This play cost the Astros big time. Bob Levey/Getty Images
After a controversial call early in the game potentially erased two runs from Houston, both teams went back-and-forth with the Red Sox ultimately coming out ahead, edging out the Astros 8-6 to win the last three games and take a commanding 3-1 lead in the ALCS. The Red Sox are now one win away from eliminating Houston and moving on to the World Series.
Charlie Morton did not get far into Game 4, going just two and one-third innings during which he allowed three runs on three hits with two walks. The bullpen behind him too would fall victim to Boston's potent offense, allowing five more runs. For the Astros, George Springer and Tony Kemp hit solo home runs, Carlos Correa drove in two runs, and Jose Altuve and Josh Reddick each had an RBI as well in the loss.
The Red Sox were able to once again get runs in the first inning to set the tone their way early, getting the best of Morton in the top of the first inning. Morton hit Betts to start the game, walked J.D. Martinez with one out, then allowed a two-RBI single to Rafael Devers with two outs to give Boston the quick 2-0 lead. Springer, moved down to second in the lineup behind Alex Bregman, hit a one-out single in the bottom of the inning off of Rick Porcello. Altuve was up next, and drilled a ball to right field that made it into the first row, but Mookie Betts was able to leap high enough to contest the ball with a fan in the front row, and what arguably should have been ruled and left as a home run was instead ruled fan interference which stayed that way after a review. So instead of tying the game, the Astros would end up empty-handed in the inning, leaving it a 2-0 deficit.
Morton had a much smoother top of the second, working around a two-out walk to keep Boston from scoring any more runs. In the bottom of the inning, Reddick led off with a double, allowing Correa to trim the Red Sox lead to one run with an RBI-single off of Porcello to make it a 2-1 game. Porcello was able to get the next three batters in order to stop the threat there, though.
Andrew Benintendi missed a solo home run by just a foot or so to lead off the top of the third, but instead, it would be a double off the wall. He would move to third on another ball that Martin Maldonado let get past him, then scored on an RBI-double by Xander Bogaerts that would end Morton's night early, and bring in Josh James from the bullpen, who was able to get the last two outs of the inning. Springer hit a no-replay-needed dinger to lead off the bottom of the inning, bringing the Astros back within one run at 3-2. Altuve was next and hit one just short of a home run himself, off the top of the left field wall, but stayed on second for two outs before Reddick came through with another hit on the night, an RBI-single to tie the game 3-3 before Porcello could end the inning.
Josh James continued to throw heat in the top of the fourth, getting a couple of outs before a walk resulted in a caught stealing by Maldonado who cannoned a ball to second for the third out. Kemp gave Houston their first lead of the game, finally, with a one-out solo home run to make it 4-3 Houston in the bottom of the inning.
Just like in the third inning, it was Benintendi getting a double that set up another score, a two-out RBI single by Bogaerts that made it 4-4 off of James who remained in the game to eat up some innings. Porcello's night was done after four innings, with Joe Kelly coming in from Boston's bullpen to pitch the bottom of the fifth, and allowed a one-out single to Yuli Gurriel who then moved to second on a wild pitch. Correa was up with two outs and a chance to put Houston back ahead and came through with his second RBI of the night, a single to make it 5-4 Astros.
James continued on in the top of the sixth and after a two-out double allowed a two-run go-ahead home run to Jackie Bradley Jr. to put Boston back in front 6-5. In the bottom of the inning, Eduardo Rodriguez started the inning but was quickly pulled after a leadoff walk to Tony Kemp, with the Red Sox going to Ryan Brasier to face Bregman. Brasier would win the battle, and the next two as well, to get three outs to strand Kemp and maintain the one-run lead.
Ryan Pressly took over for Houston in the top of the seventh but was unable to get his usual dominant inning, instead, he loaded the bases with two outs, prompting A.J. Hinch to go to Lance McCullers Jr., who walked in a run before getting the final out. Brasier returned for a second inning in the bottom of the seventh, but it was Marwin Gonzalez who won the first at-bat with a bloop single to lead things off. Brasier was able to get the next two outs on fly balls, then Carlos Correa hit a double to the right-field corner to put runners on second and third and bring in another reliever for Boston, Matt Barnes. Barnes would face the pinch-hitting Tyler White and strike him out looking to end the inning.
