Red Sox Bats Again Silent as Astros Advance to World Series

The Astros are heading to their third World Series in the last five years, besting the Red Sox, 5–0, on Friday night to finish the ALCS in six games. The Red Sox had the pitcher they wanted on the mound in Nathan Eovaldi, but the offense they needed never materialized as Houston’s starter, Luis Garcia, pitched 5 2/3 masterful innings, striking out seven against just a single walk and one lonely hit.

As one of the first front offices to go all-in on modern analytics, Houston has long been an organization that takes glee in upending conventional wisdom. Despite a rotation torn apart long-term by veteran departures and short-term with an injury to Lance McCullers Jr. (and what possibly looked like one to Garcia), the Astros stymied Boston’s lineup. Pitching woes, schmitching woes; despite the very reasonable worries about the rotation, they limited the dangerous Red Sox offense to three runs over the final three games.

Everyone likes tales of comebacks or redemption, and Garcia, one of the AL Rookie of the Year favorites, provided a good one. He got knocked out in the third inning of his first start this postseason, giving up five runs against the White Sox in Houston’s lone ALDS loss. The follow-up performance didn’t go any better: the Red Sox scored five runs off of him before he was removed with a knee strain in the second inning.

Some teams would have been a little uneasy about starting Garcia in Game 6, but one of the reasons the Astros are in position to win another World Series championship is that they put a lot of faith in the young pitching talent that remained after most of their big-name starting pitching was gone. As with the Rays and their never-ending supply of nameless relievers who become all-world or the White Sox going with Carlos Rodón in Game 4 of the ALDS, there’s a lot of appeal in sticking with the people that got you here. There would have been second-guessing and what-ifs about not acquiring a J.A. Happ type a few months ago if Garcia had again struggled. But he didn’t, and while this wasn’t John Smoltz facing off against Jack Morris in the World Series, he dominated Boston’s offense in his 5 2/3 one-hit innings.

There’s no actual knife in a cutter, but Garcia’s on Friday loaded up Red Sox batters in the tumbrels to face his guillotine. There wasn’t much liberté or fraternité here, but quite a lot of égalité, as everyone found themselves equally helpless against it. Of Garcia’s 76 pitches, 20 were cutters, and zero ended up as balls in play. The Red Sox offered at 13 and swung through 12 of them; only one pitcher, Corbin Burnes, had as many swings-and-misses on that pitch in a game this year. Garcia’s velocity was also way up from his usual levels. He threw only one 97-mph pitch this regular season, coming back in a game against Cleveland in mid-July. Against Boston on Friday, he threw eight.

If you want a quick example of how bad a night it was for the Red Sox, one of their offensive highlights was a strikeout. One of Garcia’s nasty cutters got Kyle Schwarber swinging to start the game, but he reached first base as the pitch went underneath Martín Maldonado. This was the moment when Boston’s win expectancy peaked — at 53.6%.

Down 1–0 and hitless through the first 5 2/3 innings, the Red Sox finally threatened with two outs in the sixth when Kiké Hernández tagged a Garcia fastball that was a little too much over the heart of the plate deep into center for an off-the-wall triple. Phil Maton came in to face the lefty Rafael Devers, getting him to pop out on his only pitch of the night.

Kendall Graveman, Ryne Stanek, and Ryan Pressly closed out the win, allowing just one hit. Boston only seriously threatened in the seventh, with runners on first and third with one out, in what was then a 2–0 game, only for Travis Shaw to strike out and for Maldonado to nail Alex Verdugo at second on a busted hit and run. Earl Weaver once called the hit and run “the worst and dumbest play in baseball,” so his shade must have been smiling watching that.

Manager Alex Cora had no regrets about the failed play.

“I just bet on my players. 3–2 count, if we put the ball in play against a sinker-baller, we score one,” Cora said after the game, as seen on NESN’s postgame coverage. “He threw like a 1.4 to second, whatever he did, and we didn’t make contact, and he got thrown out. But that’s one of those that, it’s a 3–2 count with a sinker-baller, we were trying to score one. We felt we had the right guy at first … their catcher just came up shooting and made a perfect throw.”

Kyle Tucker’s three-run shot — now that was an Earl Weaver favorite — in the eighth off Adam Ottavino provided additional insurance for the Astros. In the end, though, they just would’ve been fine with the one run they got early off Eovaldi, with Alex Bregman collecting a two-out single in the first and scampering home on a booming Yordan Alvarez double to dead center — one that Enrique Hernández nearly corralled, only to have it bounce off the heel of his glove hand. Alvarez doubled again his next time up in the fourth, again following a Bregman single, setting up second and third with no one out — a jam Eovaldi escaped from by striking out an over-aggressive Carlos Correa, Tucker, and (after an intentional walk to Yuli Gurriel) Chas McCormick.

Houston’s young slugger struck a third time in the sixth. An inning earlier, Cora pulled Eovaldi — who was on short rest after throwing 24 pitches in relief in Game 4 on Monday — with one on and one out for Josh Taylor, matching up his top lefty against Michael Brantley that inning and Alvarez the next. It worked on the former, but Alvarez ripped a triple off the southpaw into a nearly vacant right field to open the sixth, then scored on a double play two batters later. To cap things off, he lined a single off Tanner Houck in the eighth and came around to score on Tucker’s homer. For the series, he hit a jaw-dropping .522/.538/.870, including seven hits — five for extra bases — in his final nine at-bats, easily earning ALCS MVP honors.

By winning in Game 6 instead of needing a Game 7, Houston’s offense gave a lovely gift to Houston’s early pitching staff in the form of additional rest. The World Series doesn’t start until October 26, giving the team three full days of rest — something they especially need, given the very high probability that McCullers will not be able to return from his arm injury to pitch in the Fall Classic. As to whether their opponent will be the Dodgers or Braves, they’ll have to wait, just like the rest of us, for Saturday night.





Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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weekendatbidens
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weekendatbidens

“I just bet on my players” = I’m not going to take responsibility for a terrible call

Ivan_Grushenko
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Ivan_Grushenko

Ya he should take the heat off a player

Smiling Politely
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Smiling Politely

I’m sorry, are we talking about Alex Cora, King of Accountability?