HOUSTON – A thunderclap of power, no doubt, catapulted the Boston Red Sox into the record books and perhaps into command of their American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros.
With a pair crackling grand slams from J.D., the Red Sox created history on Saturday. Martinez and Rafael Devers scored in the opening two innings. Kiké Hernández would later clang yet another ball off the wall in back of the Crawford Boxes, his fifth home run in five games, tying franchise legend David Ortiz (and Todd Walker) for most homers in a Red Sox postseason.
They seized a nine-run lead and coasted home, beating the Astros 9-5 to square this series 1-1, and a pair of giddy home-plate celebrations after the slams will surely be this game’s postcard shot.
Yet while his performance was neither historic nor particularly remarkable, the true unicorn in this game was Boston’s starting pitcher, Nate Eovaldi.
See, in a series pitting the AL’s ostensibly two best teams, Eovaldi’s name is the only one written down in pen when his manager is plotting his pitching plans.
In a series where the Game 1 starters each pitched 2 ⅔ innings and Houston’s Game 2 starter, Luis Garcia, exited after one inning and one batter with reported knee irritation, Eovaldi’s 5 ⅓-inning effort provides some separation in a series pitting powerful, evenly-matched yet undeniably flawed teams.
And in these AL playoffs, a team’s starting pitcher has recorded an out in the sixth inning just three times.
Eovaldi’s done it twice, in Saturday’s Game 4 and the AL wild-card win over the New York Yankees. Third performance? That belongs to Houston’s Lance McCullers Jr., who pitched 6 ⅔ innings to beat the Chicago White Sox in Game 1 of their AL Division Series.
McCullers has forearm swelling and is now out of the ALCS. Garcia might join him at the infirmary for his knee injury. Jake Odorizzi, an option to start Game 4 for the Astros, had to absorb four innings of emergency relief – yielding Devers’ grand slam – after Garcia’s abrupt exit.
This is where it’s going.
Jose Urquidy is a World Series-tested pitcher for the Astros. Yet Urquidy’s made just 32 career starts and carries a 4.13 career fielding independent pitching mark, the kind of starter Boston’s ravenous hitters chew up and discard.
But they shouldn’t be too relaxed. Red Sox manager Alex Cora wasn’t effusive on Saturday as he discussed his Game 3 plans.
“We’ll get there when we get there,” he says. “We’re not going to name a starter for Game 3.”
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Although Game 1 was a Houston win, which looked beautiful, both teams had to use eight pitchers. More bullpen games or inconsistent starters loom in Games 3-5 at Fenway Park – and diminishing returns from overworked arms may follow.
The Red Sox won the war of attrition on Saturday. Hernández is now 16 for 32 in this postseason, instant offense always, it seems. They’ll have Eovaldi ready for a Game 6 back here next week, provided the Astros can win at least one game with Urquidy, TBA and Framber Valdez going at Fenway Park.
Don’t etch that in stone, though. Through two games of this pitching-poor ALCS, we’ve learned everything is subject to change.
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