2021 American League Championship Series
|2021 American League Championship Series|
95 - 67 in the AL
|4 - 2
|Boston Red Sox|
92 - 70 in the AL
Rob Drake joined the group as the home plate umpire in Game 2, with the umpire scheduled to work home plate in the next game sitting down.
|1||Boston Red Sox 4 Houston Astros 5||October 15||Chris Sale (0-0) Framber Valdez (0-0)||8:05 pm|
|2||Boston Red Sox 9 Houston Astros 5||October 16||Nathan Eovaldi (1-0) Luis García (0-1)||4:20 pm|
|3||Houston Astros 3 Boston Red Sox 12||October 18||Jose Urquidy (0-0) Eduardo Rodriguez (0-0)||8:08 pm|
|4||Houston Astros 9 Boston Red Sox 2||October 19||Zack Greinke (0-0) Nick Pivetta (0-0)||8:08 pm|
|5||Houston Astros 9 Boston Red Sox 1||October 20||Framber Valdez (1-0) Chris Sale (0-1)||5:08 pm|
|6||Boston Red Sox 0 Houston Astros 5||October 22||Nathan Eovaldi (1-2) Luis García (1-1)||8:08 pm|
Game 1 @ Minute Maid Park
|WP: Ryne Stanek (1-0); LP: Hansel Robles (0-1); SV: Ryan Pressly (1)|
|Home Runs: BOS - Kiké Hernandez 2 (2); HOU - Jose Altuve (1), Carlos Correa (1)|
- Attendance: 40,534
The Astros won Game 1, 5-4, although it required a comeback and a lot of innings thrown by both teams' relief pitchers. Neither starting pitcher, Framber Valdez for Houston and Chris Sale for Boston, made it through the 3rd inning, although for Sale it was already a big improvement over his disastrous outing in Game 2 of the Division Series against the Tampa Bay Rays, when he got touched for 5 runs in the 1st inning and did not go further. This time, his team was in the lead when he left. Jake Meyers was still recovering from crashing into the fence in the last game against the Chicago White Sox, so Chas McCormick was starting in his place, but apart from that both teams went with their regular line-ups.
Valdez really labored in the top of the 1st, as he gave up two hits and walked two batters, but escaped without allowing any runs thanks to a double play grounder by Kyle Schwarber and Hunter Renfroe flying out to center with the bases loaded to end the inning. The Astros then scored against Sale in the bottom of the inning on a walk to Jose Altuve, followed after one out by a single by Alex Bregman, a wild pitch, and a sacrifice fly by Yordan Alvarez. Valdez benefitted from another double play grounder in the 2nd, this one by Christian Arroyo, while the Astros loaded the bases with one out on singles by Yuli Gurriel and McCormick, and a pitch that barely grazed Martin Maldonado. However, Sale made his three best pitches of the evening to strike out Altuve, and Kiké Hernandez made a magnificent diving catch in center field against Michael Brantley that ended the inning and saved at least two runs. It was a surprise that the score was still just 1-0 after two innings, given the slew of baserunners, but it would not stay like that for long.
Boston took the lead and chased Valdez in the top of the 3rd as the red hot Hernandez led off with a huge homer to center field. After one out, Xander Bogaerts drew a walk and Rafael Devers singled. J.D. Martinez hit what appeared to be the Red Sox's third double play ball in as many innings, but Altuve failed to field it cleanly, and everyone was safe on his error. With the bases loaded, Hunter Renfroe doubled down the left field line, driving in two runs. Valdez faced one more batter, Alex Verdugo, who he struck out, then gave way to Yimi Garcia, who struck out Arroyo to end the inning. And now it was the Astros' turn to threaten but fail to score. Alvarez and Carlos Correa singled with one out, but Sale struck out Kyle Tucker, and then left in favor of Adam Ottavino. Ottavino had fallen down the Sox's bullpen totem pole recently, having pitched only one inning so far in the postseason, but in this round every pitcher would need to make a contribution. He did so by getting Gurriel to ground out, and followed that with a perfect 4th inning, after Cristian Javier had stranded Hernandez, author of a double, in the top of the frame. Javier retired the Sox in order in the 5th, then Josh Taylor came out for the bottom of the inning and allowed a lead-off single to Brantley. He got the next two outs, then gave way to Ryan Brasier, his three-batter allotment completed, but Correa greeted Brasier with a single. However, Tucker hit a fly ball to center, and even though Hernandez almost overran it, and had to twist around to make the catch, he was out and the Astros had stranded two more runners. Phil Maton then pitched the 6th for Houston, walking the lead-off man, Verdugo, before Arroyo attempted a bunt. It went just in front of home plate, where C Maldonado grabbed it and, lunging forward, barely grazed the flap of Arroyo's sleeve as he was running towards first base. Arroyo was originally called safe, but the video review seemed to confirm that there had been some contact between ball and fabric, although it was clearly very brief and superficial. So Arroyo was out and what could have been big trouble was a scoreless frame.
