I’m not counting the Astros out of this series. I know their heart and character. I know they will play tomorrow with the same desire and determination they played with today, despite every obstacle and bad breaks. And just maybe the breaks will turn their way tomorrow. And the next game. And the next game.
But at this juncture, just as last season it seemed as though it was the Astros who were the team kissed by destiny, so this year the fates and the gods must surely be smiling on the Red Sox.
It is very late as I write, and very early when I must go to work. I cannot give a blow by blow, play by play of a game with 14 runs, 24 hits, 36 base runners and 12 pitchers.
Although Boston led in most of the innings in this game, the final outcome was never assured, and the game would have been won by the Astros on the last play of the game but for a ball landing one or two inches differently.
But almost every break it seems went with Boston, this year’s team of destiny.
Take the first inning for example. With the help of rusty starter Charlie Morton’s walks and “wild Pitches” that were really Martin Maldonado passed balls, the Sox opened the game with two runs.
But the Astros seemingly answered right away with a George Springer single and a Jose Altuve long ball hit two feet over the wall into the stands in right field.
But wait. Umpire Joe West called Altuve out for fan interference, and although replay showed the ball cleared the fence by at least two feet, right fielder Mookie Betts’ glove contacted the hands of fans who were about to be hit by the ball. Replay officials upheld the out ruling, saying they had insufficient evidence to overturn the call on the field. Here is a photo of the placement of the ball. See for yourself.
Here is the offical MLB interpretation
“When a spectator clearly prevents a fielder from catching a fly ball by reaching onto the field of play, the batter shall be ruled out. But no interference is called if a spectator comes in contact with a batted or thrown ball without reaching onto the field of play — even if a fielder might have caught the ball had the spectator not been there.”
As one of our commenters, Maris 61 put it”
Joe West made an erroneous ruling on the field. He could see the glove contact the fan’s hand. But he couldn’t, from in front of the play, tell where the fan’s hand was — in front of or behind the fence. The replay showed it was behind the fence. Under the rule and MLB interpretation, the call should have been reversed. But it was “Call stands” — i.e., they couldn’t tell if it was in the stands or not. Bottom line: NY replay officials hosed Altuve and the Astros one more time.
The picture seems to show two things: 1. Betts was reaching into the stands, not the fans into the field and 2. he had mistimed the closing of his glove, and the ball had hit the side of his glove before the fans touched either, although at the time this was blamed on the fan interference.
In the end the replay officials stood with the play on the field made by Joe West, even though he made the call in a very subdued and diffident manner, as though he didn’t really know what to call from his position probably about 150 feet away.
Here is a similar call from last year’s ALCS. No fan interference on this one.
And here’s another umpire call of similar competency.
This is the worst umpire call I’ve ever seen pic.twitter.com/Jfjodyq4h5— Baseball King™ (@BasebaIlKing) July 19, 2018
The entire season could very well have been decided thus by replay officials in New York.
Go Boston. Go Los Angeles.
But the Astros are not whiners like me. They did not quit. They tagged Boston starter Rick Porcello for a run in the second on a Carlos Correa RBI single, two runs in the third to tie the score on a George Springer homer and a Josh Reddick RBI single, and they even took the lead in the fourth with a Tony Kemp homer, barely fair and barely over the right field fence. No fans there. Here it is.
In the fourth inning young Josh James came in for the Astros, replacing the struggling starter Charlie Morton, and came in throwing numerous heaters topping 102 MPH. He dominated that inning but in the fifth he allowed an Andrew Benintendi double and a Xander Bogaerts single to let the Sox tie the score at five each.
But the Astros answered with another run in the bottom of the inning when Carlos Correa knocked in Yuli Gurriel from second with two outs. Gurriel had advanced to second on a “passed ball” that really hadn’t gotten too far from the catcher. It was a great hustle play that resulted in a run.
And here’s where it starts to feel like the Red Sox are this year team of destiny. In the sixth inning James was still mowing down Sox, getting two quick outs. But then Christian Vazquez doubled to right center on a ball that hit George Springer’s glove but caromed off. Then last night’s Red Sox hero, and likely series MVP, Jackie Bradley, took a James first pitch change up (a pitch he seems to throw too often) deep over the right field fence. If destiny had touched the Astros, George would make that makeable play, and no one hears again about Bradley. Instead Bradley makes the game winning home run the day after his great grand slam. Sox up 6-5
In the seventh lady luck blew on the Red Sox’ dice once again. With runners on first and second and one out, Rafael Devers hit a sharp grounder to Carlos Correa, who tagged second and threw to first for the easy double play. End of inning.
