By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
Final, 8-6 Red Sox: It took more than four-and-a-half hours, but this one’s over. The Red Sox won. But it was not easy.
Here’s how the ninth inning went.
Gurriel popped out in foul territory, with Ian Kinsler (entering for Devers, with Holt moving to third) making a nice basket catch out in right field.
Reddick then walked on five pitches.
Correa then walked on five pitches.
McCann got under a curveball, sending a sky high fly ball to deep right field. But Betts made the catch with plenty of room to spare for out number two. Reddick tagged and advanced to third.
Tony Kemp stepped up with two outs, and two on, with the Astros trailing by two. With a full count, Kimbrel walked him.
Bases loaded. More trouble. Alex Bregman coming to the plate.
Bregman swung at the first pitch, sending a flare into shallow left field. Benintendi charged and went into a dive. He made the catch. The game was over.
If Benintendi missed that ball, the Red Sox almost surely lose the game. But he made the decision to make the dive, and it won the game.
The Sox are one win away from reaching the World Series. Game 5 is Thursday night in Houston.
Middle 9th, 8-6 Red Sox: For a brief moment, it looked like the Red Sox were going to blow this one wide open. But then Josh Reddick made a diving catch on a sinking line drive off the bat of Mookie Betts, getting Houston out of a bases loaded jam.
So this one heads to the ninth. With the Sox leading by two.
It looked like David Price might be coming in for the save, but it’s Kimbrel coming back out for the ninth.
End 8th, 8-6 Red Sox: It didn’t take long for Craig Kimbrel to get into trouble. And he’s lucky it’s not worth.
Kemp led off the inning with a line drive single down the line in right on the first pitch. He tried to stretch it into a double, but Betts made a phenomenal play to field the ball, spin, and fire a strike to second base to get the first out. That was pretty huge.
Kimbrel then hit Bregman with a fastball and then gave up a double to Springer.
With runners on second and third, Altuve stepped up and grounded to short on the first pitch. It scored a run, but it wasn’t the worst, given the situation.
Kimbrel then managed to get Gonzalez to chase a breaking ball in the dirt for strike three. So the damage ends there. Two-run lead (at least) heading into the ninth.
Kimbrel threw 14 pitches, so he could theoretically pitch the ninth? Nobody really knows what Alex Cora is up to at the moment.
Middle 8th, 8-5 Red Sox: The Sox lead has grown. Mookie Betts lined a one-out single into left field, then advanced to second on a wild pitch while J.D. Martinez was at the plate with two outs. Martinez muscled a curveball that was up and in into center field, allowing Betts to score easily. And the Sox get an all-important insurance run.
Bogaerts grounded out to end the inning.
And Craig Kimbrel is coming on for a six-out save. That’s not exactly his specialty. But he’s certainly well-rested.
End 7th, 7-5 Red Sox: Matt Barnes got it done.
The right-hander dropped in two curveballs in the exact same spot for called strikes two and three, and the Red Sox are out of the inning. They’re just six outs away from taking a 3-1 lead in the series.
Buuuuut, they probably would’t mind some cushion. Bradley, then the top of the order, are due up.
Bottom 7th, 2 outs, 7-5 Red Sox: In the top of the inning, the Astros faced a critical pitching moment. Now it’s the Red Sox’ turn.
Brasier got bad contact from three hitters, but unfortunately for him, the first one led to a jam shot single into shallow center field by Gonzalez. Gurriel then flew out to shallow right, as did Reddick.
Cora hoped to get one more out from Brasier, but Correa smoked a line drive double down the right field line. Betts got the ball back to the infield quickly, preventing Gonzalez from scoring, but that’s where Brasier’s night ends.
Now up steps Tyler White, facing Matt Barnes. A single can tie the game.
Middle 7th, 7-5 Red Sox: Moreland grounded out to first base, so this one is still within reach for Houston. Still, that run could prove to be a huge one.
Top 7th, 2 outs, 7-5 Red Sox: McCullers entered and … walked Holt on five pitches. Sox increase their lead. Mitch Moreland enters as a pinch hitter for Vazquez.
