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2016 ALCS: Blue Jays vs. Indians

Red Sox cut above with another AL pennant

Boston ousts defending champs to reach 4th WS since 2004
MLB.com

HOUSTON -- That's four American League championships in 15 seasons for the Boston Red Sox if you're keeping track. Think about that for a moment. Baseball has never had more parity than right now, but the Sox constantly restock and roll on, making the playoffs this season for the 10th time since 2003.

No other AL franchise can match Boston's four pennants in this stretch. This isn't one generation of players, either. It's at least three, maybe four, and that's the thing that separates some franchises from others.

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HOUSTON -- That's four American League championships in 15 seasons for the Boston Red Sox if you're keeping track. Think about that for a moment. Baseball has never had more parity than right now, but the Sox constantly restock and roll on, making the playoffs this season for the 10th time since 2003.

No other AL franchise can match Boston's four pennants in this stretch. This isn't one generation of players, either. It's at least three, maybe four, and that's the thing that separates some franchises from others.

View Full Game Coverage

World Series presented by YouTube TV, Game 1: Tuesday, 8:09 p.m. ET on FOX

:: World Series schedule and results ::

From Manny Ramirez and Curt Schilling to David Ortiz and Jon Lester to Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts, the names roll off the tongues of Boston baseball fans. To be so good for so long says plenty about Red Sox owner John Henry's construction of a great franchise.

Now, these new Red Sox will bring fresh faces to the game's biggest stage after eliminating the Astros with a 4-1 win in Game 5 of the AL Championship Series on Thursday night to get back to the World Series and within four wins of doing what the championship teams of 2004, '07 and '13 did.

Gear up for the World Series

In the first team meeting last spring, Boston rookie manager Alex Cora asked how many players had been part of a World Series winner. A handful had played some on the 2013 club, but this group largely represents a turning of the page. With that, a tone had been set.

Bradley's 3 big hits earn ALCS MVP honors

"Spring Training, you just have that feel," said Bradley, the ALCS MVP. "We had a lot of talent in the room. And it was just those extra pieces to allow us to get to where we wanted and needed to be."

This team has been expertly constructed and smartly managed. There are homegrown stars like Betts and Bradley as well as left fielder Andrew Benintendi and third baseman Rafael Devers. There are smart free-agent signings (David Price and J.D. Martinez) and solid trade acquisitions (Chris Sale, Rick Porcello and Craig Kimbrel).

This pennant belongs to all of them and especially to Cora, who celebrated his 43rd birthday with champagne showers and bear hugs in a wild clubhouse celebration at Minute Maid Park. His ability to reach players, to get them to buy in, was mentioned again and again in the clinching celebration.

"You know, AC just fits this group really well," Price said. "And he did it before our first day in Spring Training, just getting guys together, just getting everybody on the same page and making sure everybody has that common goal."

This pennant also belongs to an old-school baseball executive, Dave Dombrowski, the architect of World Series teams in Florida and Detroit before arriving in New England in 2015.

Dombrowski put the finishing touches on a team that won a franchise-record 108 regular-season games and ran away from a 100-win Yankees team, climbing atop the AL East for good on July 2 and finishing eight games in front.

Video: ALCS Gm5: Price, clutch HRs, 'pen lead Sox to pennant

Before that 2004 World Series, the one that ended an 86-year championship drought, the Red Sox had been to the Fall Classic four times in the previous 85 seasons. Now, they've made it feel almost routine. They spend money fearlessly and had baseball's highest payroll in 2018. For this, they make no apology.

"You want to be a part of something great," Bradley said. "You want to be winners. You want to be known as winners."

In Game 5, it was Price pitching the game Boston envisioned him pitching when he signed one of the largest free-agent contracts in history in 2015.

Video: ALCS Gm5: Price leads Sox to pennant with 6 scoreless

You probably know the story line. Price could not replicate his regular-season success during the postseason. Pitching on just three days' rest and one day after warming up to pitch in relief on Wednesday night, he threw six shutout innings that will stand as his signature New England moment until something grander comes along.

Martinez homered off Houston starter Justin Verlander in the top of the third inning, and Price made that run stand up until Devers broke it open with a three-run home run off Verlander in the sixth.

In the end, all the pieces fit. Cora managed his bullpen beautifully. Bradley hit huge home runs in Games 3 and 4. Benintendi ended Game 4 with one of the great clutch catches in history.

Next up: another World Series in New England, with Game 1 against the Brewers or Dodgers on Tuesday at Fenway Park.

"It's special in every aspect," Cora said. "Not only as a manager, but as an individual. To be able to lead this team, it's amazing. It's a great group -- very talented, very humble, very hungry."

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.

Boston Red Sox

Cora's birthday party is one for the ages

Red Sox rookie skipper celebrates with trip to World Series
MLB.com

HOUSTON -- It's difficult to imagine Alex Cora having a happier birthday.

The Red Sox manager guided his team to a 4-1 victory over the Astros in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series, winning the franchise's 14th pennant and its first since winning the World Series in 2013.

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HOUSTON -- It's difficult to imagine Alex Cora having a happier birthday.

The Red Sox manager guided his team to a 4-1 victory over the Astros in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series, winning the franchise's 14th pennant and its first since winning the World Series in 2013.

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World Series presented by YouTube TV, Game 1: Tuesday, 8:09 p.m. ET on FOX

:: ALCS schedule and results ::

"The last out yesterday was like around 12:10, so we won two on my birthday," Cora said. "I'll take it."

Indeed, the marathon Game 4 didn't conclude until after midnight CT, while Thursday night's Game 5 concluded before 11 p.m. Cora has a lot more to celebrate than turning 43; he's the first rookie manager to reach the Fall Classic since 2001, when Bob Brenly did so with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Get Red Sox World Series gear

Brenly's team won a classic seven-game Series against the Yankees. Cora is hoping for a similar outcome against the winner of the National League Championship Series between the Dodgers and Brewers, which Los Angeles leads, 3-2.

"We've still got work to do," said Cora, whose players sang "Happy Birthday" to him in the clubhouse during the victory celebration.

Red Sox sing 'Happy Birthday' to Cora

Cora is the sixth manager to take the Red Sox to the World Series in his first season with the club. Of course, this isn't just his first season managing Boston; it's his first season managing anywhere.

Video: ALCS Gm 5: Alex Cora on heading to the World Series

Cora is just the third rookie manager to reach World Series in the expansion era (since 1961), after Brenly and Ralph Houk (1961 Yankees).

"Just his demeanor, you know, it doesn't change," said David Price, who rewarded Cora's faith in him with six shutout innings in Game 5 despite working on short rest. "I know it's easy to not change when your team wins 108 games in the regular season, but he hasn't changed one bit. Got two little twin girls that aren't letting him sleep; they aren't sleeping. Just for him to do what he's done for us this year has been sweet."

