The Houston Astros advance to their first ever ALCS, as starting pitchers were the new relievers in the playoffs at Fenway Park Monday afternoon.
It was a heartbreaking 5-4 loss for a Boston team all too familiar with a big comeback when on the brink of elimination.
A day after David Price saved the Red Sox season with four scoreless innings, Chris Sale looked to mimic his pitching pal until Alex Bregman’s leadoff game tying home run in the eighth altered his plans.
“We envisioned ourselves being here since the beginning of the year and nothing really changes on our end,’’ Bregman said.
Kimbrel was clearly fired up but his fastball got the best of him. With the hot hitting George Springer at the plate he uncorking a wild pitch putting pinch runner Cameron Maybin in scoring position, paving the way for ex-Red Sox outfielder, Josh Reddick.
“This is what we’ve been doing all year long,’’ said ex-Yankee catcher Brian McCann, “Bregman’s home run, [Josh] Reddick’s knock and then Carlos’ huge insurance run. Being in the ALCS is incredible. What I get to witness every day is pretty special.’’
Looking for redemption for the elusive ball that Jackie Bradley, Jr. laced off his glove for a three-run homer on Sunday, Reddick stroked a sharp single through the hole for the go-ahead run.
In the bottom frame, Ken Giles got Boston out in order on three ground balls, bringing the off-kilter Kimbrel back for seconds in the top of the ninth. With two out and two on, Carlos Beltran came off the bench and belted an RBI double to deep left for the added insurance they would badly need.
The Red Sox last stand was rife with drama when rookie Rafael Devers ignited the crowd with an inside-the-park home run to pull Boston within one, which was as close as they would come to forcing a decisive game five in Cleveland.
In trying to preserve Boston’s place in the postseason, manager John Farrell pulled starter Rick Porcello in the third after he surrendered three earned runs.
Ironically, home plate umpire Mark Wegner tossed Farrell, after arguing back-to-back borderline strikeouts to Bradley and Dustin Pedroia.
Houston’s man at the helm, A.J. Hinch, risked being haunted for prematurely giving the hook to Charlie Morton, who was pitching a fairly decent game. In 4 1/3 innings of work he surrendered three runs on seven hits, striking out seven while giving up a pair of walks.
The 34-year-old settled down, allowing a couple of batters to reach base via a pair of walks, and it doesn’t matter what would have been if Hinch kept Morton on the mound because they’re moving on to the ALCS where more hindsight is bound to be in store.
“The city of Houston is still rebuilding, and it’s easy for us to look in the rearview mirror and think that the hurricane is over,” Hinch said. “The rebuild starts and is not going to stop for a long time. We’re proud to wear our patch — we’re proud to wear that Houston Strong patch. It was very emotional.’’