But wait! Correa did not touch second, so runners on first and third, two outs. Our ace reliever, Ryan Pressly, then walked the bases loaded, and his replacement, Lance McCullers, walked Brock Holt. Sox up 7-5. If Correa just finds second base with his toe, it’s another short and clean inning. What cosmic force field kept his toe off the bag? We’ll never know.
In the eighth not the gods but more bullpen incompetence rewarded the Sox with another insurance run. Mookie Betts singled to left, and another “wild pitch,” this time surrendered by Brian McCann, allowed Betts to make second base. Betts scored on a sharp line drive single by J.D. Martinez, making the score 8-5.
But with two more chances to even the score, all was not over for the Astros. They had great reason for hope. In came the struggling Craig Kimbrell, who looks to hungry Houston eyes like a Ken Giles clone right now. Or like a pitching machine designed for batting practice.
Tony Kemp, the little engine that could, who already homered, led off the inning with a smash to right field, an easy double. But...but...that’s Mookie Betts out there. He pounced on that ball like lightning, picked it up, turned and threw in one magical motion faster than the eye, and shot a straight line bullet right to the glove of the second baseman waiting to tag the hapless Kemp. What a blow. How could that happen? Oh how the gods must be smiling on the Sox. Like how they smiled on the Astros last year when Marwin Gonzalez threw out Greg Bird at home to preserve the 2-1 Game 1 ALCS victory over the Yankees.
But even the gods couldn’t make Kimbrel pitch well tonight. He hit Alex Bregman with a pitch, then George Springer doubled him over to third, and the Astros managed to close the gap 8-6 when Jose Altuve grounded Bregman home on a fielders’ choice. If only Kemp had just stayed at first. What demonic force convinced him that he was more powerful than fate, or faster than Mookie’s arm?
But the Astros don’t know that the gods oppose them. In the top of the ninth, with the bases loaded against Tony Sipp and two outs, Josh Reddick robbed the anointed one, Betts, of another RBI hit with a miraculous shoestring catch.
And the Astros have one last chance against Kimbrel.
Needing just two runs to tie, and three to win, with one out Kimbrel walked Reddick and Correa, bringing the aging veteran but still dangerous Brian McCann to the plate. McCann lifted one high and deep to right field, I could hear TV announcer Jeff Blum shouting in my mind “McCannonballlllll,” but it was not to be. The hands of the gods kept the ball in the field, two outs.
Up camea that pesky pro, Tony Kemp, one more time. Can he make solid contact again? No, Kimbrel walked the bases loaded for the new Astros lead off man, Alex Bregman.
Can he walk it off yet again as he has done so often? Will the legend keep growing and growing? “The young Alex Bregman, brimming with confidence” took the very first pitch and barreled a rocket line drive to left field. Andrew Benintendi, clearly given a divine premonition, sped with near superhuman speed straight for the ball, made a superman leap, and just barely scooped the ball right before it hit the ground.
If the fates were with the Astros this year, the balls would skip by Beni, and the Astros would all be circling around Bregs, his arms outstretched like wings as he circles the bases with another walk off. Instead, we’re down 3-1, but still not without hope, as tomorrow Justin Verlander faces an exhausted Red Sox staff starting who knows whom.
All poetic license about fate and destiny aside, the Red Sox are clearly an excellent team playing at their best. Whereas the highly reputed Astros’ bullpen has allowed 13 runs in 15.2 innings worked, the Red Sox pen has been nearly flawless. Tonight the Sox got 7 of their 8 runs with two outs, and were 5 -14 with runners in scoring position. The Astros, on the other hand, missed critical opportunities, like pinch hitter Tyler White striking out with the bases loaded without swinging in the seventh, or Gonzalez striking out in the eighth, stranding a runner on third.
The Red Sox even scored on Ryan Pressly, something no one has done in over 20 innings.
One particularly sad part about this defeat is that it was one of the best days the Astros Core has had all season. Correa had three hits and a double. Springer three hits, a double and a homer, Altuve a double and a homer. Well a stolen homer. Correa seems to have his groove back. I really feel a convincing win tomorrow.
Tomorrow is another day. I’m looking forward to an Astros victory and momentum going to Boston.
Dear readers, you deserved a better recap of a truly epic game. I’m exhausted.
Box score and videos here.