HOUSTON -- This game was a reminder of why the Red Sox wanted Dave Dombrowski running their baseball operations department in the first place. Guy spends 40 years in the business, he's going to pick up a few things along the way.
That was one of the storylines as the Red Sox defeated the Astros, 8-2, in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series on Tuesday at Minute Maid Park to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. To put it another way, Boston, the team that won 108 times in the regular season, is two victories from its 14th AL championship.
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Only the Red Sox aren't talking about that right now. Too many miles to go. Too much can happen. As Boston outfielder J.D. Martinez said, "These two teams are very comparable and very similar. It's going to be a battle until the last game, the last out."
Back to Dombrowski. At the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, he was gently criticized -- gently is how you criticize an executive when his team is in the middle of a historically good season -- for the things he did not do to improve the Red Sox.
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Dombrowski hadn't upgraded Boston's bullpen, which was the area of greatest concern in New England. He talked to lots of teams about relievers, but he never got a trade he was comfortable with.
Instead, Dombrowski did something that experience -- again, those 40 years of building winning teams in Montreal and Miami and Detroit -- taught him to do. He got better in other areas, places that some of us did not think the Red Sox needed improvement. In the end, Dombrowski believed it was his job to make Boston better in whatever way he could. Some executives focus on one or two needs at the exclusion of everything else.
Dombrowski acquired right-handed pitcher Nathan Eovaldi from the Rays, and did he really need pitching with Chris Sale, Rick Porcello and David Price in his rotation? He got first baseman Steve Pearce from the Blue Jays even as his team was scoring runs in bunches. And Dombrowski dealt with the Angels for second baseman Ian Kinsler when his No. 1 guy, Brock Holt, was already having another solid season.
Dombrowski felt those three players fit nicely on this team, and he believed that more strength in one area would contribute to more strength in another.
"There's trades that get all the headlines, and there's others that people don't talk about," Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. "And I do feel that our trades were great baseball trades. I think we threw you guys a breaking ball. Instead of going one way, we went the other way. But there was a reason. And we feel that, stuff-wise, [Eovaldi] was probably the best out there."
On Tuesday, Eovaldi went to the mound and allowed the Astros two earned runs in six solid innings. If you're counting, that's two postseason starts and two solid performances for him. Eovaldi's other one was allowing the Yankees one run in seven innings in Game 3 of the AL Division Series.
And there was Pearce. In the top of the sixth inning, moments after Houston had rallied for a 2-2 tie, he tagged Astros reliever Joe Smith for a moonshot home run to left that gave the Red Sox a lead they never surrendered.
"For Pearce to step up like he did in the sixth inning and answer right back, that says a lot about our team," Eovaldi said.
Later, after the Red Sox had piled on five more insurance runs in the top of the eighth inning and coasted to victory, Dombrowski stood in a hallway inside Boston's clubhouse and discussed how things had worked out as well as he could have hoped.
"There's no question we felt we were a better ballclub," he said. "We knew we had picked up some good players. You can always get better. You can also add more people."
All around him, the Red Sox were heaping praise on the additions, not just on their production, but on how they'd fit nicely into the fabric of the club.
"Huge, huge, huge," Martinez said of the Pearce acquisition. "For him to step in the way he has, he's been outstanding. Since Mitch [Moreland] got injured, he's doing a great job, both defensively at first and at the plate."
Also, Dombrowski did make his bullpen better in a roundabout sort of way.
"In making the deal, we didn't know if Eovaldi would start or go in the bullpen," he said. "We just knew he would give us an extra arm. As it turned out, he has pitched so well we were able to put Eduardo Rodriguez in the bullpen, and that made us better."
Now the Red Sox have Porcello and Sale lined up to pitch Games 4 and 5, and all things considered, they couldn't be in a much better position.
"This has been a calm, confident team all year," Martinez said. "I think we just go out and handle our business."