BOSTON -- The celebration on the middle of the diamond of rainy Fenway Park on Monday afternoon was partly an exercise in tension release for the Astros.
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The Astros had battled the Red Sox for more than four hours of drama-filled October baseball before second baseman Jose Altuvefielded a grounder off the bat of Dustin Pedroia and threw it to first base for the final out of a 5-4 win that locked up Game 4 of the American League Division Series presented by Doosan.
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The Astros, who won the series, 3-1, danced and shouted after advancing to their first American League Championship Series presented by Camping World, beginning Friday against the Yankees, 5-2 winners Wednesday night over the Indians, while the Red Sox's season came to an end.
"It's pretty agonizing during the game, and we're pretty exhausted," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "But what an emotional day for us."
Backed by a game-tying homer by Alex Bregman off Chris Sale to lead off the eighth and a two-out RBI single later in the inning by Josh Reddick off closer Craig Kimbrel, the Astros won their first postseason series since the 2005 National League Championship Series.
"Our dugout was pretty quiet for most of the game with Sale in there," Reddick said. "For [Bregman] to pick us up right there, especially late, we knew they were riding him to the ninth until they had to get to Kimbrel. For him to come up big for us -- having big at-bats at home against him helped a lot -- and we couldn't overlook the Carlos Beltran [RBI] double [in the ninth], and that ends up being the deciding factor in the game."
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Andrew Benintendi gave the Red Sox hope for a Game 5 when he greeted Astros ace Justin Verlander -- who was used in relief in this one like Sale -- with a two-run homer to right to make it 3-2 Boston in the fifth. But it was Verlander's only damaging pitch, and he went on to get the win in his first career relief appearance.
"They asked me when I got there -- after they found out we were going to start the game -- they asked me if I would be good to pitch if we were in a delayed situation," Verlander said. "I said, 'Yeah,' When they found out we weren't in a delay anymore, they knew I was good and they said, 'Go down there and be ready for some at-bats. Can you get Benintendi?' I said 'Sure.' That didn't work out so well, but the rest of it did."
Sale, who came on to start the fourth with Boston down by a run at 2-1, had cruised through his first four innings, allowing two hits and no runs. He was at 65 pitches when he came back out for the eighth.
Bregman changed the game when he belted Sale's 2-1 changeup over the Green Monster to open the inning.
"Changeup," said Sale. "I tried to get him out in front. Didn't work."
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With a runner on and two outs, George Springer worked Kimbrel for a walk. Reddick, who started his career with the Red Sox, put the Astros in front when he got enough of a 99.3-mph heater and put it into left for the RBI single.
"He's such a battler up there," Hinch said. "He knows the strike zone very well. He'll take a single. Nowadays when guys are trying to put up OPS, they're trying to hit homers, they're trying to drive the ball, it's uncommon to have a guy understand the game and just take a single and have a big moment."
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The Astros added an insurance run against Kimbrel in the ninth, and that wound up being big when Red Sox rookie Rafael Devers led off the bottom of the ninth with an inside-the-park homer against closer Ken Giles that took a wild carom off the wall in left-center and just kept rolling.
"But even right down to the end, obviously with Raffy's inside-the-park home run, there was still energy, still life that you could feel," said Red Sox manager John Farrell.
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Just as in every other game of the series, the Astros scored in the first inning to take the lead. This time, it was a trade-off the Red Sox didn't mind taking because the run came on a 1-4-6-3 double play that starter Rick Porcello induced off the bat of the dangerous Altuve.
Xander Bogaerts erased the deficit with one swing in the bottom of first, when he smashed a solo homer to end his 0-for-14 drought in the series.
Porcello (three innings, five hits, two runs) walked the tight rope again in the second, allowing an RBI single to Springer and loading the bases with two outs. But Porcello got one of the biggest outs of the early innings, striking out Carlos Correa and keeping it a 2-1 game.
In the bottom of the second, Farrell was ejected for arguing a called third strike on Pedroia. Bench coach Gary DiSarcina managed the rest of the game.
Astros starter Charlie Morton gave up seven hits and two runs over 4 1/3 innings.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Justin time: Hinch raised some eyebrows when he summoned Verlander from the bullpen in the fifth inning for the first relief appearance of his career. Benintendi stunned Verlander with a go-ahead home to right field, but Verlander didn't allow another hit and wound up throwing 2 2/3 innings to get the ball to closer Giles in the eighth. Verlander didn't strike out a batter for only the fifth time in his career.
"I think it was always in the back of our head that we would be able to utilize him if we needed to," Hinch said. "Not knowing the weather and the score of the game -- those are things that are the unknown going into today's game -- I told him this morning if we had the lead and there was a delay in the game, then I wasn't going to be afraid to use him." More >
Bregman not afraid of monsters: Bregman was 3-for-16 in the series when he stepped to the plate to lead off the eighth inning against Sale, who he took deep in Game 1 on Thursday in Houston. What followed was the biggest hit of Bregman's career, a towering home run to left field that sailed over the Green Monster to stun the hushed Fenway Park crowd and tie the game, setting the stage for the Astros to go ahead later in the inning.
"I saw a changeup out of the hand and got anxious and popped it up [in the sixth inning]," Bregman said. "I just tried to stay on the ball a little bit better, let it get a little deeper and was fortunate enough to tie this game up for the team." More >
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"Extremely proud for the way we went out and worked, the way we were a very competitive team throughout. We won a lot of baseball games. You win the division, that's, I think, a major accomplishment. We didn't meet all of our goals -- that's obvious by the ending here today. But we have seen some really good young players continue to develop." -- Farrell More >
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The Astros hit .333 (49-for-147) in the series -- the team's highest mark ever in a playoff series.
Astros: The Astros advance to their first ALCS, with Game 1 set for Friday at home against the Yankees.