Five thoughts from Game 1: Why wasn’t Chris Sale pulled earlier?
HOUSTON — How terrible was Game 1 of the American League Division Series for the Red Sox? There was a reason to mention Pablo Sandoval.
Astros MVP candidate Jose Altuve on Thursday became the first player to hit three home runs in a postseason game since Panda did it for the Giants in 2012, leading the way to an 8-2 romp for the Astros at Minute Maid Park. Altuve, who hit a pair off Chris Sale and one more off Austin Maddox, is just the ninth person to go deep three times in a playoff game in major league history. Babe Ruth did it twice.
Justin Verlander, who went six innings and allowed both Red Sox runs Thursday, pitched for the Tigers in that 2012 game against the Giants and allowed two of Sandoval’s home runs. He was the beneficiary this time.
Here are five thoughts from the Red Sox’ fourth straight Division Series loss
1. Why wasn’t Sale pulled after five innings?
The ace may be looking at a frigid Boston winter, if he doesn’t get another chance this series. His first start was a continuation of a shaky September, with three home runs allowed. But it was even worse. Thursday was just the eighth time in his career he’s allowed at least seven earned runs, and he’s never given up more than eight. Redemption may be a more difficult task, though, because manager John Farrell’s choice to leave Sale in for the sixth inning was baffling. Sale, who could be asked to pitch on three days rest, was at 89 pitches through five. The Sox trailed 5-2. He went out for the sixth, threw 11 more pitches, allowed both men he faced to reach, and both scored once he was out of the game.
2. Sox are going to have to blow it out in Game 2, and they’re in position to
If you want a silver lining when it comes to pitcher usage, look at the fact that David Price is still fresh and ready. So are Craig Kimbrel, Addison Reed and Carson Smith. Keeping them out of Thursday’s game means the Sox can throw caution to the wind Friday heading into the off-day Saturday before Game 3. They have little choice, considering the alternative may be heading back to Fenway down 2-0 for a second straight year. Drew Pomeranz for four innings, Price for two-plus, then the rest hold it down. The Sox have to keep it close, because they don’t have the firepower to climb back from big deficits. To that end…
3. People are looking at Astros and Red Sox offense as different stylistically
The Astros actually do everything the Red Sox do. They push the envelope on the bases. They hit doubles. They make a ton of contact and do not strike out. But the Astros do one huge thing the Red Sox do not: they also hit home runs. A ton of them. An extra base taken here or there won’t matter when Jose Altuve is going deep three times, when Alex Bregman and Altuve are going back-to-back in the first inning. The Astros lineup shouldn’t even be compared to last year’s Red Sox lineup, which had much more swing-and-miss to it. They were both juggernauts, but this Astros lineup is better — and more experienced.
4. Why was Nunez cleared, now or in the final week?
There’s reason to wonder about the Sox’ handling of a key part of the lineup’s health. In both games he has played since he was first hurt on Sept. 9, he was hurt again leaving the box/going up the line. Thursday’s scene, when he was carried off the field by two people — one being Farrell and the other a trainer— was scary.
Both times, the injuries were called re-aggravations of his right knee injury. Is that really all? Why did he come back on Sept. 25 in the first place? Nunez’s injury has been described only as a PCL (posterior cruciate ligament) injury. When Nunez returned to the lineup on Sept. 25, Farrell said "If he feels a little bit of a zinger, that’s going to go away. He’s not putting himself at further risk.”
It’s hard not to see Thursday’s outcome as further risk, but maybe he’ll be in the lineup on Friday. It’s hard to believe that’s possible, however.
5. Here’s betting Red Sox don't call Dustin Pedroia’s bad decision a bad decision
The second baseman tried to go to third base in the second inning on Sandy Leon’s two-out single. Pedroia was thrown out by right fielder Josh Reddick for the final out of the inning, and initially he was ruled to have been tagged before Mitch Moreland crossed the plate with the Red Sox’ first run. The call was overturned, so Moreland’s run scored to make it 2-1.
But it was way too close for comfort. Pedroia has a bad left knee, so why push it? What the Sox will call aggression on the bases once again played out as over-aggression. If Pedroia stays put at second, maybe the Sox have a bigger inning. But, with this team, big innings are limited. Because if you’re wondering why base running is not the biggest concern, see No. 3.
Mookie Betts had as many hits Thursday, two, as he did in last year’s ALDS against the Indians.