Monday’s Houston Astros-Boston Red Sox American League Division Series Game 4 at Fenway Park had just about everything fans could hope to see in a dramatic postseason game.
It had back-and-forth lead changes, virtuoso pitching performances, high-risk managerial decisions, late come-from-behind clutch hitting and even nasty weather casting doubt on whether the game would be able to finish without a delay.
For the fourth consecutive game in the series, the Astros scored in the first inning to take an early lead, but the Red Sox answered right back to tie the game 1-1 in the bottom of the first, and that was followed by a two-out RBI single by Astros outfielder George Springer in the top of the second for a 2-1 Astros lead.
Then things began to get really interesting.
With starting pitcher Rick Porcello struggling, Boston brought its ace and Game 1 starter Chris Sale out of the bullpen to start the fourth inning, and then Astros manager A.J. Hinch pushed all his chips to the middle of the table during the fifth inning by calling for his ace and Game 1 starter Justin Verlander out of the bullpen.
Initially, the move by the Red Sox looked masterful, while Hinch’s call was immediately questioned, but the script was flipped later in the game.
Sale was just about untouchable for 4 innings, while Verlander’s first batter faced (outfielder Andrew Benintendi) crushed a two-run home run to give the Red Sox a 3-2 lead.
However, Verlander recovered to pitch 2.2 nearly flawless innings after the home run, keeping the Astros within striking distance of a victory. Meanwhile, the Red Sox kept Sale in the game just a little too long, and the Astros pounced.
Third baseman Alex Bregman (ironically, discussed as a key piece in a potential Astros deal for Sale in preseason trade rumors) led off Sale’s fifth inning of work in the top of the eighth with a towering solo home run (Bregman’s second home run against Sale in the series) over the Green Monster to tie the score.
Sale forced a groundout, gave up a single to designated hitter Evan Gattis and forced a line-out before Boston turned to their lights-out closer Craig Kimbrel to squash a potential Astros rally.
Instead, Springer drew a walk and outfielder Josh Reddick went from that guy who allowed a home run by having the ball bounce off his glove Sunday to hero Monday with a clutch go-ahead RBI single with two strikes and two outs.
The Astros then brought in their old hand Carlos Beltran in the top of the ninth for a pinch-hitting appearance, and the veteran turned back the clock, coming through with a two-out RBI double to push the lead to 5-3.
And that, too, was crucial as Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers blasted an inside-the-park home run to center field to lead off the bottom of the ninth before Astros closer Ken Giles slammed the door on his two-inning save, preserving the win in a white-knuckle ride of a game and sending the Astros to their first championship series appearance since 2005.
Monday’s game was a true test of what playoff baseball is all about, and in the moments where the less experienced 2015 playoff team may have crumbled, these Astros passed with flying colors.