McCullers Jr. was back on the mound in the top of the eighth and allowed a one-out single to Betts, who moved to second on yet another wild pitch, then scored on an RBI single from J.D. Martinez to extend the lead to 8-5. In the bottom of the inning, Boston went to closer Craig Kimbrel. Kemp led off the inning for a single but got thrown out trying to advance to second on a perfect throw from Betts for the first out. Bregman went to first on a hit-by-pitch, then to third on a one-out double by Springer. Altuve was next, and scored Bregman on an RBI-groundout to make it 8-6, but left Springer on second with two outs. Springer would steal third, but get left stranded there as Kimbrel would get a strikeout of Gonzalez to end the inning.
Tony Sipp started in the top of the ninth, but after issuing a one-out walk then single was pulled for Collin McHugh. McHugh was able to get the final two outs thanks to an amazing diving catch from Reddick to keep it a two-run game. Kimbrel was tasked with a six-out save by coming back out for the bottom of the ninth but struggled to find the zone walking back-to-back batters with one out, bringing the go-ahead run to the plate in Brian McCann. McCann flew out to right field for the second out, but Kimbrel would walk Kemp next to load the bases, bringing up Bregman. Bregman came out swinging, lining a ball to left field, but Benintendi would play the hero, making a diving catch to save the game for the Red Sox.
Game 5: The final game in Houston, and possibly the series, will be tonight at 7 p.m. Central, and can be seen again on TBS. We know that it will be ace Justin Verlander going for Houston, who was a part of Houston's only win of this series so far in Game 1. Boston's starter has not yet been named, as it's uncertain if David Price will be available after warming up in the bullpen during the late stages of Game 4. In any case, the Astros will have to win three straight to take the series and advance, and this is likely their easiest matchup of the possible remaining three games.
Ronald Acuña Jr. and Corbin Carroll just got a little more dangerous. Same for Bobby Witt Jr., Elly De La Cruz and the rest of baseball's fastest players.
Major League Baseball wants umpires to crack down on obstruction, and the commissioner's office outlined plans during a call with managers this week. MLB staff also will meet managers in person during spring training to go over enforcement.
The increased emphasis is only on the bases and not at home plate. The focus is on infielders who drop a knee or leg down in front of a bag while receiving a throw, acting as a deterrence for aggressive baserunning and creating an increased risk of injuries.
“I think with everything, they’re trying to make the game a little safer to avoid some unnecessary injuries," Phillies shortstop Trea Turner said Friday at the team's facility in Florida. “The intentions are always good. It comes down to how it affects the players and the games. I’m sure there will be plays where one team doesn’t like it or one team does.”
With more position players arriving at spring training every day, the topic likely will come up more and more as teams ramp up for the season.
“We'll touch on that. We'll show them some video of what’s good and what’s not,” Texas Rangers manager Bruce Bochy said. “You know, it’s going to be a little adjustment.”
Making obstruction a point of emphasis fits in with an ongoing effort by MLB to create more action. Obstruction calls are not reviewable, which could lead to some disgruntled players and managers as enforcement is stepped up, but it also means it won't create long replay deliberations.
A package of rule changes last season — including pitch clocks, bigger bases and limits on defensive shifts and pickoff attempts — had a dramatic effect. There were 3,503 stolen bases in the regular season, up from 2,486 in 2022 and the most since 1987.
MLB changed a different baserunning rule this offseason, widening the runner’s lane approaching first base to include a portion of fair territory. MLB also shortened the pitch clock with runners on base by two seconds to 18 and further reducing mound visits in an effort to speed games.
“Last year, you know, a lot of our preparation was around like, especially just the unknown of the clock and making sure like we’re really buttoned up on that," New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. "These guys are so used to it in so many ways that sometimes I even forget.”
Increased enforcement could lead to more action on the basepaths. But a significant element of MLB's motivation is injury prevention.
Top players have hurt hands or wrists on headfirst slides into bases blocked by a fielder. White Sox slugger Luis Robert Jr. sprained his left wrist when he slid into Jonathan Schoop's lower left leg on a steal attempt during an August 2022 game against Detroit.
“It’s been happening for a while. It’s been getting out of control," Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “I know some of the players complained about it the last two years.”
While acknowledging his reputation as a significant offender, Phillies second baseman Bryson Stott didn't sound too worried about his play.
“We like to fight for outs at second base,” he said. "It’s never on purpose, blocking the base. For me, or someone covering second to the shortstop side, it’s a natural move for your knee to go down to reach the ball. It’s never intentional. I guess we’ll figure out how to maneuver around that.”