Tanner Houck, one of the heroes of the Division Series, came out for Boston, but he allowed a one-out single to McCormick, and after getting Maldonado to fly out, was ambushed by Altuve who crushed a high fastball into the left-field stands to tie the game. It was Altuve's 20th postseason homer, as he was steadily climbing the all-time leader board in the category. In the top of the 7th, Brooks Raley and Ryne Stanek combined their efforts to keep the Red Sox from scoring, stranding another runner, but in the bottom of the inning, with two outs and Hansel Robles now on the mound, it was Correa's turn to hit a long ball to left, this one putting Houston ahead, 4-3. Set-up man Kendall Graveman was delegated to pitch the 8th for Houston, while Boston started to dig into its bench, sending up a couple of pinch-hitters, but the net result was no run and another runner left stranded. Hirokazu Sawamura, just added to the postseason roster was the next man to take the mound for Boston, but he failed in his mission to keep this a one-run game as the the first three men who faced him all reached base: Gurriel via a walk, McCormick on a single, and Maldonado with a second hit-by-pitch in this game. Sawamura could not escape that tricky situation; he surrendered a sacrifice fly to Brantley, then Martin Perez, Boston's eighth pitcher, got Brantley to ground into a double play, limiting the damage to a single run. However it proved to be a big run as Hernandez led off the top of the 9th against closer Ryan Pressly with his second homer of the game to make the score 5-4, in the process setting records for most hits (13) and total bases (29) by anyone in a four-game span in the postseason. But the Red Sox could not get the other run they needed to extend the game: Schwarber, Bogaerts and Devers all grounded out, and Game 1 was in the books as an Astros victory.
Game 2 @ Minute Maid Park
|WP: Nathan Eovaldi (1-0); LP: Luis Garcia (0-1)|
|Home Runs: BOS - J.D. Martinez (1), Rafael Devers (1), Kiké Hernandez (3); HOU - Yuli Gurriel (1), Jason Castro (1)|
- Attendance: 41,476
Game 2 was over before the end of the 2nd inning, as the Red Sox came out with all guns blazing and stunned the Astros with a pair of grand slam, one in each of the first two innings, to take an 8-0 lead that was never seriously threatened the rest of the way. The Red Sox started their ace in Nathan Eovaldi, who had already pitched a couple of good games this postseason, while the Astros replied with rookie Luis Garcia, who had been hit hard in his previous start, in Game 3 of the Division Series. Each team made one change to its line-up, with Boston using C Kevin Plawecki in place of Christian Vazquez, and Houston switching up LF Yordan Alvarez and DH Mickey Brantley, with Brantley playing left today.
The Red Sox came out strong, with Kyle Schwarber leading off the game with a double. Garcia was clearly out of sorts, as he had trouble locating his pitches. He did manage to retire Kiké Hernandez, but it took a beautiful diving catch by Chas McCormick in center field, but he then walked Rafael Devers and after striking out Xander Bogaerts, walked Alex Verdugo as well to load the bases. Next up was J.D. Martinez and the veteran run producer did not miss his chance, slicing a 1-0 pitch on a line drive to the opposite field, straight into the seats for a grand slam. Just like that, it was 4-0, Boston. Eovaldi allowed a two-out single to Alex Bregman in the bottom of the inning but nothing else, and then the Red Sox were at it again in the 2nd. Garcia walked the first batter, Plawecki, on four straight pitches and was immediately removed from the game with was later described as a knee injury. Jake Odorizzi came in to pitch, but he had not even started to warm up, so there was a substantial delay before he was ready to go. And then, he was no better than the man he replaced. He allowed a single to Christian Arroyo, struck out Schwarber, but then allowed a single to Hernandez to load the bases again. And lightning struck twice, this time off the bat of Devers, who pulled a ball just inside the right foul pole for a second grand slam. It this had been a prizefight, the referee would have stopped it right there, but there were still seven and a half inning to play. No team had ever before hit two grand slams in a single postseason game, and no matter how good the Astros' offense was, it was hard to see them get up from these twin blows.
