Devers, J.D. HRs power Sox's pennant clincher
HOUSTON -- Jackie Bradley Jr. may have won the American League Championship Series Most Valuable Player Award, but as the Red Sox celebrated their AL pennant late Thursday night, it was clear that every player in that clubhouse considered it to be a team accomplishment.
In Game 5, it was J.D. Martinez and Rafael Devers who delivered the big blows, both homering against Justin Verlander to pace the Red Sox's offense in the 4-1 victory over the Astros.
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"Everybody always likes to talk about one, two or three guys on the team; but to win 108 games on the season, you have to be a complete team, and I think that was on display this series -- the whole playoffs, actually," Martinez said. "It's just one of those things where we take pride in grinding out at-bats from one through nine. You've just gotta tip your cap to everybody."
The team that scored first won each of the first four games in the series, so when Martinez ripped a Verlander fastball into the left-field seats for a 1-0 lead in the third inning, Boston felt pretty good about its chances.
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Three innings later, with the lead still at 1-0 thanks to left-hander David Price's brilliant performance on three days' rest, the Red Sox started another rally against Verlander.
Mitch Moreland led off the sixth with a double off the left-field wall, then Ian Kinsler singled to right field, putting runners on the corners with nobody out.
"They have the most wins in the league for a reason," Houston manager AJ Hinch said. "They're as complete a team as we are, and their at-bats are really exceptional."
Verlander came after Devers with a first-pitch 98.2-mph fastball, but the 21-year-old third baseman crushed the ball 101.5 mph into the first rows of seats over the high wall in left field.
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"Oh, man, that was amazing; that was awesome," Martinez said. "It's one of those things, you get traffic on with Verlander, and you're just hoping, 'Come on, Raffy. Just put it in play. Just make contact with it.' If you just put the barrel on the ball, you never know what's going to happen in this game."
It was the first home run of the postseason for the 21-year-old Devers, who went deep twice in last year's AL Division Series loss to the Astros. He became the fifth player to hit three postseason home runs before the age of 22, joining Mickey Mantle, Bryce Harper and Jose Cabrera, who have four apiece, and Andruw Jones, who has three.
"For Raf to come up with that very big hit," Price said, "he's come through like that for us quite a few times."
Boston was 12 outs away from its first World Series since 2013, but nobody on the field or in the dugout was taking anything for granted.
"You definitely can't count outs at that particular moment," Bradley said. "Those guys over there have proven that they can put up runs just as quick as anybody in the game. They're a very talented group, and they're going to compete to the last out. There's no 'give it up.' So we knew that we still needed to buckle down, needed to take care of business and try to get as many outs as we can as quick as possible."
Martinez, who had been relatively quiet since his first-inning home run against the Yankees in Game 1 of the AL Division Series, actually appeared to have been struck out by Verlander -- his former Tigers teammate -- on an 0-2 pitch, a slider that looked to stay in the strike zone. But home-plate umpire Chris Guccione called it ball one.
The Red Sox slugger made the most of his second chance, belting a curveball over the left-field wall. Martinez's homer had an exit velocity of 105.4 mph, according to Statcast™, the hardest hit Verlander allowed until Martinez's 105.6-mph single in the fifth.
"I was kind of just trying to stick with my game plan there, really," Martinez said. "[Verlander] is kind of crafty, and he tries to get you to chase around the zone. He's going to be in control the whole at-bat, and so I just said to myself, 'Lock it in. If he strikes you out on one of his pitches, so be it. But we're going to stay with our game plan.' And fortunately I was able to get a good pitch."
Boston blistered Houston's pristine pitching staff for 27 runs while winning four straight, never letting up at any point.
"They did an outstanding job," Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. "Offensively, amazing. Since the fifth inning in Game 1, we started battling at-bats and trying to win every pitch. And if it wasn't in the zone, we were going to take it. We grind and grind, and now we're going to the World Series."