Video: ALCS Gm5: Price on Cora's demeanor and leadership

From Cora's bullpen management to his lineup decisions, just about every button he pushed this postseason has worked to perfection for the Red Sox. On Thursday, he removed Nathan Eovaldi after the eighth inning despite the fact that the right-hander appeared to be having his way with Houston's lineup.

"There was a chance that there was a Game 7, and we needed to be prepared for that," Cora said. "We knew the skinny guy [Chris Sale] was ready for Game 6, but in case there was a Game 7, it was going to be [Eovaldi]. No way I'm going to push him to lose him and then lose the game. That was going to be tough."

Giving Craig Kimbrel -- who has struggled throughout the postseason -- an opportunity to close out the game and test out the mechanical adjustment he had made the previous night was also likely in Cora's mind. What better way to bolster your closer's confidence than to let him stand on the mound when your team wins the pennant?

Video: ALCS Gm5: Cora on pitching strategy with Eovaldi

Cora's first season has been a bit of a fairy tale, but he reflected on his managerial interview with the D-backs two years ago, crediting Arizona general manager Mike Hazen for pushing him in the right direction to get where he is today.

"When they decided to go with Torey [Lovullo], he called me, he's like, 'It will be good for you to go out on the field; I think that's going to help you out,'" Cora said.

Cora joined Houston as AJ Hinch's bench coach, was part of a World Series winner, then took the Boston job.

Video: ALCS Gm5: Cora on familiarity with Astros after win

On Thursday, Cora sent his former team home for the winter. He and his Red Sox will have a couple of days to decompress before opening the World Series at home on Tuesday in front of what promises to be an electric atmosphere at Fenway Park.

"AJ Hinch and that group gave me a chance to be with them, to grow up as a coach, to learn a lot from different aspects of the game," Cora said. "I'm very proud of that group. They had an amazing season."

Video: ALCS Gm5: Hinch congratulates Cora on AL pennant

Hinch lauded his friend for the job he's done during his first season running the show.

"It's not easy to take over a team in that market, in that setting and see the things that happen to that team and still come out with all the wins that he did," Hinch said. "Managing nowadays is not an easy job. And I know I laugh about it, but everybody thinks they're a really good manager. But to be able to command that clubhouse and lead a group of men to where he's going, he should feel very proud. I think his convictions, his demeanor, his personality that rubbed off on that team is something that I noticed and something that he should be proud of."

Video: ALCS Gm5: Bradley Jr. on the best qualities of Cora

To hear Red Sox players speak of their manager is to know the fondness they have for Cora as a man and a boss. He may be in charge, but he's also one of them.

"That's what makes him special; his ability to communicate with us, relate with us," ALCS MVP Jackie Bradley Jr. said. "We feel like he can be one of the guys, but we also understand his leadership, his role, who he is.

"He takes control. He makes sure that we continue to keep pressing forward. He spoke about every single day, turn the page, turn the page, moving on to the next step, not dwelling on the past. What can we do for the present and what's going to help out for the future?"

Mark Feinsand is an executive reporter for MLB.com.

Boston Red Sox

JBJ's 9 RBIs vs. Astros earn him ALCS MVP

MLB.com

HOUSTON -- Jackie Bradley Jr. finally stopped tormenting the Astros when he went hitless in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series. But the damage had already been done, and Houston won't be able to repeat as World Series champions due in large part to Bradley.

World Series presented by YouTube TV, Game 1: Tuesday, 8:09 p.m. ET on FOX

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HOUSTON -- Jackie Bradley Jr. finally stopped tormenting the Astros when he went hitless in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series. But the damage had already been done, and Houston won't be able to repeat as World Series champions due in large part to Bradley.

World Series presented by YouTube TV, Game 1: Tuesday, 8:09 p.m. ET on FOX

View Full Game Coverage

:: ALCS schedule and results ::

Shortly after the Red Sox celebrated the AL pennant with a 4-1 victory, Bradley was given the Most Valuable Player Award for the series.

Get AL champs postseason gear

It was an unlikely yet sweet feat for a player who has always been known more for his glove in center field than his bat. And though Bradley had just three hits in the five games against the Astros, they added up to nine RBIs.

Bradley's bases-clearing double gave Boston a lead it never relinquished in Game 2. He then recorded a grand slam off Houston closer Roberto Osuna in Game 3. And in Game 4, the wildest contest of the series, it was Bradley's two-run homer in the sixth inning that gave the Red Sox the lead for good.

"Speechless," Bradley said. "It's amazing. I have amazing teammates, amazing staff. Everybody's such a blessing."

If Bradley had a hard time reflecting on the trophy he collected, his teammates had no problem saluting their center fielder.

"There's nobody on this team that I can think of in baseball that deserves it more than Jackie," said David Price, who threw six scoreless innings in the clinching victory. "One, the player that he is. And two, more importantly, the person that he is. He continues to work. He continues to grind."

Young fan overcome with joy by AL pennant win

Video: Bradley Jr. carries the freight for Red Sox in ALCS

Through his first 124 at-bats of the regular season, the notoriously streaky Bradley was hitting .161 with two homers and nine RBIs. His OPS was .502. But manager Alex Cora stuck by him. And from July 1 through Game 5 of the ALCS, Bradley slashed .269/.340/.479 with seven homers and 36 RBIs, all the while playing tremendous defense.

"Awesome," Boston left fielder Andrew Benintendi said. "It couldn't happen to a better person. The most humble guy you meet. You never know if he's 4-for-4 or 0-for-4. He came up big this series with nine RBIs or whatever it was. He was even keeled all year, and it couldn't have happened to a finer person."

Video: ALCS Gm5: Bradley discusses winning for Boston

Bradley and the Red Sox will be back at it on Tuesday night, when they host Game 1 of the World Series.

"This is what we set out to do when we come to Spring Training," Bradley said. "And we battled -- we've been battle tested, played against a lot of great ball teams. This is definitely a special moment."

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.

Boston Red Sox, Jackie Bradley Jr.

Priceless! Lefty sends Red Sox to World Series

MLB.com

HOUSTON -- For years, David Price was forced to carry around his postseason misfortunes as a nuisance that wouldn't go away in an otherwise decorated career. The lefty didn't hide from it. He just vowed over and over that the narrative would change at some point.

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HOUSTON -- For years, David Price was forced to carry around his postseason misfortunes as a nuisance that wouldn't go away in an otherwise decorated career. The lefty didn't hide from it. He just vowed over and over that the narrative would change at some point.

Video: ALCS Gm5: Price leads Sox to pennant with 6 scoreless

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That point was Thursday night at Minute Maid Park, when Price pitched his Red Sox to the American League pennant with a marvelous performance on three days' rest in Game 5 of the AL Championship Series.

World Series presented by YouTube TV, Game 1: Tuesday, 8:09 p.m. ET on FOX

Behind Price's first win in 12 career postseason starts -- and home runs by J.D. Martinez and Rafael Devers -- Boston dethroned the defending World Series champion Astros with a 4-1 victory.

