The Red Sox certainly had their opportunities, but were ultimately unable to come away with a come-from-behind win over the Astros in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series.
Boston fell to Houston by a final score of 5-4 at Minute Maid Park on Friday night, meaning they now trail in this best-of-seven ALCS by one game to none.
Chris Sale, making his second start of the postseason for the Sox, saw his October struggles continue after a poor showing in last week’s American League Division Series against the Rays, though there were some signs of encouragement.
Over just 2 2/3 innings of work on Friday, Sale allowed one run on five hits, one walk, and one hit batsman to go along with two strikeouts on the night.
The lone run Sale surrendered came in the bottom half of the first, when — after the Red Sox left the bases loaded in their half of the inning — the veteran left-hander issued a leadoff walk to Jose Altuve that was followed by a one-out single from Alex Bregman.
A wild pitch from Sale allowed both of those runners to advance an additional 90 feet, and the Astros took full advantage of that miscue when Yordan Alvarez drove in the first run of the contest on a sacrifice fly to left field.
While the Sox may have fallen behind early, their potent lineup eventually got to Astros starter Framber Valdez the second time through the order beginning in the third inning.
There, moments after he bailed out Sale by making a sprawling grab in center field to escape a bases-loaded jam, Enrique Hernandez stayed hot at the plate by cranking a 448-foot leadoff home run off Valdez.
Hernandez’s solo shot knotted things up at one run apiece, while a one-out walk from Xander Bogaerts that was followed by a line-drive single off the bat of Rafael Devers put runners at first and second base for J.D. Martinez.
Martinez, a former Astro like Hernandez, nearly grounded into another double play that would have ended the inning, but his grounder was instead booted by Altuve at second base, which allowed Bogaerts to score all the way from second to give the Sox their first lead of the night at 2-1.
Hunter Renfroe kept the rally going with a hard-hit RBI double to left field that plated Devers and moved Martinez up to second, though neither runner was able to score after Alex Verdugo and Christian Arroyo both struck out swinging.
Given a two-run lead to work with going into the bottom of the third, Sale retired Bregman before Alvarez and the dangerous Carlos Correa ripped back-to-back one-out singles off him. The lefty then fanned Kyle Tucker on five pitches for the second out, but that would mark the end of his night with the right-handed hitting Yuli Gurriel looming in the on-deck circle for Houston.
Finishing with a final pitch count of 61 (37 strikes), the 32-year-old hurler relied heavily upon his four-seam fastball (57% usage) and slider (33% usage), as he only threw four changeups and two sinkers. He did, however, top out at 97.5 mph with his four-seamer.
In relief of Sale, Adam Ottavino got the first call out of the Red Sox bullpen from manager Alex Cora, and he officially closed the book on Sale’s outing by getting Gurriel to ground out to second before retiring the side in order in the fourth as well.
From there, while the Boston bats continued to struggle against the Houston bullpen, Josh Taylor recorded the first two outs of the fifth inning before Ryan Brasier was deployed to finish it in the process of stranding a pair of runners.
Fellow right-hander Tanner Houck took over for Brasier in the sixth, and he saw his side’s 3-1 advantage wiped off the board when he yielded a one-out single to Chas McCormick that was followed by a game-tying, two-run home run to Altuve that traveled 382 feet into the Crawford Boxes in left-center field.
More two-out trouble came back to bite the Sox an inning later, with Hansel Robles serving up a go-ahead 350-foot blast to Correa that allowed the Astros to retake a 4-3 lead.
In the top of the eighth, Renfroe was pinch-hit for by Danny Santana, who led things off against Kendall Graveman by striking out swinging on nine pitches. Verdugo then flew out to center field, but Arroyo kept the inning alive by drilling a 106.8 mph single to left field.
That sequence prompted Cora to turn to his bench, as he had the left-handed hitting Travis Shaw pinch-hit for the right-handed hitting Christian Vazquez in that spot.
Shaw, representing the potential go-ahead run himself, proceeded to lift a 335-foot flyball to right field off Graveman, but it was one that was caught by Tucker at the warning track, thus extinguishing the threat.
Hirokazu Sawamura, meanwhile, was responsible for the bottom of the eighth, and in his first action of the postseason, struggled to find his command of the strike zone.
The righty loaded the bases with no outs by issuing a leadoff walk and a single before plunking Martin Maldonado. He then allowed the Astros to tack on a very important insurance run when he gave up a sacrifice fly to Altuve that Gurriel was able to score on to make it a 5-3 game.
Martin Perez had to come on to get the final two outs of the eighth, and he did that by inducing an inning-ending double play off the bat of a hobbled Michael Brantley.
Down to their final three outs in the ninth while opposed by Astros closer Ryan Pressly, Hernandez led things off by clubbing his second home run of the night and one that cut the Sox’ deficit down to one run at 5-4.
Pressly did recover, however, as he got Kyle Schwarber, Bogaerts, and Devers to each ground out to seal a 5-4 defeat for Boston in which they went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position while leaving nine runners on base as a team.
With the loss, not only do the Red Sox see their three-game postseason winning streak come to an end, but they also find themselves in a 1-0 hole in regards to this ALCS.
Next up: Eovaldi vs. Garcia
The Red Sox will send Houston-area native Nathan Eovaldi to the mound as they look to even up this best-of-seven series against the Astros on Saturday afternoon.
The Astros will counter with fellow right-hander Luis Garcia, who held the Sox to one run over seven impressive innings during his June 1 start against them at Fenway Park.
First pitch from Minute Maid Park on Saturday is scheduled for 4:20 p.m. eastern time on FOX and FS1.
(Picture of Enrique Hernandez and Carlos Correa: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)