Monday afternoon’s ALDS Game 4 between the Astros and Red Sox was thoroughly bizarre. It featured a managerial ejection, two aces pitching in relief, several lead changes, an inside-the-park home run and loads of stranded runners.
But at the end of it all, the Houston Astros emerged with a 5-4 win that gave them their first playoff series victory since 2005.
There were many heroes for Houston on Monday, just as there have been all series and all season. George Springer had three hits, including a go-ahead RBI in the second inning. Yuli Gurriel had three hits of his own, as well as a run scored. Alex Bregman tied the game in the eighth inning with a solo home run off Chris Sale. Josh Reddick gave the ‘Stros the lead later that inning with an RBI single off Craig Kimbrel. Closer Ken Giles finished off Boston with a two-inning save.
— MLB (@MLB) October 9, 2017
The story of the game, however, was A.J. Hinch and Justin Verlander. When the Astros manager brought his No. 1 starting pitcher out of the bullpen in the fifth inning, the move looked a bit panicky. Houston has an excellent bullpen, and surely Will Harris or Chris Devenski would have been adequate relief options that wouldn’t have required blowing the team’s presumptive Game 5 starter. When Verlander promptly allowed a two-run go-ahead home run to Andrew Benintendi, the move looked even worse. Hinch had managed the situation like it was an elimination game and had, in doing so, blown a lead and handicapped himself for a true elimination game Wednesday.
But then Verlander pitched out of the fifth and threw up zeroes in the sixth and seventh. He was not dominant (no strikeouts, two walks), but he kept the Red Sox off the board and bridged the gap to Giles. Without Hinch’s decision to go to Verlander, the Astros might not have won.
And with that, the Astros advance to their first LCS since their pennant-winning 2005 campaign. In the 12 years since then, Houston has sunk to ignominious depths, losing 100 games in three straight seasons, then emerged from the thorough rebuild with an impressive young core. In the ALDS, the Astros received eight total home runs from 28-year-old Springer, 27-year-old Jose Altuve, 23-year-old Carlos Correa and 23-year-old Bregman. The entire four-game set was a validation of the roster-building and player-development strategies of general manager Jeff Luhnow and company.
With the Astros’ young nucleus of hitters, plus a rested Verlander and Dallas Keuchel on the mound, they will be a difficult ALCS matchup for the Indians or Yankees. Had things played out differently, Hinch’s decision to go for broke Monday could have compromised Houston’s shot at advancing. Instead, it left the Astros in perfect position to keep playing deep into October.