BOSTON – On the anniversary of Derek Jeter’s famous flip and David Ortiz’s famous home run that caused Torii Hunter to flip over a fence, no indelible moment seared itself into baseball’s memory Saturday. Instead, Game 1 of the 2018 American League Championship Series was wild in smaller ways, from the pitches to the umpires to the hit-by-pitch that may make an already-interesting series that much more intriguing.
What germinated from it all was a 7-2 victory for the Houston Astros over the Boston Red Sox and the instantaneous thievery of home-field advantage in front of 38,007 at Fenway Park. Even as the Astros didn’t capitalize early on the diminished stuff and inability to find the strike zone by Boston ace Chris Sale, they weathered an uncharacteristic wild inning from their own starter, Justin Verlander, to take the lead in the sixth inning – and then turned on the afterburners in the ninth inning to finish taking advantage of Boston’s troublesome bullpen.
After home plate umpire James Hoye ejected Red Sox manager Alex Cora following an argued called strike three, Houston went to work. Sale was out of the game, having gone four innings. Red Sox reliever Joe Kelly led off the inning by plunking Alex Bregman on a 1-2 pitch after Bregman called a late timeout. Bregman stared down Kelly before catcher Christian Vázquez intervened. Whether it was intentional or not, it proved costly when Carlos Correa feathered a single into left field later in the inning to score Bregman, who chirped toward Kelly as he headed toward home plate.
The Red Sox would muster no answer – not Saturday at least. Verlander ceded the seventh inning to Ryan Pressly, who struck out two. Lance McCullers Jr. faced the top of Boston’s lineup in the eighth and punched out Andrew Benintendi and J.D. Martinez. After the top of the ninth, Houston didn’t even need to use closer Roberto Osuna.
Josh Reddick added an insurance run on a solo homer. Jose Altuve and Bregman walked, bringing up cleanup hitter Yuli Gurriel, who wrapped a 90-mph Brandon Workman meatball around the Pesky Pole down the right-field line for a three-run home run. It was 7-2, and the Red Sox didn’t look nearly the powerhouse of the the defending World Series champions, who are even better this season than last.
It’s evident in a number of places, from the dominant bullpen to the starting rotation, which will send out Gerrit Cole in Game 2 against Boston’s David Price. In his only start this October, Cole struck out 12 and walked none in seven exquisite innings against Cleveland. Price’s one start: five outs and booed off the mound at Fenway.
Because it’s baseball, and because baseball is weird, their fortunes could well be reversed Sunday at 7:10 p.m. It is a game, after all, in which a catcher can make a throw to nab a baserunner and it can hit the umpire. Actually, that happened in Game 1, as Vazquez plunked second-base umpire Joe West with an offline throw that West didn’t seem too terribly motivated to avoid.
The attempted slaying of an umpire … the 14 total walks compared to eight total hits … the 90-mph fastballs from Sale sailing all over the place – it was wild, and it was weird, and after 4 hours, 3 minutes, it was over, with the Astros ahead one game to nothing in the best-of-seven series and Price, winless in 10 career playoff starts, needed to save the 108-win Boston Red Sox’s season.
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