On doorstep of WS, Sox 4-0 on road in playoffs
HOUSTON -- They've become the kings of the road and masters of the big hit(s) in this postseason, and that formula has moved the Red Sox within one win of the World Series.
Manager Alex Cora's team rode Jackie Bradley Jr.'s latest game-turning blast and a brilliant, game-ending snag by Andrew Benintendi to an 8-6 victory in a pulsating Game 4 on Wednesday that gave the Red Sox a 3-1 lead on the Astros in the best-of-seven American League Championship Series.
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The Sox are 4-0 on the road in this postseason and could punch their ticket to the Fall Classic as early as Thursday's Game 5, though it will be anything but easy with Astros ace Justin Verlander staring them down at Minute Maid Park. After winning a franchise record 108 games in the regular season, Boston is 6-2 in the postseason.
"We all know it's special," said Bradley. "We're playing our best ball against some of the best teams, one the best teams in the country. So we're trying to do whatever we can to win a ballgame, and we're one more [win] away, but we still feel like we got a long way to go."
A postseason classic ended with Benintendi's diving catch on a sinking liner by Alex Bregman to deny the Astros, who had the bases loaded. It capped a shaky six-out save by Craig Kimbrel, who came in with an 8-5 lead to start the eighth inning and recorded the first six-out save of his career -- but not without allowing a run on two hits and three walks, striking out one.
"This time of year, you leave it all out there," said Kimbrel. "I was giving it everything I had. Obviously it wasn't my best, but this is the playoffs. It's 27 outs, you have to get the last one. I've made it a little exciting the last couple of games. I'm glad we were able to pull out the win."
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In the history of best-of-seven series with the 2-3-2 format, teams taking a 3-1 lead on the road have gone on to take the series 37 of 44 times (84 percent). But nobody on the Red Sox has a better understanding of how dangerous the Astros are than Cora, who was their bench coach last year when they won the World Series.
"We know we're up 3-1. But they're a good team," said Cora. "They came back last year [down 3-2 in the ALCS] against the Yankees. They lost Game 6 of the World Series in Dodger Stadium and they won Game 7.
"It's not over. We know that. But to have a chance to finish tomorrow, that's always good. We're just going to show up tomorrow, get the information, play hard and see what happens."
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To get to this enviable position, Bradley came through with his third huge hit in as many games. A day after hitting a grand slam, the No. 9 hitter roped a towering, two-run homer to right with two outs in the sixth to turn a 5-4 deficit into a 6-5 lead.
"It was a big momentum shift," said Bradley. "They took the lead and to be able to take it back, I felt the energy from my teammates. It was a big moment for us. We never feel like enough runs is going to be enough. We want to continue to put it on, because they're a very good ball team."
Bradley attacked the first pitch he saw from reliever Josh James and mauled it a Statcast™-projected 385 feet at an exit velocity of 104.2 mph. That gave Bradley nine RBIs in the series, making him the first player to have that many in an LCS since 2011.
"I'm very proud of him, what he's done in the second part of the season and what he's done tonight and in this series," said Cora. "It's amazing. He keeps working on his craft, his swing. He understands now, he's staying through the ball, hitting the ball in the air. There's no more hitting line drives into the shift. Now he hits the ball in the air."
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The bullpen endured some stress against the hard-charging Astros but ultimately got the job done. Kimbrel's struggles in this postseason continued, however, as he gave up a run in his fourth consecutive outing for the first time in his career.
"He's our guy," said Cora. "And it was [Tony] Kemp and the top of the lineup. We've been talking about it the whole season. I know people were really anxious, 162 games and the first series, but we knew all along that something like this was going to come up, and we trust our guy. He threw well. I know it didn't look pretty, but we got 27 outs and now we move on."
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For the third straight game, the Red Sox took a 2-0 lead in the first inning. Astros starter Charlie Morton got himself into trouble by hitting leadoff man Mookie Betts with a pitch and walking J.D. Martinez. With two outs, Rafael Devers laced a two-run single to left. Boston is 80-15 this season when it scores first, including 6-0 in the postseason.
"Like I said, we're not afraid of playing on the road. We hit first. Hopefully we can get on the board first, keep the pressure on," said Benintendi.
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This time, the early lead didn't stand up, but the Red Sox still ended up on top.
Even in defeat, the Astros could appreciate the type of spectacle they participated in.
"Two tremendous teams going at it. It was well-played baseball," said Astros shortstop Carlos Correa. "They came up with the win. I had some flashbacks of Game 5 of the World Series last year. That's the type of the game it was. Nobody gave up. We didn't win, but it was a great game."
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
In the bottom of the first, there was major controversy when Jose Altuve thought he had a two-run, game-tying homer to right after Betts' robbery attempt appeared to come up short. But as Betts leaped above the wall to make the play, a spectator made contact with his glove, leading to a fan interference call by right-field umpire Joe West. After a crew-chief review of three minutes, the call stood, displeasing Altuve and the packed house at Minute Maid Park.
"I don't think I was surprised because I knew I was going to catch it," said Betts. "I've never seen or been part of a play like that. So I guess, yeah, you could say I was kind of surprised he made the out call. And as I watched the video, it's like he got it right, because I feel like it was going in my glove for sure."
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MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Mookie nabs Kemp with great throw: With the Astros down, 8-5, in the eighth, Kemp belted one down the line in right and decided to test the arm of Betts, his friend and fellow Nashville native. That proved to be a costly decision. Betts came out firing and nailed Kemp at second, giving Kimbrel a precious first out of the inning.
"That's probably my top, in the top three of my throws in my career for sure," said Betts. "I didn't even see him going to second. I kind of knew off the bat he was going to go to second. It was one of those plays that I practiced so many times in Spring Training and it just came in the game."
Barnes' nasty hook: Kimbrel's struggles aside, the Red Sox continue to get solid performances from their bullpen. With Boston clinging to a 7-5 lead in the seventh, the Astros had runners at second and third with two outs after Correa's double off Ryan Brasier. Out of the bullpen came Matt Barnes, who struck out pinch-hitter Tyler White to end the inning, finishing the at-bat with two nasty curveballs that White didn't offer at.
Bradley is two RBIs shy of tying the legendary David Ortiz's franchise record for most RBIs in an ALCS. Big Papi's 11 RBIs came in 2004 against the Yankees, when he was named ALCS MVP.
HE SAID IT
"It was back and forth the whole game. Every time, I think, they scored, we scored the next inning. ... It was a fun game to be a part of, definitely one of my favorite games we've played. Good win." -- Benintendi