BOSTON — The Red Sox and Astros unquestionably were the best the American League had to offer this season — and played nothing like it in Game 1 of the ALCS.
In a game that was an amalgam of walks, wild pitches, hit batsmen and errors — just about everything but consistent hits — the Astros prevailed, 7-2, in front of 38,007 on a chilly Saturday night at Fenway Park.
The defending World Series champion Astros, 103-59 during the regular season, took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series and quickly put the Red Sox, who went 108-54 in winning the AL East title, on their heels.
The Astros have to feel good about their chances of making it 2-0 Sunday night. They’ll send Gerrit Cole to the mound against David Price, 0-9 with a 6.03 ERA in 10 career postseason starts.
“With Gerrit going on the mound tomorrow, we have all the confidence in the world,” said Josh Reddick, who sparked a four-run ninth with a leadoff homer off Brandon Workman. “[Being up] 2-0 at home would be a huge advantage for us and I know it’s going to put their backs against the wall. But we have to keep our foot on the gas pedal.”
How unsightly was the action Saturday night in a game that shaped up as a pitchers’ duel between Boston’s Chris Sale and Houston’s Justin Verlander?
Red Sox pitchers allowed five hits and struck out nine but walked 10 — setting a franchise record for a nine-inning postseason game — and hit three batters. Astros pitchers allowed three hits and struck out 11 but walked four. A total of 325 pitches were thrown in the game, 188 by the Red Sox.
“I think our offense does a good job of just finding ways on base,” said Astros third baseman Alex Bregman, who bucked the ugliness of the night by playing his usual standout game in the field. “Doesn’t matter if we get a hit, a walk, hit by pitch; just trying to grind out at-bats. In the postseason, as many times as you can get on base as possible is big, and we did a good job of that tonight.”
Through six innings, the teams’ pitchers had combined to allow four hits . . . and 10 walks. The evening even featured an ejection, as Red Sox manager Alex Cora — Houston’s bench coach last season — got run by plate umpire James Hoye after Andrew Benintendi took a borderline strike three call to end the fifth inning with runners at second and third and the score tied at 2.
“That,” Houston manager A.J. Hinch said, “was a huge at-bat.”
George Springer’s two-run single in the second inning, a hard-hit ball that Eduardo Nuñez had a play on but couldn’t come up with, made it 2-0.
Two of the Astros’ three runs resulted from a hit batsman, including the go-ahead run scored by Bregman, who was hit by Joe Kelly to start the sixth. After that came an error by Nuñez, a former Yankee whose struggles in the field helped pave his way out of the organization.
Kelly had little command in the inning, and it caught up to him when Carlos Correa swatted a 3-and-1 pitch for an RBI single that gave Houston a 3-2 lead.
Reddick homered in the ninth and, after two more walks, Yuli Gurriel added a three-run shot off Workman to make it 7-2. The two homers were the first two extra-base hits of the night. “Being a tough team to put away is a great characteristic,” Hinch said. “And we showed again why tack-on runs are really important. We can be pretty explosive.”
Verlander, 12-6 with a 3.08 ERA in the postseason, had one wild inning — a 33-pitch fifth in which the Red Sox tied the score with two runs — but otherwise was very good. The 35-year-old, the hero of last year’s ALCS seven-game victory over the Yankees, allowed two runs, two hits and four walks in six innings, striking out six.
Sale, 1-2 with a 6.19 ERA in the postseason, allowed two runs and one hit in four erratic innings in which he walked four and struck out five. Sale threw 86 pitches, 50 for strikes.
“I lost command. I was searching for it a little bit,” he said. “It’s just one of those things that happens. Sometimes you get out there and you battle yourself.”