BOSTON -- The Astros’ bats finally broke through on Tuesday night. It took patience and persistence, as has been their formula all season. But it also necessitated a brand of offense that kept them from playing with such a drastic deficit, as was the case following the Red Sox's historic run of grand slams in the two previous games.
Houston's offensive onslaught was the more dramatic sequence in a 9-2 win in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series at Fenway Park, but the combined 7 2/3 scoreless innings from five relievers was just as critical, if not more. A pitching staff starved of innings from its starters this series had another abbreviated outing, as right-hander Zack Greinke recorded only four outs.
Three gritty innings from a rejuvenated Cristian Javier, the longest outing from Kendall Graveman for the Astros, hitless efforts from Brooks Raley and Phil Maton and a three-strikeout ninth from All-Star closer Ryan Pressly pushed Houston to the finish line and helped even the ALCS at 2.
It took all of them to get there. And until the eighth -- when Jose Altuve hit a game-tying solo home run -- the Astros' relievers were working on a tightrope of zero runs of support. Alex Bregman’s first-inning homer backed Greinke, but that was it to that point for Houston's offense.
“I'm just glad that we didn't quit,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. "What a job our bullpen did.”
Astros pitchers in the ALCS
Starters: 6 2/3 innings, 18.90 ERA
Relievers: 28 1/3 innings, 3.49 ERA
Though Greinke was tabbed to start, Javier figured to be a key contributor in Game 4, and he delivered by giving up only two hits to his 13 batters faced. He also walked two, including Hunter Renfroe to open the sixth inning, which ended Javier's night.
After posting a 7.53 ERA over his final seven regular-season outings, Javier has pitched some of the most important innings for the Astros in this series, including two-plus frames in their Game 1 win. In that outing, he struck out four of the seven batters he faced, helping to bail out Framber Valdez, who went 2 2/3 innings.
Graveman logged two innings in Game 4, marking the first time he had done so since his first outing of the season on April 3, when he was still with the Mariners. He figured that might be his job when he arrived at Fenway on Tuesday.
“I was mentally preparing myself to go three, honestly,” Graveman said. “I knew that would be a stretch, but, I mean, from the time I went to the bullpen in the first, I knew there was a possibility that I needed to create some length."
Moreover, how are the Astros’ relievers handling the burden of carrying such a huge workload in the ALCS?
“You have to face it head-on,” Graveman said. “But I think that moving forward our starters are going to be great. I have all the confidence in the world that those guys are going to continue to throw strikes and get outs. … I think, for me personally, it's just having faith in those guys. But at the end of the day, the conversation in the bullpen is, ‘If we need to pick someone up, we will.’”
If it wasn’t clear already, the Astros are likely going to need to slug their way to a series win. They’re also going to need to creatively spread their innings, which was on display in their latest come-from-behind victory.
Javier threw 57 pitches, his most since a 59-pitch outing against Boston on June 3, as Baker hadn’t gone to him since Game 1. Graveman and Pressly also hadn't pitched since the ALCS opener.
On Tuesday, the Astros avoided using Yimi García, Blake Taylor and Ryne Stanek, so their arms will be fresh for Wednesday's Game 5, which Valdez will start. Pressly should be available, too, having thrown only 22 pitches.
“We had a fresh Javier -- that helped a lot,” Baker said. “And we had a fresh Graveman. The other guys have been pitching a lot, especially our left-handers; both our left-handers [Raley and Taylor] and also Stanek. That was good to give Stanek a day off today. So we have a relatively fresh Stanek, a relatively fresh Pressly, and so hopefully we can call on them late in the game and Framber can take us deep in the game.”