan base, even over the last 20 years, I’ve never seen anything like this kind of excitement. We’re still in a building phase. It does portend well for the future.”
There’s no reason the future can’t be now. On Tuesday, the Red Sox appeared poised to punish another hapless Astros starter when Bogaerts hammered a hanging slider, but the game bogged down from there, with Red Sox starter Nick Pivetta blanking the Astros after an Alex Bregman solo homer, and Houston reliever Cristian Javier returning the favor over three innings of stellar relief.
After blowout wins in Games 2 and 3, manager Alex Cora tried to navigate this one, and nearly pulled it off. He stuck with Pivetta after turning over the lineup for the third time in the fifth and was rewarded with a scoreless frame. He then rode lefty Josh Taylor and righty Adam Ottavino to get to Whitlock in the seventh for a two-inning bridge to Eovaldi in the ninth, but Whitlock didn’t have it.
Cora’s plans truly imploded when Eovaldi served up Correa’s leadoff double in the ninth before allowing a two-out, two-strike RBI single to Jason Castro to give the Astros the lead. Houston tacked on six more against Perez, and the crowd expecting another festival instead filed out in disappointment.
While it would be nice to think the Red Sox could just blitz their way to a title, the reality is that not every game will be decided by a first-inning grand slam, nor will they go undefeated at home, where they had won seven straight postseason games.
The Astros were always going to be a challenge, even after falling into consecutive 9-0 holes in Games 2 and 3. This is a team, after all, that nearly climbed all the way out of a 3-0 hole vs. the Rays in last year’s ALCS before succumbing in Game 7. This is what they do.
The Red Sox have shown their own ability to weather the storm, however. And now that resilience is going to be put to the test yet again.