Video: ALCS Gm5: Red Sox celebrate series win over Astros

Red Sox cut above with another AL pennant

It was sweet for everyone with the Red Sox, but it had to taste the best for Price, who went to sleep late Wednesday with a visualization that turned to reality.

Video: Scott Braun talks with David Price after the win

"My last thought last night before I went to bed was probably a little bit different," Price said. "The night before I pitch, I'm just envisioning myself making pitches, and last night I envisioned myself doing this [clubhouse celebration] right here. Just going through my head, [I thought of] what I was going to say, and I'm happy that it happened."

Video: ALCS Gm5: Price on preparing for his Game 5 start

Never again will Price have to talk about having zero playoff wins as a starter. The reality of that hit Price immediately, and that thought was sweeter for the 33-year-old than the champagne that drenched him repeatedly in the victorious clubhouse.

Video: ALCS Gm5: Cora, Bradley Jr., Betts on Price's outing

"That's cool. That's awesome," Price said. "I don't have to prepare myself for that in Spring Training, February 20th or when September rolls around every year and I've still got five regular-season starts left. I don't have to answer that question anymore, so that feels good."

Video: ALCS Gm5: Bradley Jr. named MVP of the ALCS

Jackie Bradley Jr. -- who delivered a go-ahead three-run double in Game 2 in Boston, punctuated an 8-2 win in Game 3 with an eighth-inning grand slam and launched a go-ahead two-run homer in the sixth inning of Game 4 -- was named the ALCS Most Valuable Player.

Video: ALCS Gm5: Bradley Jr. discusses winning the ALCS, MVP

Now it will be the Red Sox, led by rookie manager Alex Cora, who represent the AL in the World Series, which will start on Tuesday night at Fenway Park against the Dodgers or Brewers. This is the first trip to the Fall Classic since 2013 for Boston, which has a chance to win its fourth championship ('13, '07, '04) in 15 seasons since ending that infamous 86-year drought.

Video: ALCS Gm 5: Alex Cora on heading to the World Series

"Huge," said Martinez. "That's one of the best feelings in the world. To be bringing a World Series opportunity back to [the fans of Boston] and an American League championship to Boston, I'm sure they're going nuts back home."

Video: MLB Tonight talks J.D. Martinez's adjustments

Pitching on three days' rest after a start for the first time in his career -- and filling in for ace Chris Sale, who is recovering from a stomach illness -- Price mowed through the Astros, using a dominant changeup to keep them off-balance. Over six innings, the lefty allowed three hits and no runs while walking none and notching nine strikeouts, his career best in the postseason. Price threw 93 pitches and generated 15 swings and misses, 12 coming on changeups. He outdueled Houston ace Justin Verlander, who was on regular rest, by a wide margin.

Video: MLB Tonight breaks down David Price's game

"There was a lot of noise," said Cora. "I was saying today that -- I don't want to pick battles with the media, but I heard somebody today on TV just blasting David, blasting him, calling him the worst pitcher in the postseason. Yeah, the numbers are there, I know, but he was saying this -- he didn't hesitate, saying it was a bad matchup, one of the greatest against the worst and all that. I don't listen too much to what's going on outside, but that one got me."

Video: ALCS Gm5: Cora on Price's stellar performance in win

This time, Price had the last laugh, and he soaked up every bit of it. After the trophy presentation, Price was the first player out of the Red Sox's clubhouse. He walked to a barricade where all the families of Boston's players were. When they saw Price, they all roared. Price hugged his wife, Tiffany, and held his 17-month-old son, Xavier.

Video: ALCS Gm5: David Price has his son at the podium

"That's my rock, so that's cool," Price said of embracing his family.

Fittingly, the performance came one day shy of the 10th anniversary of Price's other signature moment in the playoffs, when he earned a clutch save for the Rays against the Red Sox in Game 7 of the 2008 ALCS. Cora started that night at shortstop for Boston. On Thursday, the manager enjoyed his 43rd birthday by watching Price dominate.

Sox sing 'Happy Birthday' to Cora after clinching

Video: ALCS Gm5: Cora on winning pennant as rookie manager

This is Price's first trip to the World Series since that 2008 season, when he was a September callup and his team lost to the Phillies.

:: ALCS schedule and results ::

To have it happen this way, just a day after Price threw 40 pitches in the bullpen in case he was needed in the late stages of a wild Game 4, was surreal.

Young fan overcome with joy at AL pennant win

"He's right at the top step every time someone hits a home run," Martinez said of Price. "We all know his history and stuff like that, so for him, we're so proud of him. To be able to do what he did today on short rest, he picked us up. He carried us."

This ALCS was built up as a clash of the titans between clubs that combined for 211 wins during the regular season, and both looked imposing in the AL Division Series.

After losing Game 1, and looking disjointed in doing so, the Red Sox regained the dominance they displayed throughout much of the season and took four straight from the Astros, including the last two at Minute Maid Park. Boston is 5-0 on the road in this postseason, marking the first time it has won five straight road games in a single playoff run.

"We ran out of wins. We had a tough-fought series," said Houston manager AJ Hinch. "They took it to us. When you get two evenly matched teams up against each other, there's going to be swings in momentum and big at-bats and a little bit of luck, a little bit of bad luck. And they outplayed us. They did a really good job of having an excellent game plan and going and executing it and they were extremely tough."

Video: ALCS Gm5: Hinch congratulates Red Sox on series win

Price came out dealing. In the fourth, he threw his second- and third-hardest pitches of the season (95.8 and 95.5 mph) during a strikeout of Carlos Correa.

The final pitch of the night for Price was a changeup that he struck out Jose Altuve. Knowing he was done for the night, and that his first postseason win as a starter was finally in his grasp, Price pumped his fist and shouted with joy as he went back to the dugout.

Video: ALCS Gm5: Price on Cora's demeanor and leadership

"Six shutout inning against the world champs with nine punchouts and three hits," said Price, reflecting on the excitement that hit him after he threw his final pitch.

With Cora's bullpen pretty well spent after a busy few days, he went to righty Matt Barnes for the first two outs of the seventh. After Marwin Gonzalez finally put the Astros on the board with a homer and Barnes walked Tony Kemp, starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi came out of the 'pen just two days after throwing 92 pitches in his win in Game 3. Eovaldi also took care of the eighth, and closer Craig Kimbrel finished it with his third save of the series, though the first two were more adventurous than he wanted.

Video: ALCS Gm5: Eovaldi tosses 1 1/3 key innings

"We found a few things last night after the game," said Kimbrel. "Some stuff I've been struggling with for a while. I feel like I was able to hone it in tonight, get back online and pitch like I'm supposed to."

Video: ALCS Gm5: Kimbrel earns the save to clinch pennant

Though the end result made it look like Boston won the series in a romp, it sure didn't start that way. When the Red Sox got to the ballpark for Game 2 at Fenway Park, there was an urgency to salvage a split before the ALCS shifted to Houston. Price started that game, and though he came one out shy of qualifying for the win, he made some big pitches and left with a lead. With the Sox winning Game 2, it marked the first time his team had won a postseason game he started. Price called it a baby step.