The Astros just went through the motions for a spell, while Boston added one more run in the 4th when Hernandez, the hottest hitter on the planet right now, hit his third homer in three games, another very long shot to left field. Odorizzi was still pitching and taking one for the team, and he almost gave up another run when Bogaerts singled and Verdugo followed with a long drive to right center on which Bogaerts would have scored easily had it not bounced over the fence for an automatic double. In the end, both runners were stranded. Houston's bats finally stirred in the bottom of that inning, when they managed three runs after two outs. It started innocuously enough with a walk to Alvarez, followed by a single byCarlos Correa, a run-scoring double by Kyle Tucker, and a two-run single by Yuli Gurriel. However, Eovaldi got out of the inning by striking out McCormick, and the Astros could not build on that small rally. There was no more scoring until the 9th, as the Red Sox were mainly interested in completing the remaining innings while keeping the Astros from getting their hopes of a comeback up. Eovaldi pitched into the 6th, when he left after allowing a one-out single and being replaced by Adam Ottavino. For Houston, Odorizzi pitched until the end of the 5th, and both teams used some of their lesser relievers, until Boston gave the well-rested Garrett Whitlock a couple of innings, in order not to have him go a full week without seeing any game action. In the 9th, still leading 9-3, Alex Cora gave the ball to the true bottom man on the totem pole, Darwinzon Hernandez. He was not able to get the last three outs himself, confirming why he was occupying that unglamorous spot, as he allowed a solo homer to Gurriel with one out, and another one to Jason Castro with two outs. Cora had seen enough, and even though there was still a four-run lead with two outs and the bases empty, he asked Ryan Brasier to come out, and he got Altuve to fly out to left to end the game.
Game 3 @ Fenway Park
|WP: Eduardo Rodriguez (1-0); LP: Jose Urquidy (0-1)|
|Home Runs: BOS - Kyle Schwarber (1), Christian Arroyo (1), J.D. Martinez (2), Rafael Devers (2); HOU - Kyle Tucker (1)|
- Attendance: 37,603
The Red Sox once again used the recipe that had worked so well in Game 2 to take Game 3 at home by a 12-3 score: they scored early and often, basically putting the game away after the first three innings, when they had built a 9-0 lead, and once again using the grand slam as a deadly weapon, with Kyle Schwarber providing the third such blow of the series in the 2nd. That was of course a record, as was Boston's mark of getting 10 or more hits in six straight postseason games (and they had 9 in losing Game 1 of the Division Series too). The Astros' starting pitcher, Jose Urquidy was again chased early as the unavailability of the injured Lance McCullers was cruelly felt; there was no such issue for Boston, as Eduardo Rodriguez had his second straight solid start, in fact getting credit for a rare postseason quality start in going six full innings. Pitching with a huge early lead helped, but he also limited trafic on the basepaths, allowing just 5 hits and not walking anyone while striking out 7. There was only one change to the starting lineups, with Dusty Baker resting CF Chas McCormick, who had worn the proverbial Golden Sombrero in Game 2, and replacing him with another rookie in Jose Siri.
Both pitchers came out strong, retiring their opponents in order in the 1st, but that would soon change. Not for Rodriguez who struck out the side in the 2nd, but for Urquidy. He started the bottom of the 2nd well enough, with a strikeout of Xander Bogaerts but after taking an 0-2 lead on Alex Verdugo, he got into a protracted battle with the Red Sox left-fielder that ended after 11 pitches with Verdugo drawing a walk. And then everything collapsed like a house of cards: J.D. Martinez doubled, Hunter Renfroe drew another walk to load the bases, Christian Vazquez singled to right for a first run, but Christian Arroyo hit a grounder to 2B Jose Altuve that should have resulted in at least one out and probably two. But for the second straight game, Altuve misplayed a ball at the worst possible time, and everyone was safe on his error, with Martinez scoring the second run. Next man up was Schwaber, who crushed a pitch deep into right field for a no doubt grand slam. It was now 6-0 and even if the Astros were not technically dead, one could hear a long sigh of "Here we go ahead" coming all the way from deep in the heart of Texas. Baker had not been warming anyone up, so Urquidy needed to stay for a few more batters, and he gave up singles to Kiké Hernandez and Bogaerts around a second out before being removed in favor of Yimi Garcia, who uncorked a wild pitch but got Verdugo to fly out to center to end the inning. Another hit at that point would have been fatal.
