HOUSTON – Finally, this American League Championship Series delivered.
The hyped matchup of the AL’s top teams had been a ho-hum affair, the first three games mostly devoid of the drama and theater expected.
It all changed – boy, did it ever – in Game 4, a wild 8-6 Red Sox victory over the Astros in front of a thunderous, and ultimately exhausted and disappointed, crowd of 43,277 at Minute Maid Park who sat through the 4 hour, 33-minute game that had a bit of everything.
The Red Sox, winners of three straight after dropping Game 1, can capture the AL pennant with a victory in Game 5 Thursday night here.
Andrew Benintendi made a diving catch in left on an Alex Bregman sinking liner with the bases loaded to end it, allowing a rickety Craig Kimbrel to earn a six-out save and allowing Red Sox Nation to exhale.
And the Red Sox.
“I’m going to sleep really good tonight, I can tell you that, I’m going to sleep really good and dream of Benny,” Xander Bogaerts said with a smile. “Him catching that ball, amazing night, amazing night. It was a huge relief. If he misses that ball it’s game over.”
Wednesday night was a classic punch-counterpunch contest, the most decisive blow being Jackie Bradley Jr.’s two-run homer in the sixth that gave the Red Sox a 6-5 lead. The relentless Astros had scored at least one run in innings 2-5, with Carlos Correa’s second RBI single of the night giving them a 5-4 lead.
It was yet another big hit in the series for Bradley, whose bases-clearing double essentially won Game 2 for the Red Sox and whose grand slam blew open Game 3.
Boston tacked on after Bradley’s blast, getting a bases-loaded walk of Brock Holt in the seventh and a two-out RBI single by J.D. Martinez in the eighth that made it 8-5.
“They’re a relentless lineup, relentless lineup,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “So are we. This game was incredibly good on both sides.”
Houston had 13 hits, three each from George Springer and Correa and two from Tony Kemp. Springer and Kemp each homered. The Red Sox had 11 hits, two apiece by Benintendi, Martinez and Bogaerts.
Jose Altuve’s RBI groundout in the eighth off Kimbrel made it 8-6.
Rafael Devers’ two-run single in the first gave Boston a 2-0 edge, leading to the night’s most controversial sequence, which involved veteran umpire Joe West.
After Springer’s one-out single, Altuve punched one to right. Mookie Betts charged toward the wall and seemed to perfectly time his jump as the ball began clearing, by a couple of feet, the wall. As Betts did, his glove connected with a fan, the ball smacking the closed glove and falling back on the field. West, the rightfield umpire, immediately called fan interference. A replay review came back as “stands,” meaning the replay umpires in New York did not feel there was conclusive evidence to overturn.
Part of Rule 6.01 under Spectator Interference reads: “No interference shall be allowed when a fielder reaches over a fence, railing, rope or into a stand to catch a ball. He does so at his own risk. However, should a spectator reach out on the playing field side of such fence, railing or rope, and plainly prevent the fielder from catching the ball, then the batsman should be called out for the spectator’s interference.”
Not surprisingly, the two clubhouses had differing perspectives on if the fan reached out “on the playing field side” of the fence.
“It’s hard for me to say something when it doesn’t matter what I say, they’re not going to change it,” Altuve said, according to the Houston Chronicle. “Normally, I don’t get mad about umpires calls. That one, I was a little upset.”
Benintendi, the leftfielder, had another view.
“Mookie kept saying, ‘I was definitely going to catch that,’” Benintendi said. “After watching the replay it looked like it would have if the [fan’s] hand didn’t hit his glove. That was a good call by Joe and a big call.”
Said Betts: “I was pretty positive I was going to catch it. I felt like somebody was kind of pushing my glove out of the way or something. I guess he got the call right.”
West, second all-time in games umpired (he passed 5,000 games in 2017), kept it simple to a pool reporter afterward.
“He [Altuve] hit the ball to rightfield. He [Betts] jumped up to try to make a catch. The fan interfered with him over the playing field. That’s why I called spectator interference.”
Asked if it was a “clear” call, West said: “Yes,” adding later: “the replay official said I was right.”
The day overall had an odd start, with MLB earlier Wednesday clearing the Astros of wrongdoing following an investigation of two separate incidents.
The first involved a club employee getting caught during Game 3 of the ALDS at Cleveland’s Progressive Field aiming his cellphone camera into the Indians' dugout. The same employee was booted from Fenway Park doing the same during Game 1 of this series.
“A thorough investigation concluded that an Astros employee was monitoring the field to ensure that the opposing Club was not violating any rules,” MLB said, taking a strange fox-watching-the-henhouse tone in part of its statement. “We consider the matter closed.”
Oh, if only.