So what was the clinching victory in Game 5?

Video: JBJ, Benintendi help lead Sox over Astros in ALCS

"A real step," said Price.

Video: ALCS Gm5: Price, clutch HRs, 'pen lead Sox to pennant

And for the Red Sox, the next step -- the biggest of them all -- is the World Series.

Video: Martinez on clinching World Series appearance

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
J.D. strikes first: Martinez helped the Red Sox break out first for the fourth straight game, though they waited until the third inning this time. That was when Martinez smoked a one-out solo shot to left on a curveball in the upper part of the strike zone by Verlander. Martinez's first homer of the ALCS had a Statcast-projected exit velocity of 105.4 mph and traveled a projected 396 feet, clanging off a sign above the seats. The Sox are 80-5 this season when they score first, including 6-0 in the postseason.

Video: Must C Crushed: Martinez gets Red Sox on the board

"Huge, obviously," said Martinez. "He's one of those guys, you've got to get him rattled. You've got to have traffic. You've got to have something to just get him out of that groove. When he gets in that grove, he's tough, man. There's a reason he's one of the best pitchers in the game."

Devers strikes second: Martinez's missile was the only run of the game until the sixth. That was when Verlander served up a leadoff double to Mitch Moreland, a single by Ian Kinsler and then a huge three-run homer to the opposite field in left by Devers that gave Boston a 4-0 lead. Devers got enough of Verlander's 98.2-mph heater to get it over the wall. It wasn't an easy pitch to hit, as it had a 2,805 rpm spin rate. MLB hitters combined to hit just four home runs in the regular season off 4-seamers with 98+ mph and 2,600+ rpm.

Video: ALCS Gm5: Devers homers off Verlander's 98.2-mph heat

"Devers hit his decent. It's unfortunate that it went out," said Verlander. "He put a decent swing on it. It's not until I get back and see the exit velo that I know it wasn't hit as good as I thought. He hit it well. But it's the Moreland one that was kind of debilitating, just out of the reach of the left fielder to lead off an inning, when we're already down a run. That's tough to deal with."

Video: ALCS Gm5: Price on Devers coming up clutch

Devers' home run confused fan who caught it

SOUND SMART
With his third career homer in postseason play before the age of 22, Devers is tied for fourth all-time on that list with Andruw Jones, trailing only Mickey Mantle, Bryce Harper and Miguel Cabrera, who all had four. Price became the first AL pitcher working on three or fewer days of rest to record at least six shutout innings in a postseason game since Mike Mussina for the Orioles in Game 6 of the 1997 ALCS against the Indians.

Video: Red Sox beat Yankees, Astros, advance to World Series

HE SAID IT
"It hasn't sunk in yet, honestly. It's something you dream about as a kid, playing in the World Series, and now we are. Our job's not finished yet. We still have four more wins. We're going to play a good team regardless of who we play. We're going to enjoy this tonight and get after that in two days." -- Andrew Benintendi, on going to the World Series

Video: Benintendi talks Red Sox's clinch with Braun

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.

Boston Red Sox, Mookie Betts, Rafael Devers, J.D. Martinez, David Price

Kent impressed with Astros, Altuve's skill set

Former second baseman delivers ceremonial 1st pitch before G5
MLB.com

HOUSTON -- Describing himself as a proud and insanely jealous Astros fan, former second baseman Jeff Kent spoke admiringly about the 2018 Houston ballclub while wistfully looking back at his own 17-year Major League career.

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HOUSTON -- Describing himself as a proud and insanely jealous Astros fan, former second baseman Jeff Kent spoke admiringly about the 2018 Houston ballclub while wistfully looking back at his own 17-year Major League career.

:: ALCS schedule and results ::

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Kent loves what the Astros are doing these days. But he also feels pangs, as he did when they won the World Series last year, remembering how close he was to winning a title when he was a player.

"I was a Game 7 loser with the Giants [in 2002], and we were one game away from going to the World Series with the Astros," Kent said. "So yes, I'm proud and grateful that I was part of a program making transitions, but I'm jealous as all get out because I'm a competitor and I wanted it to be me [winning the World Series] and not someone else."

Kent was invited back to Minute Maid Park by the Astros to throw the ceremonial first pitch before the Astros were eliminated with a the 4-1 loss in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series on Thursday night. Accompanied by his youngest son, 15-year-old Kaeden, Kent reflected fondly on his two seasons with the Astros, who made it to Game 7 of the National League Championship Series before falling to the Cardinals in '04.

Kent hit a memorable home run that postseason, launching a walk-off three-run homer in the ninth inning of Game 5 of the NLCS that put Houston ahead in the series, 3-2.

"Some of the old folks still remember me around and talk about that," said Kent, who lives near Austin. "It's pretty special. It's not so special anymore, now that these [current] Astros have outdone us all when we were playing, winning the World Series. But yes, it's neat to talk about. It's one of maybe the top three highlights of my career."

Kent, compared to most big leaguers, had a somewhat odd, reclusive personality when he played, opting out of most of the socialization that takes place on a day-to-day basis in the clubhouse over the course of a long season. But he was also known as a fierce competitor who detested losing, and he had a laser-sharp focus that made him one of baseball's more admired teammates.

Video: ALCS Gm5: Kent discusses tossing out the first pitch

Kent heaped praise on the current crop of Astros, especially when he was asked specifically about second baseman Jose Altuve, who contributed mightily this month despite playing with a painful right knee.

"Impressive," Kent said. "His stature, his personality, the way he carries himself, the way he hustles, the way he plays through pain, the way he can shorten his swing up, make his swing big when he has to ... he has all the tools.

"I'm jealous, because I wish I had either played with him, or jealous because he's a hell of a ballplayer and he could have been better than I was. And proud, because I wore the Astros uniform, and he's doing the same thing, and he won a championship."

Altuve plays through injury
The sore right knee that has plagued Altuve for the second half of the season is so debilitating that manager AJ Hinch admitted prior to Game 5 of the ALCS that Altuve would be on the disabled list if this were the regular season.

McCullers, Altuve injuries may require surgery

"If it was any other time of the year, he wouldn't be in the lineup or wouldn't be playing," Hinch said before Game 5. "He'd probably be on the DL or under different circumstances. But he's showing up every day, good spirits, ready to go, giving 100 percent of what he's got. And he should be commended and appreciated."

Altuve, last year's AL Most Valuable Player Award winner, injured his right knee sliding into second base in a game against the Rockies at Coors Field in late July and has played through pain since. The injury forced Altuve to go on the disabled list for the first time in his career, and he aggravated the injury sliding into second base during Game 4 on Wednesday.

Video: ALCS Gm5: Hinch on Astros' poise despite injuries

Altuve started at second base the first two games of the series before Hinch moved him to designated hitter in Games 3 and 4 to rest his knee. Hinch had hoped to have him back at second base for Game 5, but the knee aggravation made that a non-starter.

