There was no ball-strike controversy to blame in Game 5 of the ALCS. The Houston Astros just steamrolled the Boston Red Sox, and now they will take a 3-2 series lead back to Houston with a chance at a third World Series appearance in five years.
Behind a stellar night from Framber Valdez, the Astros topped the Red Sox 9-1 in Game 5 to close out the Boston leg of the series.
Valdez's performance was the first time an Astros pitcher had even lasted three innings in the entire series, as the Red Sox have made it a habit of jumping all over Houston's starters in the early innings. There was no such opening on Wednesday, as Valdez held the Red Sox to three hits, one earned run and one walk while striking out five.
His eight innings were more than the 6 2/3 innings Astros starting pitchers had combined to throw in the entire series entering Wednesday. With a bullpen that previously had to throw 30 1/3 innings in four games, that is a massive boon for Houston.
A close game was then broken open with a five-run rally in the sixth inning:
Now, the Astros find themselves one game from a World Series some on the team would undoubtedly present as some sort of vindication. All year, the Astros have been greeted by jeers from opposing fans and further cheating accusations, even from playoff opponents. It is the second MLB season to pass by since the Astros' sign-stealing scheme from 2017 and 2018 came to light, and the first in which fans have been able to make their opinions known.
Only four players from the Astros' 2017 roster are on the team's ALCS roster, and a fifth reportedly won't be joining them in the World Series as Lance McCullers Jr. deals with a forearm injury. The team is beginning to take on a sort of Ship of Theseus dynamic, though some of its most important parts — Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel — still remain.
While that infield is intact, the Astros have cycled in a motley assortment of talent, which is why they're in their fifth straight ALCS despite multiple years of attrition. Of course, the last time the Astros took a 3-2 lead back to Houston hardly worked out, thanks to the 2019 Washington Nationals.
Luis Garcia and Jose Urquidy are the obvious choices to start Game 6 and a potential Game 7, respectively, though the Astros might need a quick hook or to get creative given that the pair combined to last 2 2/3 innings total in their first starts of the series.