Top 7th, 2 outs, 6-5 Red Sox: Pressly should have gotten out of this inning, but Carlos Correa didn’t help.
The infield defense from Houston has been spectacular, but on a simple double play ball up the middle, Correa failed to touch second base before throwing to first. It would have ended the inning, but instead it forced Pressly to face Pearce. After falling behind 3-0, Pressly did fill up the count (Pearce missed a two-RBI double down the third base line by about a foot), but walked Pearce with a curveball in the dirt.
So it’s bases loaded now, and Lance McCullers is coming on. If he can get Brock Holt, the Astros are in business. If he can’t, the Red Sox might have put the game out of reach.
Suffice it to say, this is a big at-bat.
End 6th, 6-5 Red Sox: Brasier had a very difficult task. He nailed it.
He got Bregman to fly out to center, then induced two straight grounders from Springer and Altuve to third base to get through the top of the order and maintain the Boston lead.
Devers threw to second to get both outs, and though he was a little shaky on the first throw, he did make the plays.
Ryan Pressly is in to replace James, who gave the Astros 3.2 innings, allowing three runs in the process.
Bottom 6th, 0 out, 6-5 Red Sox: Eduardo Rodriguez entered the game to face one batter: Tony Kemp.
He walked him.
And that’ll end Rodriguez’s night.
Cora clearly doesn’t have much trust in Rodriguez. Ryan Brasier, on the other hand, has all of Cora’s confidence. So he now enters with a runner on base and the top of the order coming up. No pressure.
Middle 6th, 6-5 Red Sox: Jackie Bradley, you have got to be kidding me.
The Red Sox’ No. 9 hitter just absolutely destroyed a middle-middle changeup with a runner on base, sending it high and very deep to right field for a two-run homer. And the Sox have the lead back.
That runner on second was Vazquez, who himself nearly homered on a deep liner to right-center. Springer got a glove on it on a leaping attempt, but couldn’t make the catch. Bradley made it count.
Betts then sent a charge into a ball to left-center, but Kemp made a leaping catch at the base of the wall (and he actually caught this one).
Nevertheless. A crazy game gets crazier.
Eduardo Rodriguez replaces Joe Kelly.
End 5th, 5-4 Astros: The seesaw game swings back to the Astros, as Carlos Correa comes through with a two-out RBI single past a diving Bogaerts, scoring Gurriel from second base.
Gurriel got to second base with some heads-up base running, taking second on a pitch blocked by Vazquez. Gurriel had singled with one out earlier in the frame.
Maldonado grounded out to end the inning, but the damage was done. More work to be done for the Boston bats.
Middle 5th, 4-4: It’s a tie game. These teams are slugging it out.
Benintendi crushed a one-out double to left-center (he’s all over it tonight), and he came around to score on a two-out single up the middle by Bogaerts.
That’s two RBIs for Bogaerts tonight, and, once again, it’s a whole new ballgame.
Devers struck out to end the inning. Earlier, Martinez reached on an infield single, but replay showed he was clearly out on the skipped throw from deep short by Correa. The Astros challenged and won.
Joe Kelly is entering the game, meaning Porcello’s night is done. He made it through four innings, allowing four runs on seven hits (two homers) and a walk. Bad night from Porcello, but it’s at least a tie game.
End 4th, 4-3 Astros: Porcello was able to get out of the inning, as Cora seems to really want/need at least 12 outs of his starter. He got that, but it may be it for Porcello. He’s just not effective.
Porcello walked Springer with two outs, but got Altuve to pop out to first base to end the inning.
Bottom 4th, 4-3 Astros: The Astros have their first lead of the night, and it was delivered by an unlikely source.
Tony Kemp just turned on an 0-1 inside breaking ball and sent it high and deep to right field. It snuck around the foul pole, and the Astros are up by a run.
Kemp it just six home runs all year long.
Middle 4th, 3-3: Some interesting action at the end of the inning, as Bradley appeared to have struck out. But he argued with home plate umpire Mark Carlson that he tipped the ball before it hit the dirt, and Carlson agreed. Bradley then took four straight balls to earn a walk and turn over the lineup.