"When we went out to see him at second base, we knew he wasn't going to come out of the game, but you've got to give him a little bit of a blow there to take a few seconds to let the pain subside and then the ovation was incredible for that," Hinch said. "So the fans appreciate him, his teammates revere him. The production that he's doing on one leg is pretty incredible. And he's trying not to talk about it. And, therefore, I am."

The Astros haven't given an official diagnosis of what's wrong with the knee, but it's possible he's headed for surgery in the offseason. Despite the injury, Altuve reached base safely in Houston's first seven games of the postseason, scoring at least one run in six of those games.

Video: ALCS Gm5: Altuve discusses ALCS loss to the Red Sox

Worth noting
Astros pitchers walked 18 batters in 35 innings in the first four games of the ALCS. That's an uncharacteristic performance from a team that finished fourth in the Major Leagues during the regular season for the fewest walks allowed.

Hinch hinted the high walk total had more to do with the Astros pitching around the zone and the Red Sox hitters doing a good job of being patient rather than Houston's staff suffering from a lack of command.

"Sure, we want to throw perfect strikes," Hinch said. And this lineup will make you be a little more careful than perhaps the 30th-ranked offense. But I just think it's this time of year where everything is so precise and you make a few mistakes along the way and vice versa. The first part of the series, we were drawing all the walks -- Game 1 and part of Game 2. So it's a tough league, a tough series."

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.

Houston Astros

Verlander falls victim to short LF porch in defeat

Devers' 3-run HR provides Red Sox decisive blow in Game 6
MLB.com

HOUSTON -- Justin Verlander, though still relatively new to the Astros, has pitched at Minute Maid Park enough to know how the Crawford Boxes play in left field.

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HOUSTON -- Justin Verlander, though still relatively new to the Astros, has pitched at Minute Maid Park enough to know how the Crawford Boxes play in left field.

:: ALCS schedule and results ::

View Full Game Coverage

Routine fly balls that aren't hit particularly well often turn into home runs, and as frustrating as that can be for pitchers, anyone who has experienced Minute Maid Park accepted that it's fair for both sides -- especially for the home team, which gets to aim for the short porch 81 games a year.

Unfortunately for Houston, the only team that took advantage of the Crawford Boxes on Thursday was the Red Sox, who clinched the American League pennant by handing the Astros a 4-1 defeat in Game 5 of the AL Championship Series thanks to a largely unhittable starting pitcher in David Price, but also to an ability to take advantage of the 315-foot left-field line that defines the shallowest home run territory in the Majors.

"It's funny we're playing the Red Sox," Verlander said with a wry smile. "The only two places where those are hits are here and Fenway."

Boston's decisive blow arrived in the sixth inning off the bat of the left-handed-hitting Rafael Devers. The Red Sox, up 1-0, had runners at first and third with no outs when Devers connected with Verlander's first offering -- a 98.2-mph fastball -- and the ball traveled a projected 359 feet, according to Statcast™, landing in the first row of the Crawford Boxes.

Boston's slim one-run lead, built on J.D. Martinez's homer in the third inning, turned into a commanding four-run advantage.

Video: Must C Crushed: Martinez gets Red Sox on the board

"It was a gut punch," Astros manager AJ Hinch said of Devers' home run. "Because a lot of [Verlander's] home runs [allowed] this year were those balls that creeped into the Crawford Boxes. That's a little bit of bad luck in the ballpark, and a really good at-bat by Devers. He got the barrel to it, and he's a strong kid. The ball was elevated, and the ball carries to the right part of park, and that's baseball, that's the game."

Video: ALCS Gm5: Devers clubs clutch 3-run HR off Verlander

Verlander checked the exit velocity after the inning and saw the homer left Devers' bat at 101.5 mph, slower than Verlander expected.

"It wasn't hit as good as I thought," Verlander said. "But he hit it well."

The true blow, from Verlander's view, was Mitch Moreland's leadoff double that set up the big inning. That ball also hung up and headed toward left field, but it fell just short of clearing the wall. Left fielder Tony Kemp, known for his acrobatic catches, couldn't leap high enough, as the ball bounced off the wall before entering his glove.

Video: ALCS Gm5: Moreland doubles after Kemp's near grab

Ian Kinsler, Verlander's former Tigers teammate, followed with a base hit to right field, which moved Moreland to third base and set up Devers' first home run of the postseason.

"I saw Tony with the jump, and I was having flashbacks of the catch he made just a couple days ago," Verlander said. "I was hoping for that, especially from the leadoff spot. Then getting past Kins is tough. He was able to punch one through the right side, and then it's first and third. A 330-foot popup to left, and that's all she wrote."

"Once it got halfway there, I knew it was gone," Kemp said. "Unfortunately, no one else knew except me. I knew the ball was gone."

Verlander was more matter-of-fact than melancholy when addressing reporters after the Astros' season-ending loss. The general feeling in the clubhouse was that Houston was simply outplayed by Boston and bested by a nearly unhittable Price.

Entering the game, Verlander was unquestionably the Astros' best option in their effort to push the series back to Boston for Game 6.

Video: ALCS Gm5: Hinch talks Verlander, Devers' home run

The veteran right-hander, making his 23rd career postseason start, had a 24-inning scoreless streak in postseason elimination games entering Thursday that spanned three outings: Game 6 of the ALCS with the Astros in 2017, and two that came with the Tigers, both against the A's: Game 5 of the AL Division Series in 2013, and Game 5 of the 2012 ALDS.

Verlander also compiled a 2.52 ERA and struck out 290 over 34 regular-season starts, making him a top candidate to win the AL Cy Young Award.

Houston was confident heading into Game 5, but the Astros were also realistic about their chances to come back from a 3-1 deficit in a best-of-seven series with a team that won 108 games in the regular season.

"They have a great lineup," Verlander said. "If you don't execute, they're going to find ways to hurt you. Four runs in a nine-inning ballgame, that's not a ton. We had some success against them -- just not quite enough. Honestly, I thought it was a pretty good series. We had a chance there in the ninth inning almost every game."

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.

Houston Astros, Justin Verlander

McCullers, Altuve injuries may require surgery

Morton also evaluating status of his right shoulder issues
MLB.com

HOUSTON -- Astros All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve and right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. could both be headed for offseason surgery.

Altuve dealt with a sore right knee in the second half of the season and into the playoffs, and it was bothering him so much during the American League Championship Series that manager AJ Hinch said Altuve would have landed on the disabled list had it been the regular season.

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HOUSTON -- Astros All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve and right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. could both be headed for offseason surgery.

Altuve dealt with a sore right knee in the second half of the season and into the playoffs, and it was bothering him so much during the American League Championship Series that manager AJ Hinch said Altuve would have landed on the disabled list had it been the regular season.

