In Repeat of Game 4, Astros Turn Pitchers’ Duel Into Game 5 Rout

BOSTON — For the second straight game, a close contest turned into a blowout. Fueled by a five-run fifth inning, the Astros rolled to a 9–1 win over the Red Sox in ALCS Game 5. Played under a full moon in front of 37,599 fans at Fenway Park, the victory gave Dusty Baker’s squad a 3–2 lead in a series that now moves to Texas for Game 6 on Friday.

Chris Sale and Framber Valdez were on the mound to start, and both did what has become all too rare in the modern-day postseason: provide quality innings beyond the third, fourth, and fifth. But it was Houston’s pitcher that ultimately shone brightest.

The game began with Jose Altuve flying out on a first-pitch changeup, an offering that Sale has struggled to execute in recent outings. The southpaw then recorded a strikeout and a groundout, both on fastballs, and finished the frame having thrown just nine pitches. Unlike in his earlier October starts, he looked sharp. Valdez was nearly as efficient in the bottom half, setting down the Red Sox in order on just a dozen pitches. Like his adversary, he recorded one of the three outs on a strikeout.

Sale’s first pitch of the second inning differed in two respects from the initial pitch of the game. This time it was a fastball, and this time Yordan Alvarez drove it 390 feet the opposite way, clearing the Green Monster and giving Houston a 1–0 lead. Just as they had the night before, the Red Sox faced an early-but-slim deficit. This time, though, it was against a starter who was on top of his game. Nary a ball left the infield as Valdez waltzed through the Boston batting order his first time through, retiring nine in a row.

Sale — his signature slider in fine form — was nearly as stellar, and through three innings, Alvarez’s long ball represented the only blemish on either hurler’s ledger. That changed in the fourth, and once again it was Alvarez’s bat making the loud sound. The 24-year-old Cuban DH followed a one-out Alex Bregman walk by lining a 106.7-mph single again to left, this time off the 37-foot wall, putting runners on the corners and causing Boston’s bullpen to stir. Sale wasn’t shaken: Reaching back for a little extra, the seven-time All-Star proceeded to fan Carlos Correa and Kyle Tucker on heaters, the latter of came in at 98.5 mph. It was the hardest pitch the string-bean southpaw has thrown since returning from Tommy John surgery.

Valdez made his first mistakes back-to-back in the fifth. Rafael Devers led off with a sharp single — 113.7 mph, per Statcast — and J.D. Martinez followed by taking a bounced breaking ball of the shin for a hit by pitch. The rally-in-making fizzled as quickly as it had started: Matching Sale’s squander-inducing effort, Valdez induced a 6–3 double play from Hunter Renfroe, then got Alex Verdugo to ground out to first to end the inning. With five frames in the book, the Astros had the game’s lone run.

Boston’s defense helped Houston add to its lead in the sixth. Michael Brantley followed an Altuve walk by chopping a ball to the left side, and the throw from a charging Devers was dropped by first baseman Kyle Schwarber for an error. A Bregman come-backer resulted in runners on second and third, bringing up Alvarez, the only Astro to have thus far solved Sale.

Despite the left-on-left matchup, an intentional walk looked to be in order. Alex Cora thought otherwise. Boston’s manager had his starter pitch to Alvarez, and the result was a double — yet again to the opposite field — that drove in a pair of runs. With the score now 3–0, Cora trudged to the mound and took the ball from Sale.

A sequence not unlike Game 4’s ninth-inning Astros onslaught followed. Ryan Brasier relieved Sale and got the second out on a strikeout, but three straight batted balls — only one of which was struck solidly — went for base hits. By inning’s end, the pitchers’ duel was no more, and the score stood at 6–0. Sale’s final line, though, does a disservice to how well he performed. The 32-year-old lefty was charged with four runs, two of them earned, with a pair of walks and seven strikeouts. All three hits he allowed came off the bat of Alvarez.

Baker kept riding his horse. Even after a seventh-inning single from Brantley made it 7–0, the veteran manager trotted out Valdez for the bottom half. With a pitch count still short of 70, it made sense; no Houston starter had gone as many as three innings over the first four games, so the bullpen was badly in need of rest. Valdez not only provided it, but he also did so with his best outing all year. With a too-late-to-matter Devers homer the only dent in his armor, he finished with a 8-3-1-1-1-5 line on 93 pitches, 62 of them for strikes.

Yuli Gurriel — his three hits and three RBIs on the night matching Alvarez’s totals — extended Houston’s lead to 9–1 in the ninth. Ryne Stanek then polished off a Boston lineup that was no longer as hot as Houston’s, concluding a contest that served as a reminder that the Astros have now won 100 games since the start of the season. With one more, they’ll advance to the World Series for the third time in five years.





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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mariodegenzgz
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mariodegenzgz

It’s going to be the talking point, but I have no issue with Sale facing Yordán a third time. He’s better than any Red Sox reliever, after all, I just hate the pitch call. Giving him a telegraphed first pitch heater away was extremely stupid. That’s one of those “if you walk him, you walk him” situations.

On Framber, what is there to say? Best outing of his career, best outing of this postseason for any pitcher. In total control the whole way through, so much so that I thought I might let him finish the game himself. Crazy how this series has flipped in just over 24 hours, huh? The Red Sox had managed to hide their awful bullpen so far this postseason, but not any longer. That group is a massive liability.

TheFightingBurkhardts
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Member
TheFightingBurkhardts

Framber was great, in total control as you mention. But lest we forget about Logan Webb in Gm1 against LA already?

mariodegenzgz
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mariodegenzgz

Webb was phenomenal, but I think context matters. His performance was in a Game 1, Framber tossed a masterpiece in a pivotal Game 5 with a depleted bullpen behind him. He needed to deliver and deliver he did.

maximus74
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maximus74

there’s no way sale should’ve faced alvarez a third time, even if he struck out every batter between alvarez ABs he should’ve been lifted

mariodegenzgz
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mariodegenzgz

Why? It’s not like the Red Sox had any better options against Yordán. They should’ve walked him.

teachdad46
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teachdad46

Disagree. No need for a reliever but put the man on first to set up the force/double play OR, at the very least, pitch around him. Do NOT just get back on the rubber and throw a first pitch fastball on the outer half of the plate (to a guy who’s already smoked two of those offerings to left field and with authority.)