The Red Sox had previously been undefeated (6-0) when playing in Game 6 of an American League Championship Series. That is no longer the case after what the Astros did to them on Friday night.
Boston fell to Houston by a final score of 5-0 at Minute Maid Park, ending their season after they dropped three straight to lose this best-of-seven ALCS four-games-to-two.
Nathan Eovaldi, three days after making an appearance as a reliever in Game 4, made his fourth and final start of the postseason for the Sox while going up against his hometown team.
Considering he was working on just two days rest, Eovaldi provided Boston with yet another solid outing as a starter. The veteran right-hander allowed just one run on five hits and one walk to go along with four strikeouts over 4 1/3 innings of work.
The lone run the Astros got off Eovaldi came right away in their half of the first following a two-out double off the bat of Alex Bregman. A seemingly red-hot Yordan Alvarez followed by lifting a 409-foot fly ball to right-center field that Enrique Hernandez was unable to come up with cleanly.
Instead, the ball hit the heel of Hernandez’s glove and rolled away, allowing Bregman to score all the way from first base since there were already two outs in the inning.
That early 1-0 lead later proved to be all the Astros would need, as they got quite the starting pitching performance themselves from rookie right-hander Luis Garcia.
Eovaldi, on the other hand, got himself in and out of trouble in the bottom of the fourth. The righty began the frame by issuing a leadoff single to Bregman that was followed by a line-drive double from Alvarez that put runners at second and third with no outs.
On the heels of a brief mound visit from pitching coach Dave Bush, Eovaldi proceeded to fan both Carlos Correa and Kyle Tucker for the first two outs of the inning before intentionally walking Yuli Gurriel.
While that may have loaded the bases for Houston, Eovaldi responded by punching out the next batter he faced in Chas McCormick to escape the jam and keep his side’s one-run deficit intact.
Alas, less than a week removed from knocking Garcia out of Game 2 in Houston after just one-plus inning, the Red Sox lineup was yet again held in check by another Astros starter on Friday.
After squandering an early scoring opportunity, it took until the top half of the sixth for the Sox to record their first hit off Garcia, which turned out to be a 394-foot two-out triple to left field off the bat of Hernandez.
Following an Astros pitching change that saw Phil Maton take over for Garcia, Hernandez was stranded at third when Rafael Devers popped out to the infield on a first-pitch fastball at the top of the strike zone.
In the bottom of the sixth, after Eovaldi and Josh Taylor combined to toss a scoreless frame the inning prior, the Astros struck against the left-hander when he could not get the left-handed hitting Alvarez out and instead yielded a leadoff triple to him.
Tanner Houck was then called upon by Red Sox manager Alex Cora to take over for Taylor, but he allowed the runner he had inherited to score after plunking Correa on the elbow and inducing a run-scoring double play off the bat of Tucker.
On Tucker’s grounder, which was hit towards first base at 83.5 mph, Kyle Schwarber corralled the ball, tagged out Correa, got the force out at first, then gunned it towards Christian Vazquez at home plate in hopes of getting Alvarez.
Alvarez, however, must have gotten a good read of the ball off Tucker’s bat, as he was able to beat Schwarber’s throw and score from third to make it a 2-0 game in favor of the Astros.
A half-inning later, with Kendall Graveman on the mound for Houston in the seventh, J.D. Martinez reached base via a one-out walk and promptly moved up to third on a hard-hit single courtesy of Alex Verdugo.
Representing the potential go-ahead run in that spot, Travis Shaw — who was pinch-hitting for Christian Arroyo — struck out swinging on a 3-2, 96 mph heater from Graveman.
At the same time, Verdugo attempted to steal second base. He was instead thrown out there by Astros backstop Martin Maldonado, thus completing the soul-crushing inning-ending double play.
Houck continued to pitch through the seventh and into the eighth after the Sox went down in order to Ryne Stanek in the top half of the inning. In the bottom half, though, the righty gave up a pair of singles to Michael Brantley and Alvarez in the process of recording the first out.
That sequence resulted in Houck getting the hook in favor of Adam Ottavino, who got Correa to ground into a force out at third base before serving up a back-breaking, 357-foot three-run home run to Tucker that landed in the Crawfish boxes in left field.
Tucker’s second homer of the series made it 5-0 Houston, and former Boston farmhand Ryan Pressly kept it that way by sitting down Hernandez, Devers, and Xander Bogaerts in order to close things out in the ninth and final inning.
All in all, the Sox went 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position on Friday while leaving four runners on base as a team.
With the loss, the Red Sox’ surprising and resurgent 2021 campaign has come to a close as they finish the year as the runners-up in the American League behind the Astros.
For what it’s worth, Alvarez was named ALCS MVP after hitting a sizzling .522/.538/.870 with three doubles, one triple, one home run, six RBI, seven runs scored, two walks, and five strikeouts across six games (26 plate appearances) in this series.
Backed by Alvarez’s strong showing at the plate, the Astros have punched their ticket to the World Series for the third time in the last five seasons. They will either play the Braves or Dodgers in the upcoming Fall Classic, which is slated to begin next Tuesday, October 26.
(Picture of Carlos Correa: Alex Verdugo: Elsa/Getty Images)