View Full Game Coverage

:: ALCS schedule and results ::

"It's difficult, but I'm not a superhero," Altuve said after the Astros were eliminated with a 4-1 loss to the Red Sox in Game 5 on Thursday night at Minute Maid Park. "I'm not the only guy that has done this. There's a lot of guys that are probably playing in worse situations than I."

Altuve injured the knee sliding into second base in late July against the Rockies at Coors Field, forcing him to the DL for the first time in his career. He was limited to designated hitter duties in Games 3, 4 and 5 of the ALCS, and Altuve aggravated the knee in Game 4 while sliding into second base.

"If it was any other time of the year, he wouldn't be in the lineup or wouldn't be playing," Hinch said prior to Game 5.

Neither Altuve nor the team has divulged exactly what's wrong with the knee, which teammate Alex Bregman said after the Game 5 loss to Boston in the ALCS was as swollen "as big as a grapefruit."

"I've got to go talk to the trainers in a couple of days, and I bet we're going to sit down and try to figure out what we know," Altuve said.

McCullers, meanwhile, sustained a right forearm strain on Aug. 4 at Dodger Stadium and he missed six weeks, returning in the final week of the regular season to pitch out of the bullpen. He made five appearances in relief in the playoffs covering five innings.

McCullers was coy when asked about a report stating he was pitching through a tear of his ulnar collateral ligament and was headed for Tommy John surgery, which would put him out for all of 2019.

"We're going to figure all that stuff out," he said. "I'm pretty banged up. Other guys are banged up, too. That's going to be something down the road the next couple of days, the next couple of weeks we'll figure out."

Video: ALCS Gm5: Altuve discusses ALCS loss to the Red Sox

When asked if he was headed for surgery, McCullers said: "We've got to speak with the training staff. I'm going to do my standard postseason MRI stuff, see all the doctors, see how I'm feeling. I've definitely been throwing through some stuff."

Houston starter Charlie Morton was placed on the DL in late August with right shoulder discomfort and had his workload cut back in September to protect his arm. When asked if he was going to have surgery, he wasn't sure.

"Probably try to see how it feels here in the short term and see what needs to be done," said Morton, who's set to become a free agent. "The joint's fine. That's a relief. I'm not really worried about that. But moving forward here in the next week, we'll try to figure something out and see if I need to see somebody, and go from there."

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.

Houston Astros, Jose Altuve, Lance McCullers Jr.

Astros' title defense ends with ALCS loss to Sox

MLB.com

HOUSTON -- A franchise-record 103 regular-season wins and a dominating performance against the Indians in the American League Division Series seemed to have the Astros poised to head back to the World Series full of bravado and confidence.

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HOUSTON -- A franchise-record 103 regular-season wins and a dominating performance against the Indians in the American League Division Series seemed to have the Astros poised to head back to the World Series full of bravado and confidence.

:: ALCS schedule and results ::

View Full Game Coverage

But after the Astros charged into Fenway Park and stole Game 1 of the AL Championship Series, the Red Sox stopped the back-to-back tour cold in its tracks with the kind of dominating pitching and relentless offense that Houston hoped would be its ticket into the Fall Classic.

Behind six scoreless innings from an overpowering David Price and homers from J.D. Martinez and Rafael Devers off ace righty Justin Verlander, the Red Sox eliminated the defending World Series champs with a 4-1 victory in Game 5 on Thursday night at Minute Maid Park.

"They played really well, they played better than us," Astros third baseman Alex Bregman said. "It was a tough-fought series. They're a very good team and it's just disappointment."

When Tony Kemp flied out to Red Sox left fielder Andrew Benintendi for the final out, the Astros' championship reign was over after 351 days. Players lingered in the dugout while Boston celebrated on the field. Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Verlander were among the last to leave, with Correa resting his chin on his arm as the Red Sox danced.

Later in a quiet clubhouse, players shuffled about between lockers and exchanged goodbyes and hugs. A group of players sat in a circle and talked in hushed tones as reporters whizzed past them looking for the next interview.

"It's hard, it's always hard," Verlander said. "We had a good season. It didn't end up where we wanted. We lost to a great team. I said it last year, the playoffs, it's kind of flip a coin sometimes. It's whoever's playing the best baseball at the time. We were dealing with a ton of injuries as you can tell. The guys battled. We gave them a good fight. It just wasn't enough at the end. They played great baseball."

Verlander falls victim to short LF porch in defeat

Video: ALCS Gm5: Verlander on his outing, losing ALCS to Sox

The Red Sox blitzed the Astros by winning four consecutive games in the series, including all three games at Minute Maid Park. Boston outpitched Houston in each of its wins and came up with clutch hits time and time again. The malaise at home was a familiar theme for an Astros team that played much better on the road this year than it did at Minute Maid Park.

Still, the Astros followed up an offseason of celebrating the team's first World Series championship by fending off the A's and winning their second consecutive AL West title, passing the 1998 Astros for most wins in club history. They overcame adversity that included key injuries to Correa and Altuve, the 2017 AL Most Valuable Player Award winner who battled through an injured right knee in the playoffs.

McCullers, Altuve injuries may require surgery

"We feel like we set the bar exactly where it should be around here, which the World Series is the only thing that was going to make this team feel like we accomplished much," Houston manager AJ Hinch said. "But it's a pretty hollow feeling when the season abruptly ends the way that it does and the way that it did."

Video: ALCS Gm5: Hinch congratulates Red Sox on series win

It was Altuve who had a two-run homer wiped off the books early in Game 4 because of fan interference, a monumental call that perhaps changed the trajectory of the series. The Astros lost Game 4 by that two-run margin, 8-6, leaving the bases loaded at the end of the game following a diving catch by Benintendi in left field.

"I'm sad but not disappointed about anybody here because every single guy shows up all year, and I can tell you they're trying hard to do everything they could to help the team," Altuve said.

Video: ALCS Gm5: Astros talk about ALCS loss to Red Sox

That was as close as Houston would come to scoring again in the series until Marwin Gonzalez homered off Matt Barnes in the seventh inning of Game 5 to cut Boston's lead to 4-1. Price dominated from the first pitch, outdueling his former teammate, Verlander, who allowed four runs and seven hits in six innings. Verlander had tossed 26 consecutive scoreless innings in postseason elimination games before Martinez took him deep in the third inning.

Video: ALCS Gm5: Gonzalez launches a solo HR to left field

Verlander appeared to have struck out Martinez on an 0-2 slider on the pitch prior to the home run but didn't get the call. In the sixth, Devers dropped a three-run homer into the first row of the Crawford Boxes to put the Red Sox ahead, 4-0, and the Astros on the ropes.

"They have a great lineup," Verlander said. "If you don't execute, they're going to find ways to hurt you. Four runs in a nine-inning ballgame, that's not a ton. We had some success against them -- just not quite enough. Honestly, I thought it was a pretty good series. We had a chance there in the ninth inning almost every game."

