By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — The Red Sox threw their very best at the Houston Astros. It wasn’t good enough.

Though we love nothing more around these parts to point fingers and complain about managerial decisions, this ALDS proved beyond a doubt that such activity is not needed at this time. The Astros were, unequivocally, from one through 25, the better team.

If it hadn’t already been made clear, we witnessed on Monday as the Astros won the game against Boston’s best arms. A solo home run off Chris Sale in the eighth, and a pair of RBI hits off Craig Kimbrel in the eighth and ninth innings decided this game. The two best Boston pitchers couldn’t secure the win.

In crunch time of Game 4 — just as it had been for the majority of the series — the Houston Astros were better.

In this one, it was Alex Bregman launching the homer off Sale, Josh Reddick singling home the go-ahead run off Kimbrel, and Carlos Beltran doubling the much-needed insurance run in the ninth. All three were big-time hits in big-time spots. It’d be difficult to argue the Red Sox could have thrown anything better at the Astros.

Yes, it’s baseball, where any and every decision can and will be questioned. And yes, Sale did appear to be struggling to hit his spots in the seventh inning. It could be argued that despite his brilliance to that point, the combination of bench coach Gary DiSarcina, pitching coach Carl Willis and the almost-certainly-surreptitiously-managing John Farrell (who had been ejected protecting Dustin Pedroia in the second inning) should have decided to pull Sale before the start of the eighth inning.

But the fact that Kimbrel — the only Red Sox pitcher more reliable than Sale all year long — eventually served up the hit that allowed the go-ahead and winning runs to score does dampen any argument that Kimbrel should have come in earlier.

It could be argued that the Red Sox should have turned to Addison Reed in the eighth inning, considering that’s why he was acquired in the first place. But instead, the Red Sox chose to go with their best. The Astros were better.

It was the resounding theme of the series. Though David Price and Hanley Ramirez breathed life into the Red Sox in Game 3, the Astros were utterly dominant for the first 20 innings of the series. They hammered Red Sox starting pitching — to the tune of a 12.71 ERA and 2.559 WHIP. That’s the same Red Sox rotation that posted a collective 4.06 ERA and 1.291 WHIP during the regular season.

Kimbrel, who posted a minuscule 0.681 WHIP this season, allowed five base runners in his two innings of work. You could argue that he didn’t perform, because he didn’t. But it’d be difficult to build any sort of case that he should not have been on the mound with the season on the line. When he entered in the eighth, nobody thought that he’d be getting pulled in the ninth.

Pitching was supposed to be a strength for Boston. Houston’s offense was better.

Defense hurt Boston too, particularly in Game 4. Mookie Betts opted for a foot-first slide to get in front of a line-drive single by Yuli Gurriel to lead off the second. Betts missed, thus giving three free bases to Gurriel, who scored later in the inning. Rafael Devers misplayed a hard-hit ground ball in the sixth, and though Sale was able to pitch out of it, the error did force him to throw a handful of extra pitches. Considering fatigue seemed to eventually catch up to Sale, a defensive miscue like that shouldn’t be forgotten.

And it wouldn’t be a Red Sox loss without somebody running into an out on the basepaths. In Game 4, it was Mitch Moreland getting the green light from third-base coach Brian Butterfield on a Hanley Ramirez single in the bottom of the third. Moreland was out by three full strides.

On the positive end, if the Red Sox proved anything over the 18 innings played at Fenway Park in this series, it’s that they at least belonged on the same field as the Astros. After consecutive 8-2 beatdowns in Games 1 and 2, that was not a widely held belief. But with Andrew Benintendi’s two-run, go-ahead homer off Justin Verlander in the bottom of the fifth, and with Devers’ inside-the-park home run in the bottom of the ninth, the Red Sox showed they could fight.

Ultimately, it wasn’t enough. Because the Astros were the better baseball team.

In the regular season, Sale will either win the Cy Young or finish second in voting. Kimbrel struck out 126 batters in 69 innings while converting 35 saves and earning five wins.

The Red Sox put all their faith in their best pitchers. The Astros, undeterred, beat them. It was by no means easy, but in doing so, they made it clear that the better team will be moving on to the ALCS.

You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.


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