After sitting down for a long time, Rodriguez gave up his first hit to Yuli Gurriel, leading off the 3rd, but retired the next three men before Boston ended whatever hopes still remained in Houston. Again, the inning started with a strikeout followed by a walk, this one to Renfroe. He stole second and went to third on a wild throw by C Martin Maldonado as the Astros were now playing some version of Little League ball. Vazquez drove him in with a single, and Arroyo then hit a line drive into the first row of seats above the Green Monster in left field. Game, Set and Match, one could have said. At 9-0, there was no way Houston was coming back, even with six turns at bat left. They did mount an effort in the 4th, but truly, it was only one mistake by Rodriguez: Brantley and Alvarez hit singles but there were two outs when Kyle Tucker stepped to the plate. Rodriguez got ahead 0 and 2 but then left a fastball in the middle of the plate and Tucker crushed it behind the fence in center field for a three-run homer. A shaken Rodriguez then gave up a single to Gurriel, but he got Siri to ground out to third to end the inning. There was some concern at that point that maybe Rodriguez would not be long in this game either, but he came back to pitch two more effective innings, retiring all six men he faced in order. Meanwhile, Boston stranded a couple of runners in the 4th before Brooks Raley pitched a clean 5th inning as the game was settling down.
Indeed the remaining innings were of little consequence. Raley left with two outs in the 6th, with Devers on base via a walk, and Martinez hit his second homer off the series off Phil Maton to increase the lead to 11-3. Hansel Robles pitched the 7th for Boston, while both teams started to give their reserve players some time on the field, as Jason Castro, Aledmys Diaz and Bobby Dalbec all came in in the bottom of the 7th. The 8th inning was given to Martin Perez, and Devers then hit his second long ball of the series in the bottom of that inning, a solo shot off Ryne Stanek to make it 12-3, which would be the final score. Another second-tier pitcher was mandated for the 9th by Alex Cora in Hirokazu Sawamura, and contrary to Darwinzon Hernandez in Game 2, he did not let the Astros take any batting practice as he mowed them down. In fact, in the final five innings, the Astros sent the minimum 15 batters to the plate, as double plays erased the only two men who reached base, both on walks, in the 7th and 8th, a sign that the Astros had basically given up after the 4th inning.
Game 4 @ Fenway Park
|WP: Kendall Graveman (1-0); LP: Nathan Eovaldi (1-1)|
|Home Runs: HOU - Alex Bregman (1); Jose Altuve (2); BOS - Xander Bogaerts (1)|
- Attendance: 38,010
Once again, in Game 4, the Red Sox got a big homer in the first moments of the game, and once again, they chased the Astros' starting pitcher early. But that is where the similarities with the previous two games ended; they were not even close to getting 10 hits, and the game was a low-scoring one until the Astros broke it open in the 9th, when they scored 7 runs with two outs to tie up the series at two games each. On the mound, the Red Sox sent Nick Pivetta, who had been outstanding as a long reliever in the Division Series, against veteran Zack Greinke, whose only previous outing this postseason was also as a reliever, and who would have stayed in that role had Lance McCullers been available. The only other change was that Chas McCormick was back in center field for Houston.
Pivetta got two quick outs in the 1st before he gave up a homer to Alex Bregman, who had been relatively quiet until now, the ball going deep to left. The Astros had a quick 1-0 lead, but this would be Pivetta's only mistake in five innings, as he continued where he had left off in the Division Series, giving up just one other hit and two walks in five innings of work. It wasn't so effective for Greinke, however. It started well enough for him too, by retiring the first two batters, but he then gave up a walk to Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts followed by hitting a ball that not only cleared the Green Monster, but also the few rows of seats above it, and ended up somewhere on the public street for a two-run homer, erasing Houston's lead just like that. Alex Verdugo then reached on a throwing error by Bregman at third base, and that forced Greinke to throw a lot of additional pitches. He walked J.D. Martinez after a long battle, before getting Hunter Renfroe to hit into a force play to end the inning. The Astros came close to tying the game in the 2nd, as with two outs Yuli Gurriel singled on a ground ball to 3B Devers, who tried an impossible throw to first base, which resulted in an error and an extra base. McCormick then drew a walk and both runners advanced 60 feet on a wild pitch. However, it was the weak-hitting Martin Maldonado who was at the plate, and he could only lift a routine fly ball to Kiké Hernandez in center field for the third out.
