BOSTON -- Game 1 of the ALCS probably didn’t make the Yankees feel any better.
Getting eliminated by the Red Sox on Tuesday night in the Bronx was a little easier to take when it seemed as if the AL East champs, coming off a 108-win season, clearly were the superior team. To a man, the Yankees credited Boston with outplaying them in every aspect, and that wasn’t tough to argue after losing in four games, including a 16-1 humiliation along the way.
And the Astros? Their October title defense began with a sweep of the Indians, a dominant performance that re-established them as the most balanced team left in the tournament.
But if the Yankees were home watching Saturday night, seeing the ragged series of events that transpired on a chilly night at Fenway Park, they must have been choking on their popcorn.
Here’s the pertinent information you need to know: Aside from a pair of ninth-inning homers by Josh Reddick and Yuli Gurriel, the teams combined to provide the dubious entertainment value of five singles, one double, 14 walks (10 by the Red Sox), three hit batsmen, three replay reviews, two wild pitches, two errors -- and one torpedoed Joe West, who stood statue-still as he was nailed squarely on the shoulder by Christian Vazquez's throw to second.
Wrap that in a plodding, sloppy 4-hour, 3-minute package, and what you have is a 7-2 Astros victory that won’t be characterized as an Instant Classic anytime soon.
“They finish games,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “They’re pretty tough on bullpens and they grind out at-bats. We didn’t make plays. It wasn’t the best night, but if you take the positive from the game, it was 3-2 going into the ninth.”
Not that Cora was in the dugout at that point. The Sox manager was so fed up with the proceedings -- actually the parts played by the umpiring crew -- that he got himself tossed at the end of the fifth inning after the Red Sox rallied for two runs off Justin Verlander to tie the score at 2-2.
Cora first was annoyed by plate ump James Hoye ringing up Andrew Benintendi on a called third strike that closed the fifth -- with two runners on -- and when Hoye ejected him, Cora made sure to give crew chief West an earful.
“You can’t argue balls and strikes, and I did,” Cora said. “It’s kind of embarrassing that it happens in the playoffs. That wasn’t cool watching the game in the clubhouse. But sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do, and you’ve got to defend your players.”
Cora was last seen flapping his arms as if he were prepping for takeoff, going chin to chin with West. That fired up the Fenway crowd, which had mostly been put to sleep by Verlander’s surgical efficiency to that point.
Frankly, Cora’s antics were the most exciting moments through the first eight innings of Game 1, as the hyped pitching matchup between Verlander and Chris Sale didn’t really come to fruition.
Sale, you may remember, shut down the Yankees in Game 1 of the Division Series at Fenway, and in the process, supposedly shrugged off any immediate concerns about a troublesome shoulder that cost him two DL stints. After Saturday’s loss to the Astros, however, those questions may surface anew if his name is called again for Game 5.
This was not the same Sale. He didn’t have his usual velocity -- perhaps because of the 50-degree first-pitch temperature -- or anything resembling control of the strike zone. As a result, the Astros took a 2-0 lead on their only hit off him, a two-out single by George Springer in the second inning. Sale set the table with a pair of walks and a hit-by-pitch to the bottom third of Houston’s order, and he was pulled after four innings and 86 pitches.
“It’s just one of those things that happens,” Sale said. “Sometimes you get out there and you battle yourself.”
Watching Sale struggle like that makes you wonder what might have happened if the Yankees had toppled Craig Kimbrel in Game 4 and forced the Sox ace -- who pitched an inning of relief in ALDS Game 4 -- to come back two days later for a do-or-die showdown on Thursday night at Fenway. Sale looks to be running on fumes now, with even Verlander saying afterward, “Obviously, he’s not feeling as fresh as he usually does. I think we could all see that.”
Now the hopes of Red Sox Nation rest with David Price, who is winless in 10 playoff starts with a 6.03 ERA. Perhaps that means he’s due in Sunday night’s Game 2. But the last time we saw Price, he was helping Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez put baseballs into orbit. The Astros are more than capable of doing the same.
“I think that’s the one thing about our team -- it’s non-stop,” Verlander said. “These guys keep coming at you.”
The Red Sox buckled under that wave in Game 1. And somewhere, late Saturday night, the Yankees maybe had second thoughts about an opportunity lost.