TENSIONS RISING

How Astros World Series campaign is creating volatility unlike anything ever seen

The atmosphere will be brutal in Boston. Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images.

Hollywood or Vince McMahon couldn't have written it any better: the Houston Astros vs. the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series with the winner advancing to the World Series.

This is gonna be fun. Or as your mother used to say when you and your brother were fighting in the backyard, "Yeah, it's all fun and games until somebody loses an eye."

There's a lot of anger in America and it's spilled onto the baseball diamond and into the stands. Political differences used to be "I like Ike" and "I'm just wild about Harry." Now we have a mob chanting "Hang Mike Pence." And Pence was one of their guys! At least "in name only."

Last week Chicago White Sox pitcher Ryan Tempera said the Astros have a reputation of doing "some sketchy stuff." What he really meant was "cheating." White Sox manager Tony La Russa said the Astros have a "character shortage." What he really meant was the Astros are "a-holes."

Dusty Baker, who's normally unflappable and turns the other cheek, turned feisty, "I don't have much response to that other than I was listening to Eric Clapton this morning, and he had a song, 'Before You Accuse Me (Take a Look at Yourself).' ... You know what I mean? That's all I got to say."

I got no problem with Dusty spitting back. Except Creedence Clearwater Revival's version of "Before You Accuse Me" is much tighter than Clapton's.

Houston sports fans have a reputation for being polite. The only player who really gets a hard time from the crowd here is Albert Pujols, and that's mostly out of respect for a homer Pujols hit in the 2005 NLCS that still hasn't landed.

Last week, though, a couple of Astros fans beat the crap out of a White Sox supporter in Minute Maid Park. Wave to the TMZ cameras, fellas. American baseball has turned into European soccer in some cities, not Houston, not yet, but we're trending.

The Astros ballpark is going to rock Friday night when the Red Sox get here. The White Sox were merely bystanders in the Astros 2017 cheating scandal. The Red Sox were involved – the Astros beat them in the AL Division Series and current Red Sox manager Alex Cora was in the Astros dugout in 2017. If Cora wasn't the mastermind of the sign-stealing scheme, he was at least consigliere to crime boss Carlos Beltran.

The Red Sox, unindicted co-conspirators for their own shenanigans in 2017, have revenge on their minds. It got nasty when the Astros visited Fenway back in June. Cora didn't apologize for his fans, but did admit that the fans' jeers were "tough to swallow, tough to hear it."

Cora added that Yankees fans were much harder on the Astros. True. I was in Yankee Stadium when the Astros visited The Bronx. I never heard an entire ballpark so united in one cheer that contained the F-word. Altuve got it the worst because Yankees fans believe he not only helped the Astros steal the ALCS from the Yankees, Altuve personally robbed the American League MVP from Aaron Judge.

Astros shortstop Carlos Correa also was a target of Yankee fans' taunts. There will be only one way Correa can get those fans to stop boo'ing him – sign with the Yankees next season. Fans are so fickle.

I suspect that Sox fans will let it hang out when the ALCS moves to Boston next week. There will be chants of "Cheaters!" and "F-Altuve" and some fans will sneak in blow-up garbage cans. The lead sports column in Thursday's Boston Globe wondered if the Astros are the biggest cheaters in sports history – not just baseball, all of sports!

That's a stretch. The 1919 White Sox cheated to lose the World Series on purpose. At least the 2017 Astros cheated to win the World Series. That's something, I guess. Then again, Pete Rose was banned from baseball for betting on his own team to win. Didn't help.

Yeah it'll be brutal up in Boston. And there may be even crazier villagers with pitchforks and torches if the Astros beat the Sox. I shouldn't say "if" – I mean "when."

There's a possibility the Astros will meet the Dodgers and unforgiving, high and tight pitcher Joe Kelly in the World Series. Dodgers fans make Yankees and Red Sox fans look like the Welcome Wagon lady.

Last month, my son and two friends were in Los Angeles for an Astros-Dodgers game. They wore Astros jerseys. After the game, security insisted they leave Dodger Stadium, already soaked with beer and condiments, in the back of a police car for their protection.

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Boston's two grand slams in the first two innings were too much for Houston to overcome in ALCS Game 2. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

After a win in ALCS Game 1 that had the prototypical fingerprints of this Astros team all over it, Houston returned to Minute Maid Park on Saturday, hoping to take a dominant 2-0 series lead if they could grab another victory. The Red Sox dashed those hopes very early, though, scoring eight runs across the first two innings to build the lead they would hold on to even the series.

Final Score: Boston 9, Astros 5

ALCS Series (Best of Seven): tied 1-1

Winning Pitcher: Nathan Eovaldi

Losing Pitcher: Luis Garcia

Houston met with disaster to start Game 2

You couldn't have drawn up a much better start for the Red Sox or a worse one for the Astros in Saturday's ALCS Game 2. Luis Garcia met early disaster in the top of the first inning, allowing a leadoff double, then got two outs while issuing two walks to load the bases. That brought up Boston's designated hitter, J.D. Martinez, to the plate, and he delivered a crushing blow to Houston, launching a grand slam to put the Red Sox up 4-0 before Houston could even get to the plate.

After a scoreless bottom of the inning by his offense, things got worse for Garcia in the top of the second, as after issuing a four-pitch walk to start the frame, he would become the center of a meeting at the mound with trainers, ultimately leaving the game with an injury. Houston opted to bring in Jake Odorizzi for the emergency call to the bullpen, but things did not start well for him either. He would put two of his own batters on base with two singles, then gave up the second grand slam in as many innings, this one to Rafael Devers to double Boston's lead to 8-0, doubling down on Houston's disastrous start to the game.

Odorizzi rebounded with a 1-2-3 third, but with one out in the top of the fourth allowed a solo homer to Kiké Hernández, his third homer of the series so far. He would still get the job done of eating up a few innings, finishing the fourth, and retiring Boston in order in the fifth, giving Houston just four more innings to cover with the rest of their relievers.

Astros get a few runs back

Over that span, Houston did trim the lead by three runs, getting an RBI double by Kyle Tucker and a two-RBI single by Yuli Gurriel in the bottom of the fourth, making it a six-run game at 9-3. Their next reliever was Blake Taylor in the top of the sixth, and he would keep the score where it stood by sitting down the three batters he faced that frame.

The Astros threatened again in the bottom of the sixth, getting two singles to put two aboard, but would come out empty, sending the game on to the seventh, where Taylor would remain on the mound. He faced three more batters, getting two out while allowing a single before Yimi Garcia would come in to get the third out.

Red Sox even the series as it shifts to Boston

Garcia returned in the top of the eighth, getting through that inning despite a walk and hit by pitch, stranding both runners. Boston's bullpen kept Houston from getting any closer in the bottom of the eighth, then Ryne Stanek came in for the Astros in the top of the ninth. Stanek allowed a leadoff double, but with a groundout and double play, held the score at 9-3. Yuli Gurriel and Jason Castro did their part to keep the Astros alive in the bottom of the ninth, each hitting solo homers to make it 9-5, but that's as close as they'd come, dropping Game 2 to tie the series at one game apiece.

Up Next: The ALCS now moves to Boston for the next three games after a day off on Sunday, with Game 3 on Monday at 7:08 PM Central. While the Astros have named Jose Urquidy as their starter, the Red Sox have not yet determined theirs.

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