With a 2-1 lead, the Red Sox wasted a number of opportunities to build some breathing room for themselves. In the 2nd, Christian Vazquez drew a lead-off walk and advanced to second on a ground out by Christian Arroyo, at which point Dusty Baker decided to remove Greinke, who had completed one turn through the line-up and had needed 37 pitches to record just four outs. It was a defensible decision, but it would mean another long night for the bullpen, starting with Brooks Raley. He walked Kyle Schwarber to put a second runner on base, but struck out Hernandez and got Devers on a fly ball to end the threat. Cristian Javier came in to pitch in the 3rd, and he was left in for a longer stint, something that was necessary given how much the Astros' relievers had pitched of late. With one out in the 4th, Arroyo hit a triple to right, but he was stranded there by Schwarber and Hernandez. In the 5th, Bogaerts hit a one-out double, but he too was stranded. Meanwhile, Pivetta had hit his cruising speed, giving up nothing but a walk in his last three innings, and surely could have pitched longer. But Alex Cora decided to bring out lefty Josh Taylor with two of the first three batters due up in the top of the 6th being lefthanders, so he would need four innings from his relievers, with only a one-run lead. Taylor gave up a single to Yordan Alvarez with two outs, prompting Cora to call on Adam Ottavino to complete the frame. In the bottom of the 6th, Renfroe drew a lead-off walk, and Phil Maton replaced Javier, but once again the Red Sox wasted the opportunity as the next three men were retired in order. The hit that could have broken the Astros' backs never did come in this game.
In the 7th, Garrett Whitlock, normally the closer, came out to pitch, another questionable decision by Cora, since there was no way he could go three full innings. He gave up a two-out single to McCormick, but then retired Jason Castro, pinch-hitting for Maldonado, to end the inning. It was still a 2-1 game and remained so as Kendall Graveman retired the Sox in order in the bottom of the 7th. Whitlock came back for a second inning of work in the 8th, but the first batter he faced, Jose Altuve, took him deep on his first pitch to tie the game. Michael Brantley followed with a single, but Whitlock got Bregman to ground into a double play and Alvarez to fly out. It was now imperative for the Red Sox to get some offense going, but they failed to do so against Graveman, with only a two-out walk by Renfroe, who was getting on base regularly even if he was not getting many hits. So the 9th inning started with the score tied and Boston needed a new pitcher. Taking a page from the book he had successfully used in winning the 2018 World Series, Cora called on starter Nathan Eovaldi to come out, but the move did not work this time. Carlos Correa led off the inning with a double to right. Walking a tightrope, Eovaldi managed to strike out Kyle Tucker for the first out, and Cora called for an intentional walk to Gurriel in order to bring up the rookie McCormick. Baker countered by calling up pinch-hitter Aledmys Diaz, who struck out swinging. Eovaldi was almost out of trouble, with Castro the next batter up. But on a 2-2 count, after a potential strike three was not given by home plate umpire Laz Diaz, he singled to center, and the floodgates opened. Correa scored the go-ahead run, and then Altuve drew a walk to load the bases and end Eovaldi's night. The next pitcher was not one of Boston's front-line relievers (Ryan Brasier would have been the logical choice), but Martin Perez. He made sure his team would not be in a position to mount a comeback by allowing a two-run double to Brantley, and after walking Bregman intentionally, three consecutive singles to Alvarez, Correa and Tucker. By the time Gurriel flied out to left to end the inning, seven runs had come across and Houston was up 9-2. Closer Ryan Pressly had been warming up for Houston, so he came in to pitch even if the possibility of a save was no longer on the table. In a hopeless situation, the Sox got a couple of singles after two outs, both runners advancing further on a passed ball, before Pressly struck out Bogaerts to end the game. The Fenway faithful were stunned, and Houston was back in the series.
Game 5 @ Fenway Park
|WP: Framber Valdez (1-0); LP: Chris Sale (0-1)|
|Home Runs: HOU - Yordan Alvarez (1); BOS - Rafael Devers (3)|
- Attendance: 37,599
Something unexpected happened in Game 5: for the first five innings, there was an actual pitchers' duel going on. It all ended with a big inning by the Astros in the 6th, after which they cruised to an easy win 9-1 win. The Red Sox's bats went completely dead after their hot start in this postseason, being limited to just 3 hits, and 3 runs over their last 18 innings. The same two pitchers who started Game 1 were back on the mound, and both did a lot better this time: Framber Valdez pitched an excellent 8 innings to earn the win, while Chris Sale held the Astros to just one run over the first five innings before being let down by his defence in the 6th. There was only one change to the line-ups, with Jose Siri playing CF for Houston in place of Chas McCormick, while Boston only switched a couple of batters around, but kept the same nine men.
