The Red Sox were just a few innings away from potentially jumping out to a commanding three-games-to-one-lead over the Astros in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series on Tuesday night … until they weren’t.
After holding on to a 2-1 lead for most of the night, Boston saw things unravel in the eighth inning of what would later go down as a 9-2 loss to Houston at Fenway Park, which means this best-of-seven ALCS is now tied at two games apiece.
Nick Pivetta, making his first start and third overall appearance of the postseason for the Sox, was solid in his championship series debut. The right-hander limited the Astros to just one run while scattering two hits and two walks to go along with three strikeouts over five impressive innings of work.
The lone run Pivetta surrendered to Houston came right away in the top half of the first, when he served up a two-out solo shot over the Green Monster to Alex Bregman that gave the Astros an early 1-0 lead.
Despite that miscue, the Red Sox lineup picked up their starter right away in the bottom half of the frame.
Matched up against Astros veteran right-hander Zack Greinke to begin things on Tuesday, Rafael Devers drew a five-pitch walk with two outs to set the stage for Xander Bogaerts.
After not collecting an RBI in Monday’s 12-3 thumping of Houston, Bogaerts unloaded on a 1-0, 84 mph slider from Greinke and deposited 413 feet into the Boston night and onto Lansdowne Street.
Bogaerts’ third homer of the postseason — a sizzling two-run blast that left his bat at 107.9 mph — allowed the Sox to snatch their first lead of the evening at 2-1.
Given that fresh one-run advantage to work with, Pivetta took full advantage by stringing together four scoreless frames. He had to escape a bit of a jam he created for himself in the second, but followed by sitting down nine of the final 10 batters he faced leading into the middle of the fifth.
Even after the Astros lineup flipped over for a third time in that fifth inning, Pivetta responded by getting the dangerous Jose Altuve to ground out to third base to retire the side and end his night on a positive note.
Finishing with a final pitch count of just of 65 (36 strikes), the 28-year-old hurler topped out at 96.5 mph with his four-seam fastball — a pitch he turned to 38 times to complement both his slider and knuckle curveball.
In relief of Pivetta, left-hander Josh Taylor got the first call from Red Sox manager Alex Cora out of the Boston bullpen, and he recorded the first two outs of the sixth before yielding a two-out single to Yordan Alvarez.
Adam Ottavino then came on for Taylor to finish the inning, and the veteran reliever did just that by emphatically punching out Carlos Correa on a 96 mph sinker on the outer half of the plate.
From there, Garrett Whitlock put up a zero in the seventh, but ran into some trouble an inning later.
To that point in the contest, the Boston bats had been held in check by Houston pitching. Despite knocking Greinke out after just 1 1/3 innings, the Sox were stymied by the Astros bullpen, though they certainly had their fair share of scoring opportunities.
In the bottom of the second, for instance, the Red Sox had runners at first and second with one out, but neither Enrique Hernandez or Devers were able to come through and instead went down quietly.
Two innings later, Chritian Arroyo ripped a one-out triple off Cristian Javier, but was stranded there after both Kyle Schwarber and Hernandez were retired by the Astros reliever.
With one out in the bottom of the fifth, Bogaerts laced a 106.9 mph double off Javier. He, too, was left there when Alex Verdugo and J.D. Martinez were sat down on a fly out and swinging strikeout, respectively.
Fast forward to the top half of the eighth, and the Astros promptly capitalized on the fact that the Red Sox had gone 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position while leaving eight runners on base as a team up until then.
That being the case because on the very first pitch he saw from Whitlock, Altuve led off the eighth by crushing a game-tying solo home run 400 feet off the National Car Rental sign hovering above the Green Monster.
Altuve’s late-game heroics knotted things up at two runs apiece, and it also paved the way for Nathan Eovaldi to attempt to keep it that way in the ninth.
Having just started Game 2 of this series on Saturday, Eovaldi immediately gave up a leadoff double to Correa that was just out of the reach of Hunter Renfroe in right field. He then struck out Kyle Tucker and intentionally walked Yuli Gurriel to face the pinch-hitting Aledmys Diaz.
Diaz, in turn, fanned on five pitches, bringing Eovaldi to within one out of escaping a sticky situation. Jason Castro, however, had different plans.
Moments after it appeared as though Eovaldi had punched out Castro on a 1-2, 80 mph curveball on the inner half of the plate that was instead called a ball by home plate umpire Laz Diaz, the Astros backstop responded by drilling a go-ahead, run-scoring single through the right side of the infield.
Castro plated Correa on his clutch hit to make it a 3-2 game in favor of Houston, but the Astros were not done there. Not with Altuve drawing a walk that prompted Cora to go get Eovaldi.
With two outs and the bases full of Astros, Michael Brantley greeted the newly-inserted Martin Perez by drilling a three-run, bases-clearing double to the gap in right-center field that increased his side’s advantage to four runs at 6-2.
Perez’s struggles did not end there, as the lefty surrendered three more runs on three more hits before the top of the ninth inning mercifully came to a close with the Astros up, 9-2.
In total, Eovaldi was charged for four runs — all of which were earned — on two hits, two walks, and two strikeouts in 2/3 of an inning. He is slated to start Game 6 of this series in Houston on Friday.
Perez, on the other hand, was charged with three runs (two earned) in a third of an inning.
The Sox somewhat threatened in their half of the ninth, but ultimately went down quietly against Astros closer Ryan Pressly to secure a heart-breaking 9-2 defeat in which they went 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position and left 11 runners on base as a team.
With the loss, the Red Sox have given home-field advantage back to the Astros, as they ensure that they will be heading back to Houston later this week since this ALCS is now tied up at 2-2 and will at least be six games in length.
Next up: Sale vs. Valdez to start off Game 5
The Red Sox will turn to left-hander Chris Sale to start Game 5 at Fenway Park on Wednesday evening, while the Astros will roll with fellow southpaw Framber Valdez.
First pitch from Fenway Park on Wednesday is scheduled for 5:08 p.m. eastern time on FS1.
(Picture of Nathan Eovaldi: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)