BOSTON (USA TODAY) — Breaking down Game 4 of the Houston Astros' 5-4, ALDS-clinching win over Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park Monday afternoon. This is Houston's first postseason series win since 2005 and clinches their first trip to the AL Championship Series:
Astros 5, Red Sox 4: Astros win series 3-1.
The game: Both managers went to their aces – Boston’s Chris Sale and Houston’s Justin Verlander, the Game 1 starters – for relief in Game 4. They got starkly different results.
Sale, pitching in relief for the first time since May 8, 2012, pitched about as well as an ace can pitch in a postseason game. He entered in the fourth and went four scoreless innings, allowing two runs with no walks and six strikeouts. He threw 45 of his 65 pitches for strikes.
Verlander, though, making his first career relief appearance, was treated much more harshly by the Red Sox. Entering in the fifth with one on and one out, the Astros leading 2-1, Verlander gave up a two-run homer to his first batter, Andrew Benintendi, who entered the game batting .167, going 2-for-12 in the series.
But that all changed in the eighth inning. Sale gave up a lead-off homer to Alex Bregman, tying the game, 3-3. Giving way to closer Craig Kimbrel later in the inning, Sale left with two out and one on. But Kimbrel walked his first batter, No. 1 hitter George Springer, before allowing a single to Josh Reddick, scoring pinch runner Cameron Maybin with the go-ahead run.
That run was charged to Sale, who took the loss.
Manager’s special: The Astros came to Boston up 2-0 in the best-of-five series. If they didn’t pull out the Game 4 win, manager A.J. Hinch likely would have to hear for a long time about his decision to bring in Verlander in that situation.
Instead, Farrell may be hearing about his decision (by proxy of bench coach Gary DiSarcina) to let Sale come back for the eighth.
Pivot point: Bregman’s lead-off homer off Sale in the eighth revived the Astros, shifting the momentum in the game, and also gave them a chance to take a deep breath. Five batters later they took the lead off Kimbrel – who struck out 50% of the batters he faced this year.
Carlos Beltran hit an RBI single in the ninth off Kimbrel that loomed large: Rafael Devers hit an inside-the-park home run after a favorable richochet off the Green Monster. But Ken Giles held on for the save to close out the series.
Man of the moment: Justin Verlander looked like he would be the goat, giving up a two-run, go-ahead home run to Andrew Benintendi, his first batter, in the fifth. Instead, Verlander got the win as the Astros scored two runs in the eighth off Boston ace Chris Sale and closer Craig Kimbrel.
In 2 2/3 innings, Benintendi’s homer was the only hit Verlander allowed.
Sale, who may win the Cy Young Award, was the loser in two of Boston’s three defeats in the ALDS; Verlander, who arrived via trade Aug. 31, recorded two of Houston’s wins.
State of the series: It’s over. Now the Astros just have to wait for the winner of the Indians-Yankees ALDS, beginning Friday.