First, they played baseball in the rain. Then they went inside to shower themselves with champagne and beer.
A wet dogpile begins
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That was among the many odd things that happened to the Houston Astros Monday as they completed the first AL Division Series victory in franchise history with a nail-biting 5-4 triumph over the Red Sox in Boston's historic Fenway Park as they continued their own history tour.
Perhaps the key moment came in the eighth with Houston behind 3-2 and Chris Sale, a starting pitcher Houston pursued all winter, cruising into his fifth inning of relief work after Rick Porcello gave up two early runs. Alex "Bucky" Bregman recreated his Game One act against Sale with a solo homer over the Green Monstah, just inside the foul pole in left that tied the contest at three.
You could hear the air escape the Fenway crowd right at that moment. One out later, Evan Gattis sent one fair past the third base line that the Red Sox ball boy absent-mindedly fielded. Gattis belatedly hustled to second and was sent back to first. Cameron Maybin went in to run for him.
Boston closer Craig Kimbrel appeared with two outs and walked George Springer who had picked up three hits earlier. That left a one-on-one matchup with Josh Reddick. After fouling off some 3-2 pitches, Reddick turned around some 99-mph gas and poked a single to left that gave the Astros a 4-3 lead.
Houston had, by then, turned to their own starting pitcher, Justin Verlander, in relief of Charlie Morton who had run into trouble in the fifth. Verlander, who had never pitched relief in his entire baseball career, gave up a two-run homer to the first batter he faced, Andrew Benintendi, which put the BoSox ahead, 3-2. Verlander did not allow a hit after that and left with a 4-3 lead after the eighth-inning rally.
Ken Giles took over and blew through the Sox, 1-2-3, in the eighth. Houston added an insurance run in the ninth when Carlos Beltran summoned some 2004 post-season magic and doubled off the Monstah to plate Marwin Gonzalez.
That run became important when Rafael Devers drilled a drive in the rain off Giles that befuddled Houston outfielders for an inside-the-park homer. However, Giles bore down and got the next three batters in order to start the Houston celebration.
The Red Sox lost their manager back in the second inning when John Farrell was tossed by the home plate umpire for arguing balls and strikes. However, he was really trying to divert attention away from his second baseman, Dustin Pedroia, who had been rung up on strike three with the bases full and woofed his displeasure about it. Pedroia made the final out of the game and was miserable at the plate the whole series (.125).
Houston outhit the Sox, 12-9. Yuli Gurriel added three hits, including a triple that led to a go-ahead run in the second. Springer opened the game with a double off Porcello and later scored on a double play grounder. The Astros scored at least one run in the first inning of all four games in the series.
The A.L.C.S. will open either in Cleveland or in Houston depending on the results of the Yankees-Indians series. It will start Friday and Manager A.J. Hinch says the decision is not final but he is leaning on Game 2 winner Dallas Keuchel as his Game One starter in the next round. Verlander might return on four days' rest for Game Two.
This is just the fourth time in the franchise's history that they have won a postseason series (not including one-game playoffs) but the previous ones were in the National League, twice over Atlanta and once over St. Louis. They reached the World Series in 2005 but were swept by the Chicago White Sox.
This time, a new postseason rivalry will begin, regardless which team they face. Just as their slogan goes, the Astros are Earning History and now they will get three days off to rest up before the next round.
- Bob Hulsey