2018 ALCS Game 2
By Larry Dierker
In Game Two, the Red Sox showed their grit. They hit Gerrit Cole pretty hard — as hard as he’s been hit all year. They had three hits, a walk, and Cole’s own error to score two runs in the first inning.
George Springer, this century’s Mr. October, doubled to tie the score in the second.
In the top of the third, Marwin Gonzalez hit a two-run homer and the Astros took a 4-3 lead.
Destiny? Perhaps Not
The BoSox came right back with three more runs, on two doubles a walk and a single, to take a 5-4 lead.
Both teams went down in order in the fourth. Price isn’t as overpowering as he used to be, and perhaps he was too cautious in the fifth. He got a couple of ground balls, but his second walk of the inning brought Alex Cora to the mound, and Matt Barnes into the game. Price threw only 80 pitches, but he looked vulnerable.
The stars seemed aligned with the Astros, as the Red Sox bullpen was supposed to be their one weakness. And the Sox still needed 13 more outs. Barnes got one of them then and there; then worked a 1-2-3 sixth. Cole finally found the range, retiring the last seven batters he faced and exited down 5-4.
Ryan Brazier worked a scoreless seventh.
Lance McCullers walked Mookie Betts to open the Boston seventh, and he threw a wild pitch while striking out Andrew Benintendi. Then he threw a breaking ball that Martin Maldonado couldn’t handle while striking out J. D. Martinez, and Betts moved up to third. The first pitch to Xander Bogaerts got by Maldonado too, and Betts scored.
The last two advances were scored passed balls, but it hardly matters. When your pitcher is throwing pitches your catcher can’t catch, you have to do something. Hinch signaled for his flame-throwing rookie, Josh James. James walked Bogaerts, but he got out of the inning without further damage.
Red Sox 6, Astros 4 after seven innings.
Rick Porcello, picking up last year’s theme of starters coming out of the bullpen, set the Astros down in order, and time was running out on their destiny.
The Pace Slows
The Astros’ bullpen caved again in the eighth. James gave up a single, struck out two, and then got touched for another hit. That brought Hector Rondon into the fray, and he served up a double to Betts before yet another pitching change brought Tony Sipp into the game, which was closing in on four hours in length.
Now the strength of the Red Sox bullpen, Craig Kimbrel, entered with three outs to get and a three-run lead to protect. Kimbrel seemed a little shaky in his last game appearance at Yankee Stadium. But, he looked like his typical overpowering self in this one, retiring the first two batters. Red Sox fans did not leave early this time.
Never Over Until It’s Over
George Springer came up. You can’t hit a three-run homer with no one on base. But you can hit a double, and that’s exactly what he did. Then Jose Altuve ripped 1-0 pitch off the Green Monster. That brought the tying run to the plate in the person of Alex Bregman, the Astros’ most valuable player in 2018. The game fans moved to the edges of their seats.
Bregman eliminated the Red Sox with a double off Kimbrel in the ninth inning of Game Four at Fenway in 2017. On a 1-0 pitch, Bregman took the air out of Fenway again with a high fly ball down the left field line. It could be, it might be — but it wasn’t — Benintendi caught it with his back against the wall.
It wasn’t typical of modern baseball, in the sense that there was only one home run. But it wasn’t the type of crisp, mistake-free baseball game these two teams usually play. There was only one error, but there were nine walks, two wild pitches, and two passed balls.
And despite many pitching changes, there was no penalty for too many mound visits on either side.
Sadly, that speed-up measure of limiting mound visits didn’t work. It was an ugly four-hour-and-seven-minute game.
The Red Sox got what they needed: a win at home. And they won the battle of the bullpens.
The Astros got what was inevitable: the end of their postseason winning streak at five games.
Now it’s back to Minute Maid Park, and who knows what? You-never-know.
By the Way
One of the big stories in the aftermath was Ryan Barnes getting caught on camera using pine tar on his left (non-throwing) hand to get a better grip. I used to keep it at the base of my right thumb. Dodgers righthander Jay Howell was ejected from a cold game at Shea Stadium in the NLCS in 1988 for having pine tar on his glove.
I suppose most folks think this is cheating. I do not.
If you applied a big glob of pine tar to the ball, it would probably move a lot. But that’s not what any of us were doing. The reason I did it was to get a better grip — especially on cold days or nights when the balls were slick.
You need a good grip to throw strikes. And although it may help spin the breaking ball a little, it is not cheating. In fact, if I were hitting against a hard-throwing pitcher, I’d want him to have a little pine tar on his fingers.