BOSTON -- In plowing through the Indians in three games in the American League Division Series and thumping the Red Sox in Game 1 of the AL Championship Series, the defending World Series champion Astros resembled a team that might never lose again.
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But nothing comes quite that easy in October, especially against a Red Sox team that won 108 games in the regular season and wasn't going to be backed into a corner.
Boston punched back in Game 2 of the ALCS on Sunday night at Fenway Park, scoring five early runs against starter Gerrit Cole and pulling away for a 7-5 victory that evened the best-of-seven series at one game apiece heading back to Houston.
"We didn't play our best game today," said third baseman Alex Bregman, who flied out to deep left field to end the game, narrowly missing a game-tying homer. "We had a lot of traffic on the bases all night. We're going to keep putting pressure on them, keep competing, and if we do that, I like our chances."
In the history of best-of-seven series with the 2-3-2 format, teams that split the first two games on the road have gone on to take the series 36 of 80 times (45 percent).
The Red Sox led, 5-4, after Jackie Bradley Jr.'s three-run double off the Green Monster in the third inning. The offensive outburst was somewhat unexpected in the first postseason game in Major League history started by two No. 1 overall picks in the MLB Draft -- Cole and Boston's David Price.
Cole righted the ship after Bradley's go-ahead double, retiring the final 10 batters he faced and finishing six innings with 90 pitches thrown. Price pitched only 4 2/3 innings, but Boston's much-maligned bullpen was up to the challenge. After Marwin Gonzalez's two-run homer in the third, which put Houston ahead, 4-2, the Astros didn't manage a hit until George Springer's two-out double in the ninth.
"They've got some good arms down there," manager AJ Hinch said. "We just couldn't find the hits until the ninth inning. We found a couple of walks. We had pressure on them a lot tonight, and it felt like a game where you were going to have to capitalize on more opportunities because of the nature of the game."
Cole allowed a pair of runs to score in the first inning on three hits, a walk and his own throwing error, but he struck out Ian Kinsler with the bases loaded and got Bradley to ground out to end the inning. Springer came up clutch again with a two-run double in the second to tie it, and Gonzalez rocketed a two-run homer off Price in the third for a 4-2 lead for Houston. The Astros set an MLB record with a homer in their 14th consecutive playoff game.
Cole, who threw 25 pitches in the first, needed only nine to breeze through the second before the Red Sox loaded the bases again in the third. Cole struck out Kinsler with the bases loaded for a second time before Bradley hit a double that bounced off the left-field wall and rolled atop some padding in foul territory to clear the bases and put Boston ahead, 5-4.
"I was having a little bit of trouble that inning trying to feel my way through the strike zone, and I felt after I got the count back to 2-1, I was going to execute a fastball down and away," Cole said. "I executed it down, but it [crept] over the plate too much, which gave him enough barrel to be able to put it on the wall down there, and not really catching a break with it rolling on this awkward piece of padding all the way down was unfortunate."
Early in the game, Cole wasn't able to find the zone with his secondary pitches and found himself with lots of traffic. In the end, the early struggles were too much for Houston to overcome.
"It was a tough one tonight," Cole said. "I had to grind a little bit. I was pleased that I was able to save the bullpen and get in a rhythm there toward the end."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
In the seventh, the Astros gave the Red Sox a run that scored without a ball put in play. Mookie Betts walked, went to second on a wild pitch by Lance McCullers, took third on a passed ball by Martin Maldonado and then scored on another passed ball for a 6-4 Boston lead.
Maldonado, who caught only 9 1/3 of McCullers' innings in the regular season, said he was crossed up on the first passed ball and simply missed the second.
"It was a disappointment," Maldonado said. "It's really hard when you get crossed up and you have a guy like that, with that kind of spin on the curveball and you have no chance to catch it. The other one, I missed it. It hit my glove, and I should have caught it."
Bregman is the second player in history to have at least three walks in consecutive postseason games. Jimmy Sheckard of the Cubs did it in Games 2 and 3 of the 1910 World Series.
• Bregman walking in October at record pace
HE SAID IT
"I knew I missed it. If I got it, it would have been on the street behind Fenway Park." -- Bregman, on his game-ending flyout that Andrew Benintendi caught with his back to the left-field wall