HOUSTON -- Jose Altuve thought he had homered, but he hadn't. A Minute Maid Park crowd that had been whipped into a joyful frenzy was now seeing red. An Astros team that thought it had tied Game 4 of the American League Championship Series in the first inning was now still trailing a game it desperately needed to win.
:: ALCS schedule and results ::
The Astros faced incredible adversity, beginning with a controversial call in the first inning that wiped out a potential home run, plus an abbreviated start by pitcher Charlie Morton and another clutch hit by Jackie Bradley Jr., but couldn't quite overcome it all. Now their season is on the line.
The Red Sox again showed the resiliency of a team that won 108 games in the regular season and pushed the defending World Series champions to the brink of elimination on Wednesday night, beating the Astros in an 8-6 thriller to take a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
"Two tremendous teams going at it," shortstop Carlos Correa said. "It was well-played baseball. They came up with the win. I had some flashbacks of Game 5 of the World Series last year. That's the type of game it was. Nobody gave up. We didn't win, but it was a great game."
The Astros will give the ball to Cy Young Award candidate Justin Verlander in Game 5 on Thursday night in Houston trying to keep their season alive. He'll face former teammate David Price in a battle for past Cy Young Award winners.
"Only one way to respond: We have to win. And we have to go to Boston and win two," outfielder Josh Reddick said. "So that's the only way I have to look at it. We have to have the mindset of putting the last three behind us and come out here and be ready to win tomorrow and go to Boston and win two there."
In the history of best-of-seven series with the 2-3-2 format, teams taking a 3-1 lead on the road have gone on to take the series 37 of 44 times (84 percent).
"I'm going to back my boys," manager AJ Hinch said. "We're a really good team, and this has been a really tough series."
After battling for more than 4 1/2 hours on a magical night of baseball in downtown Houston, the Red Sox still had to hold off the Astros in the ninth to win. With the bases loaded and two outs, Alex Bregman hit a sinking liner to left field that was caught by a diving Andrew Benintendi to end the game as Craig Kimbrel held on for a two-inning save. The catch probability for Benintendi was 21 percent, according to Statcast™.
"I felt like I got a good jump on it," Benintendi said. "It wasn't hit that hard. I got in on it real good. I don't know, I thought I could catch it. I timed it up well. That's when it was either do or die. I'm glad I caught it."
The Astros' offense went 3-for-12 with runners in scoring position and stranded 13 on base, and their pitchers couldn't keep the Red Sox off the bases. Boston had 11 hits, drew seven walks and had two batters reach on a hit-by-pitch.
"They're a relentless lineup," Hinch said. "So are we. The game was incredibly good on both sides -- great at-bats, great plays. Obviously, we were inches away from the ball going to the wall. We probably win, and it's a completely different press conference. But that's now how the game played out."
The Red Sox scored twice in the first inning for the third game in a row, this time taking advantage of a wild Morton, who was rusty in his first outing since Sept. 30. The Astros appeared to have tied the score in the bottom of the first, when Altuve hit a long fly ball to right that Mookie Betts couldn't corral as he reached high above the yellow line.
• Fan interferes with Betts on potential Altuve HR
Joe West, the right-field umpire, immediately called fan interference because the ball hit the side of Betts' glove, along with the hand of an Astros fan. Following a review, the call stood, meaning Altuve was out instead of celebrating a game-tying homer.
"It's tough," Altuve said. "When I hit the ball, I was expecting to tie the game. I thought I did. I ran the bases, and they call me out. It's a tough night. I was trying just to help my team to win. It was two runs right there in the first inning that would have helped us a little bit."
The game turned into a back-and-forth affair, with the Astros tying it in the third on a solo homer by George Springer and an RBI single by Reddick. Tony Kemp hit a homer to right field to start the fourth and put Houston ahead, 4-3. The Astros led, 5-4, after five innings before Bradley delivered another dagger with a two-run homer off Josh James to give Boston a 6-5 lead.
• Nolan Ryan watches Josh James throw 102 mph
James, the rookie reliever who electrified the crowd by hitting 102-mph early in his 3 2/3-inning outing, recorded two outs to start the sixth before Christian Vazquez doubled off the glove of Springer in right-center and Bradley homered. That gave Bradley nine RBIs in the series, including a decisive three-double in Game 2 and a grand slam in Game 3 that put away the game.
"Good players step up in big situations," Springer said. "I don't care what your stats are in season, or what your stats are now, it's all about at-bat to at-bat. He's had three good swings against us. Hats off to him."
Even reliever Thomas Pressly, who allowed two runs in 23 1/3 innings after coming over in a trade with Minnesota, uncharacteristically walked a pair of batters in the seventh and left with the bases loaded. Brock Holt followed with a walk against Lance McCullers to force in a run. An RBI single in the eighth by J.D. Martinez made it 8-5 and made the Astros' path back to the World Series even harder.
"I don't know why, but I feel we've been in this situation," Altuve said. "We came last year from New York down, 3-2 [in the ALCS]. It's different. It's a new year, but we have a pretty confident team. I'm not doubting everybody here is going to show up tomorrow and try to do everything they can to win, and that's the most important thing."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Kemp greeted Kimbrel, the All-Star closer, with a base hit into the right-field corner in the eighth but was thrown out at second by Betts in what Hinch called "an aggressive mistake." It was especially costly, considering Kimbrel proceeded to hit Bregman with a pitch and then Springer followed with a double that would have scored Kemp. As it turns out, the only run the Astros scored in the eighth came on a groundout by Altuve.
"It's one of those plays where you're down by three and in hindsight you want to say you should probably hold up at first base and see what happens," Kemp said. "But you know, hindsight's 20-20. If I get on second base and he bobbles that ball and the next guy gets a hit and we're down by two, then what do you say? He made an unbelievable throw. That's why he has a Gold Glove."
The 23 runs allowed by the Astros in three consecutive losses to the Red Sox in the ALCS are their most given up in any three-game stretch this year.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
James hit 102.4 mph during the game, the second-fastest tracked pitch of this postseason behind Albertin Chapman of the Yankees. In fact, he's the first Astros pitcher to hit 102 mph in the pitch-tracking era (2008-present).
HE SAID IT
"I was hoping that he takes that at-bat. He's that kind of guy. He dreams about those situations. I was rooting for him. He hit the ball really good, and Benintendi made a five-star play right there." -- Altuve, on Bregman
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
The first-inning call that wiped out Altuve's home run loomed large the entire game. The Astros trailed, 2-0, when Altuve sent a long fly ball off Rick Porcello that looked to have reached the seats in right field. The ball appeared to hit Betts' glove in home run territory before it caromed back onto the field, but West called interference on the play, as a fan's hands made contact with Betts' glove, possibly causing it to close and preventing him from completing the catch. A crew-chief review could not definitely determine if the fan had reached into the field of play, and the call would stand. Altuve was called out, and Springer, who had singled to right-center, was sent back to first base.
"I've got zero control, so it's hard for me to say something when it doesn't matter what I said," Altuve said. "They're not going to change it. I normally don't get mad about umpires' calls. That one I was a little upset. I looked at the replay, and it's tough. That's the only thing I can say. It's really hard."