It was as if the Red Sox called a conference before Game Three at Fenway Park and said, If you don’t mind, we’ll decide if and when we’re dead and buried. Designated hitter Hanley Ramirez’s exclamation point was the “Believe in Boston” sign he carried out during pre-game lineup introductions.
“I just tried to wake everybody up,” Ramirez said Sunday afternoon, after the Red Sox didn’t exactly bury the Astros for their American League division series, but settled for burying them for the game, 10-3. And, for erstwhile nine-figure starter David Price coming in from the bullpen and saving . . .their season, possibly. Well, for another day, anyway.
“You like any player that is willing to step up and speak and then back it up,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell of his DH.
Somehow the Olde Towne Team decided that a 4-3 lead earned the hard way wasn’t enough by the bottom of the seventh. They ran roughshod over three Astros relievers in the inning and hung up a six spot, three of which came home before an out was recorded in the frame.
The Astros could have accused the Red Sox of cruel and unusual punishment for being jumped 3-0 in the top of the first, courtesy of Josh Reddick’s RBI single and Carlos Correa’s two-run homer an out later.
Mookie Betts stole a three-run homer from Josh Reddick to end the top of the second. But crowning the six-spot seventh, Reddick’s rundown of Jackie Bradley, Jr.’s drive to the right field corner turned into a three-run homer when the ball danced off Reddick’s glove near the foul pole and into the seats. The Red Sox gaveth, and the Red Sox tooketh.
Reddick doubled over over the mishap. He probably wanted to find the nearest mouse hole into which to crawl and hide for the rest of the game. At least the ball didn’t bounce off his head a la Jose Canseco a generation and a half ago.
“It would have been a great spot for us to get another three runs and big momentum for us,” Reddick lamented after the game. “And that seemed to be big momentum for those guys. They come up after that and they take the lead. So I just l wish the park was a little bit shorter.”
In fact, for all the lumber the Red Sox finally brought to bear Sunday afternoon, Betts was the arguable star of the game in the field. He also ran down Alex Bregman’s would-be RBI double and turned it into an inning-ending catch. He ran down everything hit his way and caught them. Nine Astro outs through seven innings went his way and he speared every one of them, some almost as spectacularly as he ran down Bregman.
And if he wasn’t, Price was. Moved to the bullpen late in the season, Price pitched four innings of shutout relief, flicking away the hits here and there and striking out four on behalf of a one-run lead that could have blown at any time.
“He’s a machine. He’s a competitor. And when he’s on the mound he’s going to give everything he has,” said Ramirez of Price, who struggled with elbow issues much of the season, not to mention starting a needless battle of wits he was bound to lose with Hall of Fame pitcher-turned-Red Sox broadcaster Dennis Eckersley during the season.
But between Betts robbing Reddick and those four Priceless relief innings, the Astros were put almost completely to sleep after their first inning had enough people pondering the Red Sox obituary.
Neither starting pitcher lasted very long, but Astros starter Brad Peacock outlasted Red Sox starter Doug Fister just enough to surrender the Hanley Ramirez RBI single that scored Mitch Moreland (double) and made it a one-run deficit with two out in the third.
Astros manager A.J. Hinch decided Peacock didn’t need any more headaches holding a one-run lead. So he brought in Francisco Liriano—he who surrendered fourteen hits in fourteen and a third relief innings on the season, with a 4.40 ERA. And Rafael Devers hit a meatball slider over the farthest reach of the right center field fence to tie it at three, guaranteeing Hinch would be second guessed for years to come over lifting Peacock.
“We had traffic in the second, had traffic in the third. Then that pocket down there at the bottom, we felt pretty good about Liriano, the way his power should work against the bottom of the order,” Hinch said after the game. “He hung a slider, it just didn’t work. But in these games, with the small margin, Brad having to fight through the second inning obviously led to some trouble in the third as well.”
But Lance McCullers relieved Liriano and held fort until the seventh. It made you wonder, too, why Hinch didn’t just reach for McCullers if he thought Peacock had had it, since McCullers was indeed capable of holding fort for multiple frames. He came out after walking Andrew Benintendi and surrendering a single to Betts.
Exit McCullers, enter Chris Devenski. And loaded went the bases when Moreland singled to left center. Then Ramirez made himself a 4-for-4 day—the same Ramirez whose second half slumping cost him a spot in the Game One lineup—with a two-run double shot through the pipe. And Devers followed with a sneaky loft of a single over third base.
Exit Devenski, enter Joe Musgrove. And, one out later, Bradley sent Reddick to the corner and a fateful glove ricochet.
It was almost embarrassing to watch Correa look at strike three to end the game. In Games One and Two the ‘Stros outscored the Red Sox 16-4, and the Red Sox never had anything smelling like a lead until Devers connected in the third.
For two games the Red Sox looked as though their lack of middle-of-the-lineup power and their faltering starting pitching would prove their early doom. And manager John Farrell, whose survived Twitterpaters calling for his execution last winter after their early exit at the Indians’ hands, caused almost as much head scratching in the first two division series games as Yankee skipper Joe Girardi caused over one non-move in his own Game Two.
Farrell used Eduardo Nunez instead of Ramirez at DH in Game One despite Nunez hitting twice in the previous month thanks to a knee ligament sprain. Nunez’s knee went AWOL in the first and he was carted off the field. He took Devers out of the Game Two lineup despite his success against lefthanders. They could have used Devers against Dallas Keuchel.
So Farrell and his troops regrouped for Game Three, put their ability to bull their way on the bases to build and make runs front and center, and got a big bonus when lineup slots five through nine delivered most of the Sunday afternoon runs. Meanwhile, the Red Sox bullpen proved effective sheriffs while the Astros bullpen let the marauders raid the vault with interest.
And those vaunted Astros swingers went 2-for-10 with men in scoring position while leaving ten aboard next to the Red Sox’s seven left behind and 7-for-12 with men in scoring position. The Astros wasted their little big man, Jose Altuve, on Sunday. He got two hits in Game Two following his monstrous series opener, but he went 3-for-4 Sunday and nobody picked him up to send him home.
Is that the thanks he gets for those three bombs in Game One? Altuve’s practically a match for Pablo Sandoval in the 2012 World Series, when Kung Fu Panda hit three bombs in Game One but went 8-for-16 the whole Series without scoring another run following his Series-opening mayhem.
Never mind for now, though. The Astros remain in control of the set, never mind how brutally they were slapped silly Sunday. The Red Sox aren’t even close to being off the hook yet. But if Sunday afternoon made them feel even a little bit invincible, you couldn’t necessarily blame them.