Oct. 16—HOUSTON — When a lead slips away late, it’s natural to blame the pitching for not holding on.
Boston was up on Houston 3-1 going into the bottom of the sixth in Game 1 Friday night. The bullpen was lined up well to nail down the win before the Astros came back to win 5-4.
If only Chris Sale had been sharper and lasted longer than eight outs, you might say.
If only Tanner Houck hadn’t hung that slider to Jose Altuve, or Hansel Robles that changeup to Carlos Correa.
Don’t do it. Don’t fall into that trap.
Pitching isn’t the reason why Boston lost Game 1. Could it have been better? Sure. But all things considered the Red Sox did pretty well holding down the Houston Astros for as long as they did.
And the big moments that swung the game? They weren’t big rallies or innings that snowballed into a runaway train? They were individual home runs, isolated moments in which two of the best players in baseball took advantage of a single mistake.
Moments like those were inevitable. It’s what Altuve, Correa and Company do. They’ve been doing it for five years and sooner or later someone on the Astros was going to come through in a big spot.
And when the Red Sox couldn’t build up a big enough cushion to survive the moment when it came, they were doomed.
Outside of Kiké Hernández, who went 4 for 5 with two home runs and whose performance this October is bordering on legendary at this point, the Red Sox offense didn’t show up when it counted.
Boston went 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position and left nine men on base, and at several points where the Red Sox could have buried the Astros early they couldn’t capitalize.
Take the first inning. Hernández singles to lead off the game and then Kyle Schwarber immediately grounds into a double play. Then you load the bases again anyway and can’t get a run across. That was a huge missed opportunity right out of the chute.
Then in the second you ground into another double play, and in the third after Hernández homers to tie the game, you get lucky.
J.D. Martinez grounds into what should have been an inning ending double play, but Altuve boots it and you take the lead. Then Hunter Renfroe gets an RBI double and things are starting to look really good, right?
Not quite. Two strikeouts later the inning is over, and from that point on the only meaningful offense you get comes from Hernández.
Compare that to Game 2 of the ALDS against Tampa Bay, when the middle of the order just laid the smack down on the Rays. It didn’t really matter who pitched after that, which took a whole world of pressure off the entire staff.
That’s what it’s going to take to beat this Astros team.
Houston’s pitching is vulnerable. The Red Sox should have torched Framber Valdez on Friday, and there’s no reason they can’t jump any of Houston’s other starters now that Lance McCullers Jr. is out of the picture. With Nathan Eovaldi and presumably some combination of Nick Pivetta and Eduardo Rodriguez coming up the next couple of games, there is an opportunity to steal a game at Minute Maid Park and seize control of the series at Fenway Park.
But only if the offense holds up its end of the bargain, and three or four runs isn’t going to cut it. Not against this team.