Boy, that escalated quickly. I mean, that really got out of hand fast.
One moment, the Red Sox are tied 2-2 with Houston in the top of the ninth. The next, they’re trailing 9-2 in Game 4 of the ALCS. Following Houston’s win by that margin, the Red Sox and Astros are tied 2-2; there’s one game left in Boston before the series returns to Houston.
Yeah, that escalated quickly.
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It was that kind of ninth inning for the Red Sox. Before then, however, it seemed as if Boston put the game on cruise control. Houston’s Alex Bregman hit a home run in the top of the first inning, but Xander Bogaerts responded with a two-run shot to give Boston the lead in the bottom half of the inning.
Boston’s bullpen held down the vaunted Houston lineup from there until Jose Altuve sent the first pitch of the top of the eighth into the Green Monster seats for a solo shot to tie the game at two.
Red Sox manager Alex Cora decided in the top of the ninth to pull out the stops and turn to his team’s top starter from the 2021 regular season, Nathan Eovaldi, coming in on short rest. The right-hander immediately served up a double to right to Carlos Correa but, after an intentional walk, struck out the next two. Facing catcher Jason Castro, it looked as if he had gotten out of the inning with a curveball at the top-away corner.
Laz Diaz ruled it a ball. Here’s where Baseball Savant had that pitch set.
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That’s about as close as you can get. There had been some questionable calls throughout the night, but that one just nipped the edge of the zone. A strike? Perhaps. A ball? Sure.
For what it’s worth, ESPN didn’t give the pitch too high a probability to be called for strike three.
The very next pitch, Castro lined it up the middle for a base hit to drive in Correa and give Houston a 3-2 lead. Altuve walked to load the bases, and Eovaldi was pulled for Martin Perez. The first pitch from the Red Sox southpaw was sent into right for a bases-clearing double to Michael Brantley — then an intentional walk, single, error and single before Boston got out of the frame.
Six runs later, the Astros had their highest-scoring inning in postseason history, and the fans in Fenway Park were making their way to the exits.
“(Eovaldi) was going to give us one inning, and we felt right there in that pocket it was good for him,” Cora said. “I wasn’t going to use him in extra innings because then I’d get tempted to use him for six, so I decided to use him in the ninth. And it didn’t work.”
For reference, when Castro made the final out of the seventh inning, Baseball Savant gave the Red Sox a 79 percent chance of winning the game. After Altuve’s home run, it moved to a 50 percent chance. When the Red Sox came to bat in the bottom of the ninth, it was 100 percent in favor of Houston.
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This was quite the turnaround for a Houston team that has lost two previous games by giving up a ton of runs early. The Red Sox hit back-to-back grand slams in the second and third innings to help them eventually win 9-5. They then scored nine unanswered against the Astros in Game 3 and went on to win 12-3.
Those games are erased. It’s a fresh slate after that ninth-inning outburst. And the Astros have now guaranteed the series will return to Houston.