Both pitchers started out strong, by retiring the three batters they faced in order in the 1st, giving a good preview of what was to come in the next few innings. The first blow of the game came in the 2nd, when DH Yordan Alvarez, who had not done much thus far in the series, started what would be an excellent game for him by driving Sale's first pitch of the inning over the center field wall for a solo homer. In previous games, this would have ushered in a flood of hits and runs, but it turned out to be a lone shot into the night: Sale retired the next three batters, and Valdez did so as well. Indeed, no one managed to reach base in the 3rd either, and in the 4th, Alex Bregman finally broke the spell by drawing a one-out walk for Houston. Alvarez was up next and hit a single, sending Bregman to third base, but Sale reacted by striking out Carlos Correa and Kyle Tucker with some overwhelming stuff. Valdez then made it 12 straight outs for the Red Sox in the bottom of the 4th, thereby becoming the Astros pitcher who had gone deepest into a game in the series. The 5th inning was more of the same, with the Astros going down in order, then the Red Sox mucked up a chance to tie the score. Rafael Devers led off the bottom of the inning with a single to right, the first ball hit by a Boston batter to leave the infield, and Valdez hit the next batter, J.D. Martinez, with a pitch. With two on and nobody out, Dusty Baker himself came out to talk to his pitcher, and Valdez responded by getting Hunter Renfroe to hit a ground ball to second base on a 2-0 count, starting a double play. Valdez then got Alex Verdugo to ground out as well, and the Red Sox were unable to score. Thus, after five innings, it was 1-0 Houston, with two hits for the Astros - both off the bat of Alvarez - and one for Boston.
The game changed completely in the top of the 6th. Alex Cora had been criticized for taking out Nick Pivetta after five strong innings in Game 4 when he clearly had more to give, thereby overtaxing his best relievers, and this time he left Sale in for another inning. However, Sale started off by walking Jose Altuve, and then, in the game's most pivotal play, Michael Brantley hit a soft grounded to 3B Devers. He had no chance at throwing out the runner, who was running on the pitch, but his throw was there in plenty of time to get Brantley at first base - except that 1B Kyle Schwarber dropped it for an error and everyone was safe. Worse, Altuve took advantage of Devers having to leave the third base bag unprotected to advance there. Sale got Bregman to hit another soft grounder, this one back to him and he threw him out without Altuve being able to score. Up came Alvarez, and he got his third hit in three at-bats by banging a double off the Green Monster; both runners scored on the play, and that was it for Sale, replaced by Ryan Brasier. The man whose name means "raging fire" in French managed to turn the inning into just that after striking out Correa for the second out, by giving up a single to Kyle Tucker, a double to Yuli Gurriel and a single to Siri. By the time Martin Maldonado hit a fly ball to left for the third out, Houston had scored five runs, and had an insurmountable 6-0 lead.
The Red Sox had just two hits left in their bats, a double by Christian Vazquez in the bottom of the 6th, and a solo homer by Devers in the 7th that accounted for their lone run of the game. Meanwhile, Houston piled on a few more tallies. One came in the top of the 7th on a single by Altuve who took second on a missed pick-off attempt by Hansel Robles and scored on a single by Brantley. A couple more came in the 9th after Martin Perez loaded the bases with one out on a single and two walks, one of them intentional, and Gurriel hit a two-out single. Valdez left after his eight outstanding innings, having given up just one run on three hits, and Ryne Stanek pitched the 9th, retiring the Sox in order, putting them out of their misery. They had already given up on this game long ago, and the Astros were now headed back home one win away from their third World Series appearance in five years.
Game 6 @ Minute Maid Park
|WP: Luis Garcia (1-1); LP: Nathan Eovaldi (1-2)|
|Home Runs: HOU - Kyle Tucker (2)|
- Attendance: 42,718
The Astros punched their ticket to their third World Series appearance in five years by once again holding the Red Sox's bats silent in Game 6, winning 5-0 as they allowed only 2 hits all game long. And just like Framber Valdez had done in the previous game, their starting pitcher, Luis Garcia bounced back from a dreadful first start to be dominant; in fact, he was throwing harder in this game than at any other point this season, by a whopping 3 mph, and looked like a completely different pitcher for some unknown reason. For Boston, their best pitcher all year, Nathan Eovaldi, was back starting after a unsuccessful relief stint in Game 4, and while he pitched well, he did not last long, perhaps because his usage pattern had been disturbed (this had affected the Los Angeles Dodgers over in the NLCS, whose usage of Max Scherzer and Julio Urias in relief roles had also come back to bite them). There was no surprise in terms of starting line-ups, as Kevin Plawecki, who was a sort of personal catcher for Eovaldi, was starting in place of Christian Vazquez for Boston, and the struggling Hunter Renfroe was moved down to the 8th spot.