But Bradley took off for second on the first pitch to Betts, and Maldonado threw a laser beam to second to nab him for the final out.
Rick Porcello is coming back out for the fourth. Cora needs him to get through it.
End 3rd, 3-3: Update — it did not requite a gap shot to score Altuve. Turns out, a little bloop over short that resembled a tennis drop shot could get the job done, too.
That’s what Reddick just hit into shallow left field, and Altuve came around while limping to score the tying run.
Have to wonder if Altuve can finish this game, and what his status will be going forward. But for now, he just scored the tying run.
Joe Kelly is warm but Cora stuck with Porcello against Correa. Porcello got Correa to swing over a breaking ball for strike three, but, well, that might be it for Rick. He was not good tonight.
Bottom 3rd, 0 out, 3-2 Red Sox: The Astros got another one back, and quickly. George Springer swung at a first pitch fastball on the outer half of the plate, and he did not miss. Springer sent it 350 feet out to right field for a solo blast to cut the lead to one run.
It’s an especially dicey situation for Porcello now, after Altuve hit a high fly ball to left field. It looked like it would get out, but it hit the wall. Altuve (who’s got a bad knee) had to turn on the jets to turn it into a double. He did, but he’s in bad shape out there. He’s going to stay in the game, but it’ll take a real gap shot to score him from second.
Middle 3rd, 3-1 Red Sox: Houston’s infield defense has been superb this series, and nobody’s been better than Alex Bregman.
He just saved James from big trouble by making a diving stab to his left, then popping up and throwing to first to beat Pearce for the final out. Yet another tremendous play from Bregman, who’s made plenty already this series.
James got Devers to strike out swinging prior to Pearce’s at-bat.
Top 3rd, 1 out, 3-1 Red Sox: Boston has gotten that run right back, and they’ve chased starter Charlie Morton from the game after he recorded just seven outs.
Benintendi led off the third with a blast to deep right-center field. It ended up hitting the yellow padding at the top of the wall, missing out on a home run by an inch or two. (George Springer didn’t make a play on the ball, instead crashing into the fence.)
Benintendi didn’t hustle out of the box, so he only got a double out of it. That proved to be a moot point when Maldonado couldn’t handle a simple pitch in the dirt, allowing Benintendi to trot to third.
Though Martinez struck out, Bogaerts turned on a 3-2 breaking ball down the third base line for an RBI double.
Josh James is now on to pitch for Houston.
End 2nd, 2-1 Red Sox: The Astros got one back. Porcello looked shaky. But he managed to get out of it.
The run came via Carlos Correa, who ripped a single through the left side of the infield. Josh Reddick was on second base after a leadoff double, and Benintendi’s defensive positioning in left-center allowed Reddick to score with ease.
The Red Sox were then gifted an out when Maldonado popped up a bunt in foul ground. Vazquez popped up and made a catch on the run. Kemp then struck out swinging, before Bregman grounded out to Holt. Bregman squared up the 0-2 breaking ball pretty well, but Holt was in perfect position behind the second base bag to field the hot shot and throw on to first for the out.
Porcello’s at 30 pitches through two, while Morton’s at 36.
Middle 2nd, 2-0 Red Sox: A quiet second inning for Boston, with Jackie Bradley’s two-out walk the only base runner. Holt grounded out, Vazquez popped out, and Betts flew out to center.
End 1st, 2-0 Red Sox: Porcello created a little pickle for himself by hitting Gonzalez on the foot with the first pitch of his at-bat, and then falling behind Gurriel 3-0. But Porcello battled back to fill the count, and then induced a lazy fly to right to end the inning.
Crazy first inning in Houston, where the fans are understandably upset. That call could have gone either way, as the fans didn’t appear to be reaching over the fence.
Bottom 1st, 2-0 Red Sox: Controversy here.
Altuve clobbered a high and away fastball from Porcello, with a runner on first. The ball kept carrying to right field, and Betts tracked it back to the fence before making a leaping attempt to make the catch. But just as the ball was about to enter Betts’ glove, a fan trying to catch the ball interfered with Betts’ glove and actually closed it.
