By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Red Sox returned to the postseason for the first time since 2013, and they quickly reminded everyone in the New England region how heart-pumping playoff baseball can be. They certainly had their chances, and the game had its moments, but ultimately the Indians did enough to hang on for a 5-4 victory in Game 1 of the ALDS.
Cleveland catcher Roberto Perez figured prominently in the victory, first for his tag on the foot of Brock Holt in the game’s first inning, one that was missed on the field but discovered on video replay review. Taking that run off the board proved crucial, as did Perez’s hustle play to tag up from first base to take second on a routine fly ball in the bottom of the fifth inning. He’d end up crossing the plate on an RBI single, scoring what proved to be the game-winning run.
Those were two key plays, but in a game that saw six solo home runs and 26 strikeouts combined from both teams, there were plenty more.
The Turning Point
Terry Francona raised more than a few eyebrows in the top of the fifth, when he called upon his best reliever to enter the game with two outs and nobody on with his team leading 4-3. It was a move made to get Andrew Miller in to face Brock Holt.
Interestingly enough, Holt managed to win that battle by driving a double to right-center, bringing up MVP candidate Mookie Betts. Miller lost Betts, walking him with first base open. In stepped David Ortiz.
It was best hitter vs. best pitcher, and it was a worthy fight. Ortiz showed great patience to lay off a breaking ball well off at the plate down at the knees to get the count to 2-1. But after Miller threw a dart of a fastball that painted the corner to even the count, he went back to that same breaking ball off the plate, and Ortiz went chasing. Swing and a miss.
Inning over, threat extinguished, and in that moment, Francona put into practice the idea that sometimes, you need your best reliever to get the most important outs in innings that aren’t the ninth.
Cleveland tacked on another run in the bottom of the inning, and that would be all they needed.
Considering the offense was spread out, and considering the starter didn’t make it through the fifth, this one has to go to the lanky lefty who rendered the Red Sox helpless.
Miller not only pitched well when being brought in. He continued to dominate the Red Sox for the sixth inning and into the seventh, retiring six straight batters to complete his outing, four by way of strikeout.
People might have questioned Francona when the manager went to Miller so early. But after that performance, everybody understands why the Francona had such confidence in his lefty.
Perez also gets an honorable mention, both for his tag at the plate and his heads-up base running.
When you have the type of season that Rick Porcello had, and when the manager sets up his rotation to get you the ball in the first game of the postseason, then you have to perform. Rick Porcello did not.
It’s not incredibly complicated: You don’t often win baseball games when you give up three home runs. The fact that all three came in the same inning certainly made the impact seem more damaging than it might have if the long balls were spaced out over multiple frames, but the final line of 4.1 innings, five runs, and six hits is not at all what Farrell and the Red Sox were looking for.
Coming in second place would be Xander Bogaerts. He looked to be having difficulty to see the baseball all night, issuing a series of check-swings and striking out twice in his first two at-bats. He had a chance to atone in his fourth at-bat, which came in the eighth inning with the tying run on third base. Instead, he struck out, again on a check-swing. It came in an at-bat where these were the pitches he saw:
It was a bad night for the shortstop.
This is where it gets interesting. When the Red Sox threw a boatload of money at David Price, the response was almost universal: “Great regular-season pitcher but he falls apart in October.” The standard retort involved saying, “Well, they’ve finished in last place for two years, so they can worry about that problem when they actually get back to the postseason.”
Now, they’re in the postseason. And now, the pressure will be on Price to buoy the Red Sox and prevent them from falling into a 2-0 hole. He’s never won a game in the playoffs as a starter, and he posted a 6.17 ERA last year in the playoffs for Toronto.
He said in his introductory press conference that he was saving all of his best playoff pitching for Boston. On Friday, he’ll have to prove it.