Chris Sale

Red Sox season ends as Astros rally for 5-4, Game 4 win

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Red Sox season ends as Astros rally for 5-4, Game 4 win

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 Game 4 loss was a gut-punch blow to 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 . . . 

BAD TIMING

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 once 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 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. His arrival seemed to portend a dramatic ending to a dramatic day: Before the rain, or right as it arrives, a Red Sox walk-off in the ninth.

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. 

BONUS THOUGHT

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.

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Drellich: Price finds playoff redemption, but bullpen needs rotation's help

Drellich: Price finds playoff redemption, but bullpen needs rotation's help

BOSTON — David Price has redemption, or at least his first taste of it, after what he agreed was his best performance in a Red Sox uniform. 

Price’s four shutout innings in relief in Game 3 of the American League Division Series preserved a one-run lead that eventually morphed into a 10-3 win over the Astros, a performance that put Price in the same conversation with Pedro Martinez. Pedro was the last Sox reliever to toss at least that many innings out of the bullpen without allowing a run, back in his famous Game 5 performance in the 1999 DS.

MORE: Drellich's five thoughts from Game 3

As Price continues to dominate, the decision not to try to build him up as a reliever once he came off the disabled list in the regular season looks worse and worse.

"In the world of all hands on deck, today showed why you have that, and he exceeded expectations just being able to bounce back as a former starter," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "If there was any doubt on what players are willing to do or what they can do, today shows you that, what playoff baseball will bring out of you and him. His power attack is the same. These guys pitch us very similarly no matter who is pitching with trying to back us up off the plate. He did a good job of making our guys somewhat uncomfortable with the fastball in. He's got the back-door cutter, the changeup. There's weapons in there for him to attack. So it's what we expected. I think his resiliency and his — he sort of reached back and had a little bit extra on his pitches today that was pretty impressive. We weren't surprised by him."

Now, Price didn’t exactly write a love letter to Red Sox fans in his postgame press conference. It doesn’t seem Price has exactly lost the chip on his shoulder, or his concern for outside perception. And maybe both are essential elements to his performance.

Either way, Price seems to to grasp the bottom line: pitch well, and the rest falls into place. Sunday was an example of how that momentum builds.

“If I throw well out of the bullpen that doesn't mean anything, I got to do this as a starter. I know that, y'all know that, y'all write it and it will be talked about,” Price said Sunday. “I mean, I want to help this team win right now. That's if it's coming out of the pen, I'm going to do it. If it's playing center field, I'll do it. It doesn't matter to me. I want to win. That's why I came here, we just need to keep it going, whatever the team asks me to do, that's what I'm going to do. They know I want to start, they know I want the ball.”

But Price is wrong that pitching out of the bullpen doesn’t mean anything. What he’s done — in addition to helping the Red Sox tremendously — is show people in Boston that he can be a weapon in the postseason. 

Not everyone doubted it. But those who would still suggest he cannot pitch like this as starting pitcher in October have no logical leg to stand on. Price put it best himself.

"I can do this as a starter, too, I just haven't done it yet. Period,” Price said. “Pitching suits me well, and that's what I did. It has nothing to do with relieving or starting, I just threw the ball well today.”

Now, the Red Sox desperately — desperately — need his rotation-mates to do the same. We say rotation-mate purposely, because what Price did Sunday was the equivalent of a start, and better than any actual start the Sox have had this October. 

The Sox can’t turn to Price for much on Monday, if anything. They’d be able to get more out of him Tuesday, if Game 4 is washed out and pushed back a day.

The bullpen needs help from the rotation either way.

The fact Price even had a chance to keep Sunday’s score at 4-3 for four innings was in itself a minor miracle, one courtesy of Mookie Betts. The right fielder’s robbery of Josh Reddick’s three-run home run in the second inning kept a 3-0 game from becoming 6-0.

When you look beyond Price, and how the Red Sox move forward, the formula from Sunday is unsustainable. The 11.70 ERA Sox starters have through their last six division series games — three this year, and three last year — is phenomenally bad, and probably due to level off.

It has to start with Rick Porcello and continue with Chris Sale, the next two Sox starters lined up.