Video: ALCS Gm5: Devers clubs clutch 3-run HR off Verlander

The Astros' window of contention in the AL remains wide open with many of their key personnel returning in 2019, but free agency lurks for starting pitchers Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton, Gonzalez, catcher Brian McCann and designated hitter Evan Gattis, among others.

Houston's core -- led by Altuve, Correa, Bregman and George Springer -- returns intact, along with All-Star starting pitchers Verlander and Gerrit Cole, but the Astros will have to examine some of the deficiencies the team had on offense all season that were exploited by the Red Sox in the ALCS.

Video: ALCS Gm5: Springer extends postseason hitting streak

"It's always disappointing to lose," said Springer, whose eighth-inning single extended his postseason hitting streak to 14 games. "It's a tough pill to swallow. Sometimes you have to give credit to the other guys. They got the big hit in big situations and made big plays. That's the game. You put it behind you, let it soak in for a few days and you're onto next year."

The long offseason has begun in Houston.

SOUND SMART
Yuli Gurriel's fourth-inning double gave him 13 extra-base hits for his postseason career, passing Hall of Famer Tony Perez for the most among Cuban-born players.

HE SAID IT
"To be honest with y'all, this year's team was better than last year's team, I believe. The ball's got to bounce your way in the postseason, and it didn't. It's tough. We'll learn from it and everyone in here will have a little bit of an edge to play with next year, a little bit of a chip on our shoulder knowing that we believe we should have been back-to-back champions. I know every day when I wake up and the rest of these guys wake up in the offseason, there will be one thing on their mind, and that will be working towards winning it next year." -- Bregman

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.

Houston Astros, Justin Verlander

Devers, J.D. HRs power Sox's pennant clincher

MLB.com

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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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.

View Full Game Coverage

World Series presented by YouTube TV, Game 1: Tuesday on FOX

:: ALCS schedule and results ::

"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.

Get Red Sox World Series gear

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.

Young fan unsure what to do with home run ball

Video: ALCS Gm5: Devers homers off Verlander's 98.2-mph heat

"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 Miguel 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."

Video: Must C Crushed: Martinez gets Red Sox on the board

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."

Mark Feinsand is an executive reporter for MLB.com.

Boston Red Sox, Rafael Devers, J.D. Martinez

Time change for possible NLCS Game 7

MLB.com

With the Red Sox closing out the American League Championship Series in Game 5 on Thursday with a 4-1 win over the Astros, a potential Game 7 of the National League Championship Series on Saturday will now start at 8:09 p.m. ET (FS1).

The Dodgers lead the NLCS, 3-2, and can clinch their second consecutive NL championship on Friday with a win over the Brewers in Game 6 at Miller Park.

With the Red Sox closing out the American League Championship Series in Game 5 on Thursday with a 4-1 win over the Astros, a potential Game 7 of the National League Championship Series on Saturday will now start at 8:09 p.m. ET (FS1).

The Dodgers lead the NLCS, 3-2, and can clinch their second consecutive NL championship on Friday with a win over the Brewers in Game 6 at Miller Park.

Game 1 of the World Series begins Tuesday on FOX (time TBD) at Fenway Park.

Milwaukee Brewers, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, Houston Astros

Cora: Sale 'doing well,' ready to start Game 6

Kimbrel converting saves despite struggles; Vazquez delivering clutch hits
MLB.com

HOUSTON -- Red Sox ace Chris Sale played catch on Thursday and went through everything else in his normal between-starts ritual, but he did not throw a bullpen session.

However, manager Alex Cora said that the lanky lefty remains on track to start Game 6 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday if the Astros are victorious in Game 5 on Thursday. Otherwise, Sale would be in line to pitch Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday.

View Full Game Coverage

HOUSTON -- Red Sox ace Chris Sale played catch on Thursday and went through everything else in his normal between-starts ritual, but he did not throw a bullpen session.

However, manager Alex Cora said that the lanky lefty remains on track to start Game 6 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday if the Astros are victorious in Game 5 on Thursday. Otherwise, Sale would be in line to pitch Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday.

View Full Game Coverage

:: ALCS schedule and results ::

Sale was hospitalized from Sunday into Monday with a stomach illness, but he finally seemed to be turning a corner on Thursday.

"He's doing well," said Cora. "He went through everything. He's feeling better as far as, like, eating solids, all that. So he'll be ready for his next start."

Given Sale's disrupted schedule this week, Cora said it won't be necessary to throw off a mound before a potential Game 6 at Fenway Park.

"No, no, we're good with it," said Cora. "I mean, as long as he doesn't feel weak or whatever. I saw him, actually, [earlier] in the hotel. I said, 'How you feeling?' 'Oh, much better.' And then he came here around the same time I was here, 'How you feeling?' 'Much better than earlier today.' That's good. He doesn't look as skinny as yesterday. Yesterday I was like, wow, you could see it in his face. But he's in good spirits, he feels better. He's eating better, which is great."

Show and tell?
The struggles of Boston closer Craig Kimbrel, who is 4-for-4 in save opportunities in this postseason, continues to be a topic.

Cora offered something new on Thursday, suggesting there might be a tell with Kimbrel's slider, which is preventing other teams from swinging at it.

Video: ALCS Gm4: Cora on Kimbrel's struggles, 6-out save

"There's something with his slider, I think. There has to be something going on, because there's a lot of takes," Cora said. "Quality ones, too. They keep taking it, and that started in New York. Hopefully our video system is good and we can find what's going on and we can fix it. Although there's no fastball command, the quality of the sliders are good and they're not offering. Either they have a good game plan or it's paranoia from my end."

Tough call
Believe it or not, Cora's toughest decision in his team's zany 8-6 win in Game 4 was not whether to stick with Kimbrel amid his harrowing struggles.

"Actually, it was early in the game with Rick [Porcello]. See how far I could stretch him out, because it looked bad, but was it that bad?" Cora said. "Ground-ball base hit, the [Tony] Kemp home run, which I think we went to the wrong spot. It wasn't hit hard. That was the hardest, honestly, because we needed four, at least four, to make it happen. At one point I was like, 'Oh God, are we going to be able to pull this off?' And he did. Give him credit. He did."

Vazquez providing a lift
Entering the postseason, the Red Sox weren't getting any offense from the catching position. Though Christian Vazquez (4-for-19 in these playoffs) isn't exactly setting the world on fire, he has come up with some key hits.

Vazquez homered in the clinching Game 4 of the AL Division Series at Yankee Stadium. He belted a key two-out double in Game 4 of the ALCS that set up the go-ahead two-run homer by Jackie Bradley Jr.

Video: Must C Clutch: Bradley Jr.'s go-ahead 2-run homer

"I keep telling him it's night and day compared to early in the season. I don't know what happened," said Cora. "I don't know what happened early in the season."

Boston believed that Vazquez would be the team's catcher of the future when it signed him to a three-year, $13.55 million contract in Spring Training.

