Down and out
BOSTON -- Red Sox resiliency has its limits, even in a fantastic playoff game.
Because in the end, the Astros offense proved just too much for the Sox, even for Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel -- arguably the very best starter and closer in the American League.
So close to forcing a Game 5, the Sox' season ended in the American League Division Series for a second straight year Monday when the Astros won the best-of-five series with a 5-4 comeback win at Fenway Park. The loss was a gut-punch blow, coming against the two best arms the Red Sox have. Sale threw four shutout innings, just like David Price, and took the Red Sox into the eighth with a 3-2 lead. Unlike Price, Sale was asked to go out for a fifth inning of work, and gave up a game-tying home run to Alex Bregman. The Sox had led 3-2 since the bottom of the fifth inning.
Kimbrel came on for the top of the order, relieving Sale with two down and one on. But his control wasn’t there -- he’s had those flare-ups before -- and a battle with Josh Reddick ended with an opposite-field single for the former Red Sox outfielder. It scored Cameron Maybin from second base with the go-ahead run.
An insurance run off Kimbrel in the ninth inning proved huge because Rafael Devers led off the frame against Astros closer Ken Giles with an inside-the-park-home run, a Fenway Park classic that eluded the reach of George Springer.
Here are five quick thoughts from a long and riveting day of baseball, the final one of the season in Boston . . .
Craig Kimbrel failed in a major way Monday, and picked the worst time of the year to do so.
He’s been on the Red Sox for two seasons, and hadn’t thrown a meaningful pitch in the playoffs before Game 4. The usage issue isn’t his fault -- the Sox had no leads to protect last year, and the first three games of this year’s ALDS weren’t close. But on Monday Kimbrel was charged with keeping the game tied at 3-3 with two out, a runner on first, and the top of the Astros order due up in the eighth inning.
Instead, Kimbrel had no control, even as his velocity jumped to 101 mph. He wild-pitched Maybin to second and then walked George Springer. The next hitter, Reddick, hit a go-ahead single the other way. Kimbrel was no better in the ninth, allowing the Astros to add an insurance run on a Carlos Beltran knock off the Green Monster. Kimbrel’s 38 pitches in that last inning-and-a-third were a career high.
Per Baseball-Reference.com, Kimbrel had not allowed a go-ahead hit all season prior to Monday.
THE RIGHT MOVE?
Sale was awesome for four innings, but was it time for Addison Reed at the start of the eighth -- or even Kimbrel?
The rain never came, or it least it never came hard enough to stop play, and reliever Sale matched reliever David Price for a time, going four shutout innings in relief. At that point, per Baseball-Reference.com, the Sox were the first team since the 1984 Padres to have two shutout relief appearances of at least four innings in one series.
But Sale’s outing didn’t end in a shutout. The Red Sox -- manager John Farrell was ejected but was presumably still involved in the game -- left him in for 77 pitches. On pitch No. 69, he allowed a leadoff home run to Bregman that tied the game.
The inning turned into the Red Sox’ nightmare from there. Reed was on the roster for a reason, and Sale, on short rest, had already delivered a ton. Kimbrel didn’t wind up pitching well, but asking him for six outs wouldn’t have been crazy if the Sox didn’t want to see Reed.
B'S ARE BACK
Two of the Killer B’s emerged Monday, if a bit too late.
Andrew Benintendi and Xander Bogaerts were a combined 2-for-26 coming into Game 4, key hitters for the Red Sox doing nothing at the plate.
But Bogaerts, moved in the lineup into the two-hole Monday, homered in his first at-bat, tying the game at 1-1. Four innings later came a home run from Benintendi, putting Boston ahead 3-2. The “Just-in, Just-in” chants rained down on Justin Verlander, the presumed Game 5 starter for the Astros who was brought in to relieve starter Charlie Morton in Game 4’s fifth inning.
Just like the first reliever Astros manager A.J. Hinch turned to in Game 3, Francisco Liriano, Verlander allowed a go-ahead homer to the Sox.
The Astros led 2-1 when Verlander came on, with Bogaerts on first base and one out. This time it was Benintendi, instead of Devers (as it had been on Sunday), who socked a 2-and-2 breaking ball on the inner half out to the right-field corner, a little smile on his face as he watched the ball sail and started into his trot.
GOING OUT WITH A BANG?
If this series proves to be John Farrell’s last as manager, he didn’t go out quietly.
Farrell was ejected in just the second inning Monday, after Dustin Pedroia was the second straight Red Sox hitter to be caught looking at a called third strike from Morton with the bases loaded. Farrell appeared to save Pedroia from getting run after Pedroia exploded on home-plate umpire Mark Wegner, disagreeing with a curveball called for strike three that Pedroia felt was inside.
Wegner could have run Pedroia, who should have been able to keep his cool better. But Farrell’s intervention job to keep Pedroia from getting tossed was reasonable, too.
RUNNING ON EMPTY . . . AGAIN
One way or another, you knew you’d be talking about the Red Sox’ base running at some point this series. And the conversation isn’t a happy one for Sox fans when it comes to the third inning Monday, when the Sox made not one but two outs on the bases.
For the first, Benintendi was caught off first base for a double play. Mookie Betts hit a screaming liner to Bregman at third base, who threw across the diamond and doubled up Benintendi, who had reached with a leadoff single.
Betts’ ball was hit so hard that you can at least understand what happened to Benintendi. But getting doubled off hurt more when the next batter, Mitch Moreland, lined a double to right field -- a hit that likely would have scored Benintendi as the tying run for the Sox, who trailed 2-1 at the time.
The Sox kept hitting, though. Hanley Ramirez came through with a two-out single to left. Instead of holding Moreland at third, though, third-base coach Brian Butterfield waved Moreland home, where he was thrown out easily by left fielder Marwin Gonzalez. Devers was on deck.
Rick Porcello didn’t exactly change the narrative around Red Sox starting pitching, laboring through three innings with 70 pitches. Strikeouts are what helped him get out of some really messy jams with some impressive high fastballs and cutters/sliders, allowing just two runs. Known as a sinker baller, Porcello’s always worked up in the zone, too, and seemed to be at his best doing that Monday.
But the first batter of the game, Springer, doubled, and moved to third base on a wild pitch. The second batter, Reddick, reached too on a walk. But the Astros only got one run in the inning, despite four men reaching base. A lead is a lead, but the hole for the Sox wasn’t as big as normal.