Momentum can be a fickle thing, particularly when it comes to postseason baseball.
Two days ago, it appeared as though the Red Sox had all the momentum after taking a two-games-to-one lead over the Astros in the American League Championship Series.
Less than 48 hours later, it is the Astros who now have all the momentum after they took their second straight game from the Sox at Fenway Park on Wednesday night.
Boston fell to Houston by a final score of 9-1 in Game 5, which puts them in a three-games-to-two hole as this ALCS heads back to Houston.
Playing at Fenway Park for possibly the last time this year, the Red Sox got what they needed out of Chris Sale, though the left-hander’s final line may not reflect that.
Sale, making his third start of the postseason, allowed four runs — only two of which were earned — on three hits and two walks to go along with seven strikeouts over 5 1/3 innings of work.
After retiring the side in order to begin his day, Sale kicked off the top half of the second by serving up a towering solo shot to Yordan Alvarez on a first-pitch 94 mph heater that wasn’t in the strike zone.
Still, the Astros went up 1-0 on Alvarez’s home run, but Sale did not let that put a damper on things for him, as he rebounded and sat down the next seven batters he faced in order.
With one out in the fourth inning of what was still a one-run contest that favored Houston, Sale issued an eight-pitch walk to Alex Bregman that was followed by another hard-hit single from Alvarez that put runners at the corners.
Again, Sale did not back down and instead fanned Carlos Correa on three straight strikes before doing the very same to Kyle Tucker on four pitches to escape the jam.
Upon getting Tucker to fan on a 98.5 mph four-seam fastball — his fastest pitch of the night — that was up and out of the zone, an energetic Sale pumped his left fist, put his glove to his face, and let out a fiery scream while heading back to his dugout.
Sale’s evening was not done yet, however, as the lefty came back out for the fifth and put up another zero. At that point, Sale had gone through the dangerous Astros lineup twice and managed to avoid any serious damage aside from the Alvarez home run.
With his pitch count rising and Houston’s batting order flipping back over, Sale took the mound for the sixth and promptly issued a leadoff walk to Jose Altuve.
Michael Brantley then made matters worse when he reached base safely on a missed catch error committed by Kyle Schwarber at first base, which allowed Altuve to advance all the way up to third.
A groundout off the bat of Bregman moved Brantley up to second and kept the rally alive for Alvarez, who the Red Sox decided to pitch to despite first base being open.
Alvarez made Boston pay dearly for that mistake, as he proceeded to hit Sale hard yet again when he laced a two-run double down the left field line that plated both Altuve and Brantley.
Suddenly down 3-0, Sox manager Alex Cora quickly turned to his bullpen, giving Sale the hook in favor of Ryan Brasier. Brasier, in turn, yielded a two-out single to Tucker that put runners at the corners before Yuli Gurriel drove in another on an RBI double down the right field line.
Jose Siri made sure to keep it going by blooping a softly-hit two-run single to shallow right field that gave the Astros a commanding 6-0 lead before the sixth inning mercifully came to an end.
By the time the third out of the sixth was recorded, the book was officially closed on Sale’s outing while Brasier himself was charged with two earned runs in two-thirds of an inning.
In the top of the seventh, Hansel Robles took over for Brasier, but was unable to get through the inning. The right-handed reliever yielded a leadoff single to Altuve and allowed the speedy second baseman to advance an additional 90 feet on a failed pickoff attempt.
Altuve then scored all the way from second on an RBI single off the bat of Brantley before Bregman grounded into a 6-4-3 double play that was followed by a pitching change that saw Darwinzon Hernandez replace Robles.
Hernandez did what he was called upon to do by punching out Alvarez on six pitches to set the Red Sox up in the bottom half of the frame.
To that point in the night, the Sox lineup had been held in check by Astros starter Framber Valdez in the process of squandering several scoring opportunities.
After going 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position in Tuesday’s Game 4 loss to Houston, Boston had been no-hit by Valdez through four innings on Wednesday before Rafael Devers led off the bottom of the fifth with a sharply-hit single.
J.D. Martinez followed by taking a curveball off the knee that put runners at first and second for Hunter Renfroe, whose postseason struggles continued to drag on when he grounded into a soul-crushing 6-4-3 double play that ultimately stranded Martinez at third.
An inning later, the Sox had the chance to respond to the Astros’ five-run sixth when Christian Vazquez ripped a one-out double off Valdez. He, like Martinez, was left in scoring position after both Enrique Hernandez and Schwarber were sat down by the opposing left-hander.
This takes us to the aforementioned bottom half of the seventh. Shortly after Houston tacked on another run to their lead, Devers got that one run back immediately.
With one out and the bases empty, Devers stayed hot by unloading on a 1-0, 94 mph sinker on the inner half of the plate from Valdez and wrapped it 402 feet around Pesky’s Pole in right field.
Devers’ fifth homer of the postseason left the young slugger’s bat at a scorching 110.7 mph. It also trimmed Boston’s defecit down to six runs at 7-1.
Another walk drawn by Martinez kept the inning alive momentarily, but Renfroe followed by grounding into another twin killing that extinguished the threat.
In the eighth, after Hernandez and Hirokazu Sawamura somehow combined to toss a scoreless frame of relief, Valdez capped off his stellar day for Houston in the bottom half by sitting down the final three batters he faced in order.
Martin Perez then surrendered two additional runs to the Astros to begin the ninth, while Ryne Stanek retired the side in order to close this one out.
All in all, the Boston bats went 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position and left two runners on base as a team in what will go down as a lopsided 9-1 defeat.
With this loss, which is their second straight, the Red Sox’ backs are now against the wall as they trail this best-of-seven ALCS, 3-2.
Next up: Eovaldi on top for Game 6 in Houston
The Red Sox will have Thursday off as they board a flight to Houston for the final leg of this championship series at Minute Maid Park.
On the brink of elimination, it will be right-hander Nathan Eovaldi getting the ball for Boston in Game 6 on Friday night. Houston, on the other hand, will turn to fellow righty Luis Garcia in what will be a rematch of Game 2 from last Sunday.
First pitch from Minute Maid Park on Friday is scheduled for 8:08 p.m. eastern time on FS1.
(Picture of J.D. Martinez and Jose Altuve: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)