"I doubt he took it for granted. Probably he was putting pressure on himself. I know a lot of people were talking about it," said Cora. "Then he gets hurt, Sandy started playing well, and if you want to play, you've gotta play better. Since his workouts in Fort Myers [Fla.], he did everything right. He's doing an outstanding job with [catching instructors] Jason [Varitek] and [Chad Epperson] and [Rich Gedman]."

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.

Boston Red Sox, Craig Kimbrel, Chris Sale, Christian Vazquez

Top 10 thrills from Sox-Astros instant classic

From dazzling defense to a HR controversy, Game 4 has it all
MLB.com

HOUSTON -- You will never watch a better baseball game, and isn't that the bottom line? Sometimes, this sport -- particularly this sport in October -- delivers something so good we need a day or two to roll it around in our hearts and minds and appreciate what we've just witnessed.

The Red Sox and Astros played this one like a Game 7 because, all things considered, it may end up being almost that important. We may look back a few days from now and see that the American League Championship Series was decided on Wednesday night.

View Full Game Coverage

HOUSTON -- You will never watch a better baseball game, and isn't that the bottom line? Sometimes, this sport -- particularly this sport in October -- delivers something so good we need a day or two to roll it around in our hearts and minds and appreciate what we've just witnessed.

The Red Sox and Astros played this one like a Game 7 because, all things considered, it may end up being almost that important. We may look back a few days from now and see that the American League Championship Series was decided on Wednesday night.

View Full Game Coverage

:: ALCS schedule and results ::

That's why at-bats were tense and long, and a line of relievers -- 10 in all -- paraded in from both bullpens. Plays that were made -- and plenty that weren't -- will gnaw through the offseason.

So hats off to the Red Sox, who twice came from behind and then held on for dear life at the end to beat the Astros, 8-6, in Game 4 of the ALCS at Minute Maid Park.

Boston leads the best-of-seven series, 3-1, and is one victory from its 14th AL pennant. Don't turn out the lights just yet. The Red Sox's pitching has been pushed to the limit -- David Price will start Game 5 on short rest tonight -- and the Astros have aces Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole lined up for Games 5 and 6.

Postseason gear: Red Sox | Astros

First, though, let's appreciate Game 4 for all its spectacular moments and captivating theater with 10 plays that helped make it an instant classic:

1. Andrew Benintendi flies through the air
This game ended the only way it could: with the Red Sox's left fielder making a sweet diving catch of an Alex Bregman liner with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. How perfect is that? Had he not come up with the ball, the Astros probably win, and the ALCS looks completely different. On an evening when bodies flew here, there and everywhere, flipping over rails, diving across foul lines, when both teams did themselves proud, Benintendi saved the best for last. If you hear a rumor that Red Sox radio broadcaster Joe Castiglione got so excited he fell out of his seat, you didn't hear it here.

Video: ALCS Gm4: Statcast™ measures Benny's game-ending catch

2. Jose Altuve's home run that wasn't
The Astros' second baseman hit a ball just over the wall in right field with a runner on base in the bottom of the first inning. Home run, right? Hey, it's complicated. As Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts leaped near the wall in an attempt to steal the home run, his glove appeared to come into contact with at least a couple of fans. Umpire Joe West believed Betts would have caught the ball if not for the fans and ruled fan interference. A replay review supported his call. The Astros did not agree. More >>

Video: Must C Curious: Altuve out on fan interference

3. Mookie Betts, Gold Glover
Don't run on Mookie. Those two Gold Gloves should be a reminder of that. Houston outfielder Tony Kemp learned that lesson when he led off the bottom of the eighth with a single to right and attempted to stretch it into a double. Betts made a laser throw to shortstop Xander Bogaerts to get Kemp. The Astros trailed by three at the time, and Betts' play probably saved the Red Sox a run.

Video: Must C Cannon: Betts nabs Kemp at second with laser

4. Steve Pearce head over heels into the dugout
No play typified the urgency of this game more than Boston's first baseman flipping over the railing and landing on his back in Houston's dugout in pursuit of a Josh Reddick foul pop in the seventh with the Red Sox leading, 7-5. He didn't get to the ball. Instead, he gave Red Sox Nation a highlight moment to appreciate. More >>

Video: ALCS Gm4: Pearce flips over into Astros' dugout

5. Jackie Bradley Jr. hits another one
The Red Sox's center fielder is making October his personal stage. The Astros had just taken a 5-4 lead in the bottom of the fifth when Bradley came to bat with a runner on base and two outs in the top of the sixth. You can guess the rest. His two-run home run gave him nine RBIs in the ALCS and provided Boston a lead it never relinquished. More >>

Video: Bradley delivers clutch hits in Games 2-4 of ALCS

6. Reddick keeps the Astros in the game
We had so many spectacular defensive plays in this one that they started to feel routine. Reddick made a huge one with a diving grab of a Betts liner in the top of the ninth inning with the bases loaded. It cost the Red Sox at least one run and kept the Astros within striking distance for the bottom of the inning.

Video: ALCS Gm4: Reddick makes a tremendous diving catch

7. Kemp and a different kind of home run
We love home runs that are these big booming shots that rattle the glass in windows and disappear into the night air. That's not the kind the Astros' left fielder hit in the bottom of the fourth inning. He looped a Rick Porcello pitch just over the wall and inside the right-field foul pole. Statcast™ clocked its exit velocity at 89.7 mph, the softest home run in the postseason since the technology arrived in 2015. Still counted. More >>

Video: ALCS Gm4: Kemp hits 89.7-mph HR down right-field line

8. Craig Kimbrel's grit
Boston's closer got the final six outs to do something he'd never done in his nine-year Major League career. That would be a save of more than four outs. Never mind that he has allowed a run in four straight appearances or that looks like someone who could use a couple of days to catch his breath. He helped get the Red Sox to the threshold of a dream.

Video: ALCS Gm4: Kimbrel seals win with Benintendi's help

9. Josh James and 102 mph
The former 34th-round Draft choice of the Astros burst onto the scene late in the season after blowing away hitters in the Minor Leagues. When Houston manager AJ Hinch called upon him in the top of the third inning, his first three pitches were 100.9 mph, 101.2 mph and 102.4 mph. Does that qualify as electric stuff? He's the first Astros pitcher to hit 102 mph in the pitch tracking era (2008-present). More >>

Video: ALCS Gm4: James K's Devers on 5 100-plus-mph pitches

10. Altuve is doing that Willis Reed thing
Altuve refuses to give in to a knee injury that has left him with a pronounced limp and forced Hinch to use him as a DH. Yet he still continues to hit and hustle. Altuve legged out a third-inning double and hit the second-base bag so hard he needed a few minutes to walk off the pain and remain in the game. He hustled home on a Reddick single moments later.

Video: ALCS Gm4: Altuve checked by trainer after long double

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.

Boston Red Sox, Houston Astros, Jose Altuve, Andrew Benintendi, Mookie Betts, Josh James, Jackie Bradley Jr., Tony Kemp, Craig Kimbrel, Steve Pearce, Josh Reddick