On a cold 10-degree night in Boston, two of the hottest teams in baseball matched up for game 1 of the 2018 ALCS. The 106-win Boston Red Sox, fresh off a convincing series victory against the heavy hitting New York Yankees, sent ace Chris Sale out to the mound to take on the Houston Astros pitching wizard Justin Verlander.
The game began how one would imagine it to, with two superstar pitchers on the bump; as the first innings passed with no runs scored for either side. While both starters remained in the game, it turned out to be the pitchers duel that everyone had anticipated, with Sale allowing just 1 hit through 4 innings pitched, and JV allowing just 2 hits over 6. The trouble tonight was all the walks that were allowed. Sale managed to walk 4 batters over his 4 innings, which is highly uncharacteristic for him. In the 2nd inning, he walked 2 Astros and hit another with a pitch, loading the bases for one of last season's playoff heroes, George Springer. Springer laced a single past 3rd base, scoring both Carlos Correa and Martin Maldonado, making the score 2-0 Astros ,despite this being the only hit Sale would surrender.
Verlander was solid through his first 4 innings, but hit a bit of a speedbump in the 5th, following a leadoff single by Steve Pearce, followed by 3 consecutive walks. The 3rd walk scored Pearce, getting the Sox on the board for the first time in the game. Alex Bregman made a strong play on the next batter, Mookie Betts, when he fielded a sharp ground ball and threw home to get the lead runner out. Verlander then threw a wild pitch, scoring Jackie Bradley Jr.. Verlander struck out Andrew Benintendi to get out of the jam, and Red Sox first year manager Alex Cora was ejected for arguing the strike three call.
Bregman lead off the Astros half of the 6th with a walk, 1 of his 3 on the night, and would eventually score from 2nd base on a broken-bat base hit from shortstop Carlos Correa.
The Red Sox could not muster up any offence after the 5th, despite Verlander coming out of the game after the 6th. Lance McMullers Jr. who is one of my favourite starters to listen to about the art of pitching, and one of the more fun guys to watch, came out of the pen, along with Ryan Pressly and Colin McHugh, all of which threw 1 inning, in order to shut the door on the Red Sox.
Though Bregman's run would end up being the winning run, the Astros kept poking away and blew the game open in the top of the 9th, when Josh Reddick hit a solo shot to centre off of newly-famous reliever + homerun hitter Brandon Workman. Workman walked the next 2 batters, the Red Sox kryptonite all night, which brought Yuli Gurriel to the dish. Gurriel laced a 3 run shot just inside the pesky pole in right field, bringing the score to 7-2.
The score would end 7-2 in favour of Houston, largely due to the 10 walks from the Red Sox pitching staff and some clutch hitting from the Astros. Game 2 goes tonight at 7pm, with Gerrit Cole taking on David Price.
Alex Bregman did it with glove all night, making several nice plays at the hot corner. Although his bat wasn't on full display, he still reached base in 4 out of 5 plate appearances, drawing 3 walks and a hit by pitch. He stole 2nd base, scored from 2nd on a single, and was the winning run when all was said and done. I still expect him to have a huge ALCS, and will be a key to success for Houston.
The Astros plethora of arms was evident tonight, as the ability to roll out a stud like Lance McCullers Jr after throwing JV for 6 innings, and being able to shut the door without having to call on Osuna or Rondon or Smith or Peacock etc, sets them up nicely moving forward in case of a short outing from a starter.
Red Sox bats were not awake tonight, but this doesn't mean we should count them out. A week ago they put 16 runs against a team with one of the best bullpens in the league, and have some serious power threats.
Home field advantage is key, and with the Astros taking game 1 of the Red Sox field, it puts them in a tough spot. If the Sox lose again, they will be heading to Houston down 2-0, which is never the place you want to be when heading on the road.
A quiet game from Altuve, which is good news for Sox fans. If they can neutralize his ability to get on base, they take several RBI opportunities away from Gurriel, White, Correa, and the other middle of the lineup bats that the Astros have.