Joe West ruled fan interference, but the umpiring crew then threw on the headphones for a review.
After a very long review, the call on the field was upheld. Altuve is out, Springer returns to first base, and there are two outs in the inning.
Prior to the controversial play, Bregman grounded out to short, and Springer singled to deep right-center.
Middle 1st, 2-0 Red Sox: The Red Sox once again are on the board with an early lead. Rafael Devers sliced an 0-2 curveball into shallow left field, bringing home Betts and Martinez. That’s precisely how the Red Sox would have liked to start this game.
Morton’s curveball was down in the zone, but it was right in the middle of the plate. It was the same spot, essentially, where he dropped two curveballs to Martinez. But with an 0-2 count, he likely wanted to either throw this one in the dirt or more toward a corner.
Morton avoided an early jam, thanks to some outstanding defense from Marwin Gonzalez. He sprinted to his left to track down a Benintendi chopper, then quickly spun and fired while falling to the ground to retire Benintendi at first base.
Morton was then very careful to Martinez, only throwing curveballs over the plate while offering four fastballs well outside for a walk. A “wild pitch” during Bogaerts’ at-bat (it was absolutely a passed ball, as Maldonado was shakier than shaky) moved the runners to second and third, and though Bogaerts struck out, Devers came through.
Top 1st: Charlie Morton’s first pitch to Mookie Betts is a fastball for strike one.
Hope you brewed an extra pot of coffee. This late one is underway.
And the second pitch … hits Mookie Butts on the thigh. Red Sox get their leadoff man on base.
6:45 p.m.: Houston manager A.J. Hinch made a fairly significant lineup change, moving Alex Bregman into the leadoff spot. Bregman has a ridiculous .714 on-base percentage this series, with seven walks and two hits in 14 plate appearances. While Game 3’s double should have been ruled an error instead of a hit, the numbers are still overwhelming.
Jose Altuve remains at DH, and George Springer slides down a spot to the two-hole.
For the Red Sox, Devers is starting at third, and Holt is at second, with a righty making the start for Houston.
1. Mookie Betts, RF
2. Andrew Benintendi, LF
3. J.D. Martinez, DH
4. Xander Bogaerts, SS
5. Rafael Devers, 3B
6. Steve Pearce, 1B
7. Brock Holt, 2B
8. Christian Vazquez, C
9. Jackie Bradley Jr., CF
–RHP Rick Porcello
1. Alex Bregman, 3B
2. George Springer, CF
3. Jose Altuve, DH
4. Marwin Gonzalez, 2B
5. Yuli Gurriel, 1B
6. Josh Reddick, RF
7. Carlos Correa, SS
8. Martin Maldonado, C
9. Tony Kemp, LF
–RHP Charlie Morton
6:30 p.m.: Tonight is the biggest game of the season for the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros.
Of course, the same was true last night, and Sunday night, and Saturday night. That’s the beauty of this time of year, isn’t it?
Still, while every game in a championship series is significant, tonight will be extra important for the Red Sox, after news broke of Chris Sale being unable to start Game 5. While the Red Sox can certainly win without Sale (they’re 2-0 without him thus far in this series, as you know), the team would generally prefer to have their ace available in Game 5, just in case the series is tied 2-2 entering the night.
Alas, the Red Sox don’t have that option, and a loss in Game 4 would put a tremendous amount of pressure on whoever starts Game 5 (Eduardo Rodriguez? David Price on short rest?).
Even if the Red Sox win tonight, they’d prefer to have Sale in a close-out situation, rather than extend the series. That scenario, though, is preferable to being knotted at 2-2.
All of which puts an added focus on tonight. Game 4. If the Red Sox win, they’ll take a (overused sports term/cliche forthcoming) commanding 3-1 lead in the series. If the Astros win, it’s back to square one, with baseball’s two best teams facing the prospect of a three-game series.
It’s going to be a big one, and we’ll have live updates and analysis right here in the live blog.