By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Boston Red Sox and Houston Astros are going to face off in the American League Championship Series, with a trip to the World Series on the line. If recent history is any indication, it’s going to be quite intense.
A few things have happened since these two teams last met in the ALCS — something about a sign-stealing operation from 2017 getting exposed? We’d have to check the records on that one.
But we need not even explore that aspect of this budding rivalry of sorts to recall some craziness from their previous playoff meeting. So before the 2021 ALCS begins, let’s take a brief trip down memory lane to recall some of the wild moments from that five-game series three years ago.
To wit …
–Alex Bregman trolled Nathan Eovaldi … and it backfired in a big way. The Astros’ third baseman spent some time on Instagram posting videos of himself and his teammates hitting homers off Eovaldi, who was slated as the Game 3 starter in Houston. “Lil pregame video work,” Bregman wrote.
Eovaldi got the win in Game 3, allowing two runs over six innings. But it was in Game 5, when Eovaldi entered in relief, that this saga came to a head. Eovaldi casually dialed up a 102 mph heater to blow strike three past Bregman for the second out of the eighth inning, making the Red Sox just four outs away from the World Series.
It allowed the Red Sox to do a little Twitter response after clinching the series:
lil post series video work pic.twitter.com/mbwVWHuh8i
— Red Sox (@RedSox) October 19, 2018
–Controversy in the outfield. In Game 3, Astros left field Tony Kemp made a catch that might not have been a catch:
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) October 16, 2018
But maybe it was a catch. It certainly sounded like Steve Pearce’s towering fly ball clanked against the metal wall, but it looked like Kemp might have caught it cleanly. Either way, it was ruled a catch, and that was upheld on replay, taking away two runs from the Red Sox in the third inning. The Red Sox recovered, breaking a 2-2 tie with a run in the top of the sixth, before blowing it open for an 8-2 win.
The series had more outfield controversy in store, though.
One night later, Jose Altuve sent a fly ball to right field. Mookie Betts retreated to the warning track, timed his leap, and … had his glove bump into fans’ hands, closing his glove just before the ball arrived. It was wild.
Mookie Betts was about to rob José Altuve of a home run … until a fan's hand got in the way.
It was ruled an out on review. pic.twitter.com/NLzAnNJ1vj
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 18, 2018
The Astros were peeved. The Red Sox were happy.
Instead of the Astros having a 2-1 lead, the Red Sox got out of the inning with their 1-0 lead intact. They went on to win 8-6.
–Andrew Benintendi ended Game 4 in ridiculous fashion. That 8-6 victory in Game 4 was no cinch.
Craig Kimbrel — who was incredibly shaky during the playoffs — issued three walks in the bottom of the ninth. With the tying run on second base and the winning run on first base, and with the Houston fans going crazy, things were tense.
With the bases loaded and two outs, Alex Bregman stepped in against Kimbrel and sent a low, sinking liner into shallow left field. If it dropped, one run was sure to score, but there would be a play at the plate if the potential tying run was sent home.
Benintendi decided to not mess around with that scenario. The left fielder opted for a full-speed sliding catch out in left field. He made it.
.@RedSox radio broadcaster Joe Castiglione got so excited during the final play, he literally fell out of his seat.
Can you believe it? 😂 😂 😂 pic.twitter.com/HdMe6upUpF
— MLB (@MLB) October 18, 2018
Had that ball gotten by Benintendi, the Red Sox were likely losing. You don’t see a game end in do-or-die, insanely entertaining fashion like that too often.
–More defense. That Kimbrel save also was aided by an absurd throw by Mookie Betts to nab leadoff hitter Tony Kemp in the eighth inning.
WHAT A THROW!
Mookie Betts cut down Tony Kemp with a laser from right field.pic.twitter.com/Z9ty8dmGiJ
— The Sporting News (@sportingnews) October 18, 2018
The accuracy of that throw was preposterous.
–Some sign-stealing tomfoolery was afoot. By now, it’s old hat to talk about sign-stealing. But we caught our first big whiff of scandal during Game 1 at Fenway Park.
An Astros employee using a cell phone was removed from an area of Fenway, after the Red Sox had been tipped off to his presence.
The Astros told MLB that this person was only spying on the Red Sox to ensure that the Red Sox weren’t spying on the Astros. That’s some next-level spy game activity right there.
MLB bought that excuse, though, quickly sweeping the incident under the rug and assuring everyone that there was nothing to see.
As we’d all find out a year later, there was actually something to see. And the first real smoke on that scandal emerged in this game, when the Astros couldn’t sneak anything past Alex Cora and Co.
–David Price and Jackie Bradley Jr. delivered. Prior to the 2018 playoffs, David Price’s postseason record as a starter was a mess. Even His first two starts were rough, too, as he allowed seven earned runs in his 6.1 innings against the Yankees and Astros.
But in Game 5, on the road, with a World Series berth on the line, Price pitched six scoreless innings with nine strikeouts. In his 12th playoff start, he finally earned a win for the first time. And it was a big one.
Just as unpredictable was the offensive impact of Jackie Bradley Jr. In a series full of stars, it was Bradley who earned ALCS MVP honors. Bradley drove in nine runs in Games 2-4, highlighted by his eighth-inning Grand Slam to turn Game 3 into a laugher. He then crushed a homer in the sixth inning of Game 4, turning a 5-4 deficit into a 6-5 lead.
Suffice it to say, nobody saw those ALCS performances coming from Price and Bradley.
–Cora got bounced in Game 1.
The manager was heated about a bad strike three call on Andrew Benintendi, which killed the potential go-ahead rally after the Red Sox had just tied the game.
“You can’t argue balls and strikes, and I did,” the then-rookie manager said after the loss. “It’s kind of, like, embarrassing that it happens in the playoffs. That wasn’t cool watching the game in the clubhouse. I got a job to do and manage the team from the dugout.”
For the record … it was a terrible strike three call:
–Game 4 took forever. It took four hours and 33 minutes, to be exact. That was the second-longest nine-inning playoff game ever.
–A memorable Sunday night in New England. Price’s first start of the series came on a Sunday night, with the Astros leading the series 1-0. But it wasn’t the only game in town.
At the same time of Game 2, the Patriots were hosting Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs at Gillette Stadium on Sunday Night Football. So while the Red Sox battled back from a 4-2 deficit with ta three-run third inning (thanks to a three-RBI double from Jackie Bradley Jr., of course), the Patriots were blowing a 24-9 lead, then coming back from a 33-30 deficit, then allowing the game-tying touchdown in the final minutes, only to end the slugfest with a picture-perfect connection from Tom Brady to Rob Gronkowski to set up the game-winning field goal.
Brady and Gronkowksi would later have some key connections against the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game and then the Super Bowl vs. the Rams later that season, the final year of Tom Brady-Patriots glory.
That obviously had nothing to do with the Red Sox, outside of being one of the biggest “two TV nights” in modern Boston sports history. It also helps drive home the feeling that even though this all happened just three years int he past, it feels like several lifetimes ago.
If this year’s series provides even half of that excitement, we’d be hard-pressed to feel cheated by that.