Red Sox take care of business, knot ALCS at 1-1
BOSTON -- Knuckles were white, nails were short and tensions were high.
But by the end of the night, the Red Sox did what they desperately needed to do in Sunday's Game 2 of the American League Championship Series, gritting their way to a 7-5 victory over the Astros that sends the series to Houston in a 1-1 tie.
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The bullpen -- a source of uncertainty entering the playoffs -- came up large for manager Alex Cora, recording the final 13 outs in relief of David Price.
"They did an outstanding job and they've done it throughout the postseason," said Cora. "We trust those guys. There's certain matchups we like with them and we're going to try to go to those matchups."
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The offense, led by the legs and bat of Mookie Betts, created some separation with insurance runs in the seventh and eighth.
"Just go out and do what I can to help the team win, try and be consistent in having some good at-bats and getting some timely hits," said Betts. "But it's not just me. We've got 25 guys out here to win."
One of those 25 is Price, who remains winless in his 11 career postseason starts, though he left Game 2 with a 5-4 lead. But Cora came out to get him with two outs in the fifth and the dangerous Marwin Gonzalez at the plate, meaning Price couldn't qualify for the win.
Price did get one monkey off his back. This marks the first time his team has won a postseason game he started. In fact, Price got a standing ovation from an electric crowd of 37,960 when he walked off the mound.
"It's definitely appreciated," said Price. "It wasn't the line I dreamed up to have tonight. We won. That's my first team win as a starter. So if it's baby steps, it's baby steps. I expect to win. But I'm very happy that we won."
Winning pitcher Matt Barnes revved up the Fenway faithful by stranding two inherited runners from Price and striking out Gonzalez on an 85.9-mph curve. Barnes came back for a shutdown sixth. Ryan Brasier took care of the seventh. Rick Porcello made another successful cameo out of the bullpen with a shutdown eighth. Closer Craig Kimbrel took care of the ninth for the save.
"Tremendous," said Price. "Coming in and getting those last 13 outs, that's huge."
The game ended with Alex Bregman -- who stepped up as the tying run -- lifting what looked like a popup to left, but ended up only about four feet shy of the Green Monster and in the glove of Andrew Benintendi for the final out of the game.
"And at first I just thought it was going to be a normal out," said Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. "Maybe one step on to the track. But as I saw Benny go back and get closer to the wall, I started darting over to his way in case of the bounce off the wall. Fortunately it came back [in]."
The big hit of the game was a three-run double off the Green Monster by Bradley in the bottom of the third that gave Boston the lead back.
It stayed 5-4 until the bottom of seventh, when Betts led off with a walk, moved to second on a wild pitch, to third on a passed ball and then made a mad dash home to score on a second passed ball by Astros catcher Martín Maldonado.
The ball didn't skip that far away from Maldonado, but Betts got a great read and used his speed to dive in headfirst.
"I'm not sure I've ever practiced secondary leads, to be honest -- not in professional ball, really," Betts said. "Just something that kind of naturally happens. I think it's just instincts. You've got to trust what you see."
Betts came through again the eighth, hammering an RBI double to center. Prior to the game, Astros manager AJ Hinch referred to Betts as a "ticking time bomb."
"AJ is a smart guy. He went to Stanford," quipped Cora. "Yesterday, like he said, [Mookie] got a pitch middle-middle and just rolled over it with the bases loaded. Tonight, he was able to stay in the middle of the ballpark and it was good. And I saw him smiling today, which is always good. When Mookie's smiling, good things are happening."
Going back to Houston down 0-2 against the defending World Series champions would have been a daunting thing for the Red Sox. In the history of the 2-3-2 format, only three of the 24 home teams that have lost the first two games have come back to win the series. With the win, Boston is on much more even footing. Teams that have split the first two at home have won 44 of 80 times (55 percent).
"We're locked in, we're ready to go," said Barnes. "Tonight was a big game. Going back to Houston down 2-0 [would've been] tough. The fact that we can even it out 1-1, go to Houston, take the momentum with us, it's definitely big."
But before tying the series, there were some roller-coaster moments for the Red Sox.
In particular, the first three innings were wild.
The Red Sox got off to the start they needed at the plate when Betts opened the bottom of the first by lacing a double high off the wall in center. Benintendi got him right in with an RBI single to right. With one out, Rafael Devers went the other way to left for an RBI single to make it 2-0.
In this case, Hinch wasn't happy to be proved right by Betts.
"He ignited them from the very beginning of the game. The energy of this place when he comes up to bat is really electrifying," Hinch said. "What you try to do is minimize as much as you can in front of them. We didn't do a great job of that today. But from the first bat on, he set the tone from the very beginning. That's why he's very much an MVP, at least [a] candidate."
The Astros roared back in the top of the second. With two outs, George Springer laced a game-tying two-run double down the line in right.
Then came the missile by Gonzalez against Price, and Bradley's counterpunch in the bottom of the third off Cole.
For the rest of the night, the momentum stayed with Boston.
"At this point, we might as well just treat it as a five-game set, and we're starting on the road," said Porcello. "We've got to do what we did in New York and come ready to play Game 1 and go from there."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Price's first zero: When Price walked José Altuve and Bregman with one out in the first, some uneasiness fell over Fenway. The Red Sox badly wanted to jump in front first. Price allowed them to do that when he struck out Yuli Gurriel and Tyler White to end the frame.
"DP made some big pitches with men on first and second and getting two punchouts to get out of the first," said Barnes. "When you come out and bang the ball in the first inning and put up a couple of runs, it kind of sets the tone for the game and kind of gets everybody rolling."
Though Kimbrel was one out away from a clean ninth inning, he wound up giving up a double by Springer and a single to Altuve before getting that final out. In his postseason career, Kimbrel has never had an outing with zero baserunners allowed when he comes in with the lead. However, Kimbrel is now 4-for-4 in save opportunities in the playoffs.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Bradley had already influenced the game with his bat, and he made a huge play with his glove in the top of the seventh. Altuve laced one to right-center and Bradley charged in to make a terrific catch, drawing roars from the Fenway faithful for the second out of the inning. According to Statcast™, it was a four-star catch with a 44-percent catch probability. Bradley had to go 41 feet in 3.2 seconds.
HE SAID IT
"I could go until they take the ball from me. That's what it is. It's all hands on deck and you're doing everything you can. Even if you're tired, you find a way. It's October and that's what you do." -- Barnes