Garcia started off the game by striking out Kyle Schwarber, but strike three bounced away from C Martin Maldonado all the way to the backstop and Schwarber reached on the dropped third strike. He advanced to second as 2B Jose Altuve made a nice play on Kiké Hernandez's hard ground ball, turning it into an out; had it gone through, the game might have played out completely differently. Rafael Devers followed that with a fly ball to center field; it wasn't very deep but Schwarber still took off for third and made it safely as 3B Alex Bregman was not able to hold on to the throw from Chas McCormick on what would have been a close play. However, Schwarber could not advance the final 90 feet as Xander Bogaerts grounded out to third base to end the inning. In the bottom of the inning, Eovaldi needed just three pitches to get the first two outs, but Bregman followed with a single to left. That brought up Yordan Alvarez, who was about to wrest the title of hottest hitter on the planet from Hernandez, on his way to being named the ALCS MVP. He drove a ball to deep center; CF Hernandez and RF Renfroe converged on it after a long run, but the ball bounced off Hernandez's glove and fell for a double as Bregman raced home with the opening run. It was not an easy catch, but Hernandez had made some harder ones this postseason, and it came at a bad time given the Red Sox had had trouble scoring runs of late and should not have been in a mood to give any away. Eovaldi got Carlos Correa to fly out to end the inning, but Boston would never be able to close that 1-0 gap.
Garcia walked Alex Verdugo with one out in the 2nd but otherwise did not give up anything, while Eovaldi retired the Astros in order as both pitchers were dealing. The 3rd inning saw six batters come up and all six make outs, but in the 4th, the Astros threatened to break the game open, once again thanks to Bregman and Alvarez. The former opened the inning with a single to right and the latter hit another double, on an 0-2 count, this one to left field. With runners on second and third and nobody out, the Red Sox's infield played in, but Eovaldi then got down to work, masterfully striking out Correa and Kyle Tucker. After the Red Sox issued an intentional walk to Yuli Gurriel, McCormick came up with the bases loaded, but he struck out swinging, and the score was still 1-0, thanks solely to Eovaldi. That should have energized Boston's batters, but it failed to do so as they went down in order in the top of the 5th. They were still hitless at that point. In the bottom of the frame, Maldonado picked a good time to get his first hit of the series, leading off with a single. Eovaldi struck out Altuve, but Alex Cora decided at this point to remove him from the game. Even with the tough 4th inning, he was still just at 63 pitches, so unless he was inordinately tired due to his having been used in relief three days earlier, there was no reason to take him out (apart from the shibboleth that he was about to face the line-up for the third time). In any case, the Astros were certainly happy that the Red Sox had taken their best pitcher out of the game early and replaced him with lefty specialist Josh Taylor. Taylor completed the inning by getting Michael Brantley and Bregman to hit ground balls, the first of which would have been an inning-ending double play had Schwarber's throw to Devers, covering second base because of a defensive shift, not forced him to dive to his right to prevent it from ending up in left field, while still keeping his foot on the bag.
Boston finally got a hit off Garcia in the 6th, but it came with two outs when Hernandez hit a fly ball to one of the deepest parts of the ballpark, in left-center, and it hit the fence two-thirds of the way up, landing for a triple. Schwarber had hit another long fly before that, so there were signs that Garcia was running out of gas - he was also working noticeably more slowly on the mound - so no one can fault Dusty Baker for taking him out at that point, especially with the bullpen well rested. Phil Maton got Devers to pop up to shortstop on his first offering, and Hernandez was stranded 90 feet away from tying the game. That had been a bit of a scare for Houston, and they immediately worked on building a cushion. Alvarez continued his fantastic game by lining a pitch into the right field corner, in an area devoid of defenders: he had been continually beating the Red Sox's defensive alignments by hitting balls to the opposite field, and now that they were playing him to hit that way, he pulled the ball. Renfroe seemed to give up on the play, letting Hernandez, who was further away, retrieve the ball as Alvarez circled the bases. That was it for Taylor, who gave way to Tanner Houck, who had not been used for a while. He started by hitting Correa with a pitch, placing runners on the corners, but Tucker then hit a ball straight at 1B Schwarber, who was playing close to the bag as he was holding Correa; he caught the ball on one bounce, immediately tagged Correa who was caught in no man's land, touched the bag all in one motion and fired home, but Alvarez managed to beat the throw. Had Schwarber managed to catch the ball on the fly, it would have been a triple play, but it was still a defensive gem, and really, even though Alvarez managed to score, he had taken quite a chance by heading home on the play. Still, it was now 2-0, the additional run making it look like a huge mountain to climb for Boston.