Both Porcello and Sale have their own, albeit very different, redemption stories that can play out here. Porcello had a tough 2017 and a poor postseason outing last year. Sale’s Game 1 was highly disappointing. (He's been, uh, pretty darn good otherwise.)

Price is doing his part, as fans and media clamored for and doubted. Now, the Sox need more of their strength, pitching, to show up from the get-go for Price to have a chance to make an even greater impact in these playoffs. 

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Sale unlikely for Game 4; Red Sox consider how to avoid future fatigue

Sale unlikely for Game 4; Red Sox consider how to avoid future fatigue

HOUSTON — Chris Sale does not look likely to pitch in a potential Game 4 of the ALDS, even if the Red Sox are facing potential elimination.

“Hundred pitches thrown yesterday, I would think he’s probably Game 5 availability first,” manager John Farrell said Friday. “So that would be my thought initially.

“It’s not being – I’m not squelching [the possibility]. But what we’re seeing throughout the month, we’ve got to factor all that in.”

The Red Sox do appear to believe fatigue is driving Sale’s loss of release point. Combined with how Sale looked in Game 1, and the motivation to use him in Game 4 appears to lessen.

“Because of his arm slot, he’s going to be a guy that doesn’t… You know, we all see, it’s one of his main weapons, that arm slot,” Farrell said. “And yet if it’s off a tick, it takes away from the overall depth of the breaking ball. I can’t say because when you look at the course of his career and what history shows, at this point in time of the season, the performance has maybe reflected some of that workload. So, I think they’re related. The time of the year, that workload, and maybe some of the definition to the pitches.”

The slider, in particular, has lacked its normal devastating action.

The question of what the Sox could have done differently with Sale over the course of the season, or what they could at least do differently going forward, has already come up internally. It’s not an easy question to answer: would an inning here and an inning there make all the difference in Game 3?

“I’ve had conversations with others in the organization about this,” Farrell said. “The highest number of pitches he’s thrown has been 118. We have taken every additional available day provided. If you were to take it a step further, this is where it’s a great debate, because you need every start to get to the point of entering the postseason. And yet, if you’re afforded, do you provide a longer break at some point during the season if you’re afforded a place in the standings to do that? All great in concept, these conversations. He’s pitched a high number of innings. We’ve given every additional day possible. The pitch counts have been, I think, well in check.”

It’s worth remembering that last year with the White Sox, Sale’s second half was arguably better than his first half, and he was throwing with less velocity throughout the year in an effort to be more efficient. 

https://www.si.com/mlb/2016/05/19/chris-sale-white-sox-profile

Sale wound up with a higher strikeout rate in the second half, 9.7 per nine innings compared to 8.9, with a slightly better ERA, 3.28 vs. 3.38.

Farrell said consideration of using Sale in Game 4 was weighed when the choice was made to send Sale back out for the sixth inning at 89 pitches in Game 1. Sale struggled, allowing the only two batters he faced to reach and was pulled at 100 pitches.

“We’re in a three-run game, and the sixth inning is the one you’re focusing on,” Farrell said. “And the fact we’re in a spot where we’ve talked about wanting to stay left-handed through that part of the lineup. By no means are we out of that game, so to go away from a spot in the lineup where you want to be left-handed for four days from now, I felt like it was important to address that inning vs. four days [ahead].”

The difference between Sale going five or six innings isn’t necessarily the reason Sale wouldn’t pitch Game 4 (although it couldn’t help).

“I don’t know that [roughly] 10 pitches is going to eliminate the potential of a shorter return,” Farrell said.

There is no finalized Game 4 starter yet. Rick Porcello remains in line to make the start unless he’s needed for an extended outing Friday. Eduardo Rodriguez could start if Porcello does not. Porcello’s inning in Game 3 did not affect his availability for Game 4.

Why is Devers sitting?

Dallas Keuchel has allowed 16 hits to left-handed hitters all year. That's why Red Sox manager John Farrell did not start one of his biggest power threats, Rafael Devers, on Friday in Game 2, opting for Deven Marrero instead. Marrero isn't known for his bat, but what he has done well in the majors this season is hit southpaws, with a.944 OPS. Still, there's a risk in a lineup with so little power in removing one of the few guys with a big-time swing.