Houck ended the 6th inning by getting Gurriel to ground out, then, with the heart of the Red Sox order coming up in the 7th, Baker decided to bring out his 8th-inning set-up man, Kendall Graveman, to pitch, a decision that made perfect sense. It wasn't a clean inning, though, as J.D. Martinez drew a walk with one out and went to third on a single by Verdugo. Now came the key at-bat of the game: Travis Shaw was called on to pinch-hit for Christian Arroyo and worked a full count. Cora decided to send the runner from first base, but the hit-and-run failed as Shaw struck out and Maldonado threw an absolute laser beam to Correa at shortstop to tag out Verdugo. The double play ended the inning and buried the Sox's hopes a little deeper. Boston had to re-jigger its defense following the substitutions, with Shaw playing first base, Schwarber moving to left field, Verdugo to center and Hernandez to second base. It was not ideal, but Cora had to try something. The new alignment wasn't tested in the bottom of the inning, as Houck retired the Astros in order, and in the 8th, Ryne Stanek was called upon to face the bottom of the Red Sox order. Cora used his last available position player, Bobby Dalbec to pinch-hit for the struggling Renfroe, but he hit a fly ball to center and the next two batters hit routine pop-ups as Boston was down to its last three outs. And then the Astros delivered the killing blow: Brantley led off with a single and after one out, Alvarez made it a four-hit game by scorching a single through the middle. It was hit so hard that Brantley had to stop at second base. Cora now brought in veteran Adam Ottavino to face Correa, hoping for a double play grounder, when the situation screamed for Garrett Whitlock to be used instead. Ottavino did get a grounder, but it was hit to Devers at third base, and his only play was to race to the bag ahead of Brantley for out number two. And now a lefthander was up to face Ottavino, in Kyle Tucker, and he crushed a pitch to left center for a three-run homer. At 5-0, there was no hope left for Boston. Ottavino gave up a hit and a stolen base before retiring McCormack, then closer Ryan Pressly came out for the 9th with a comfortable lead. The Red Sox went down in order to end the game, their inability to generate any offense after the 1st inning of Game 4 having doomed them, even if their shaky bullpen had performed better. There had been some rough patches for Houston, but their young starting pitchers had come through when it mattered most, and their next generation of great hitters, led by Alvarez and Tucker, had proved to be unstoppable. On to the World Series!
- Associated Press: "A capsule look at the Red Sox-Astros playoff series", Yahoo! Sports, October 13, 2021. 
- Ian Browne: "3 keys for Red Sox in pennant pursuit", mlb.com, October 14, 2021. 
- Ian Browne, Alyson Footer and Brian McTaggart: "Roundtable: Settle in for slugfest in ALCS", mlb.com, October 14, 2021. 
- Ian Browne: "Sox ousted: 'It didn't end the way we wanted': Eovaldi turns in stellar start, but offense held to just two hits in Game 6 loss", mlb.com, October 23, 2021. 
- Anthony Castrovince: "Astros-Sox position-by-position breakdown", mlb.com, October 14, 2021. 
- Martín Gallegos: "Cora recalls memories, mistakes in Houston", mlb.com, October 14, 2021. 
- Daniel Kramer: "Here's how Astros' lineup can attack Red Sox", mlb.com, October 15, 2021. 
- Gabe Lacques: "Astros close out Red Sox in Game 6 of ALCS, return to World Series for third time in five seasons", USA Today, October 22, 2021. 
- Brian McTaggart: "Astros reach 3rd World Series in 5 seasons", mlb.com October 23, 2021. 
- Ryan Young: "Astros close out ALCS, Red Sox in Game 6 to earn trip back to World Series", Yahoo! Sports, October 22, 2021. 
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