Marwin Gonzalez and the Astros came up short. Elsa/Getty Images
Boston's offense came out firing against Gerrit Cole in Sunday night's ALCS Game 2, one-upping the Astros as the teams traded blows early to beat Houston 7-5 and tie the series up at a game apiece.
Gerrit Cole had one of his worst starts of the season, allowing five runs (four earned) on six hits over six innings with five strikeouts. George Springer tied the game 2-2 with a big two-RBI double in the second, Marwin Gonzalez hit a monster go-ahead two-run homer in the third, and Jose Altuve tried to get a rally going with an RBI in the ninth, but it would not be enough to overcome the Red Sox in Game 2.
David Price got the game underway with a pop out of Springer, but then issued walks to Altuve and Alex Bregman to give Houston an early scoring threat. Price fought back, getting back-to-back strikeouts to keep the Astros off the board. Cole started his night in the bottom of the inning and was met with an aggressive top of the order with Mookie Betts hammering a leadoff double off the center field wall, then scoring on an RBI single to put Boston up 1-0. Cole then committed an error on a come-backer he threw over Yuli Gurriel's head, putting runners on second and third with one out before walking the bases loaded. Boston took advantage, getting another run on a single to keep the bases loaded and extend the lead to 2-0 before Cole could get out of it with a strikeout and groundout to end the long first inning.
In the top of the second, Carlos Correa ran his way on base, beating out a one-out ground ball to be safe at first. Martin Maldonado got a big hit next, a double lined down the third-base line to move Correa to third and put runners on second and third with one out. Josh Reddick came short of bringing Correa in, getting under a ball that would not get deep enough to let Correa tag, but Springer was next and delivered yet another postseason highlight, tying the game 2-2 on a double down the first-base line before Price got a strikeout for the third out. Cole had a much better second inning, getting three fly outs for a 1-2-3 bottom of the second.
Gurriel gave the Astros another hit with a one-out single against Price in the top of the third, setting up Marwin Gonzalez for a two-run bomb over the Green Monster to take a 4-2 lead. Boston threatened in the bottom of the inning, getting a one-out single then a double that Gonzalez nearly caught but fell victim to the Monster as the ball popped out as he crashed into the wall and was down for several minutes to catch his breath. With runners on second and third and one out, Cole walked the bases loaded before getting a strikeout for out number two. He then gave up a bases-clearing double to give Boston the lead back 5-4 before recording the third out.
Price bounced back from the home run he allowed in the inning prior, retiring the Astros in order in the top of the fourth. Cole did the same in the bottom of the inning, putting the top three of Boston's order down 1-2-3 on just seven pitches.
In the top of the fifth, Bregman worked a one-out walk, then Tyler White a two-out walk, ending Price's night and bringing on Boston's first reliever of the night, Matt Barnes, who got a strikeout to strand both runners. Cole had another quick inning in the bottom half, getting three up, three down to keep the game at 5-4.
Barnes continued out of the bullpen for the Red Sox in the top of the sixth and kept the Astros off the bases with a quick inning. The Astros left Cole on the mound in the bottom of the inning, and he was able to get through another scoreless inning, sending the game to the final three frames.
Ryan Brasier had the seventh for Boston and worked around a two-out walk to maintain their one-run lead. Cole's night was done after his six innings, and Lance McCullers Jr. was the first reliever to take the mound in the bottom of the seventh. McCullers issued a leadoff walk to Mookie Betts, who would move to second after a strikeout through resulted in a wild pitch, moved to third on a passed ball, then scored with two outs on another passed ball by Maldonado, extending Boston's lead 6-4 and resulting in another call to the bullpen, this time for Josh James, who issued a two-out walk before getting a groundout to end the inning.
Boston made the move to bring in starter Rick Porcello from the bullpen for the top of the eighth inning, and he retired the middle of Houston's lineup on a groundout and two strikeouts to put Boston an inning away from the win. James returned to the mound for Houston in the bottom of the inning and gave up a leadoff single, struck out the next two, then allowed a two-out single before he was pulled in favor of Hector Rondon who allowed an RBI double to Mookie Betts. That used up all of Rondon's short leash, bringing in Tony Sipp to face the left-handed Andrew Benintendi, who he got to pop out to end the inning.
After going down to their final out against Craig Kimbrel in the top of the ninth, George Springer hit a double, moved to third on a passed ball, then scored on an RBI single by Jose Altuve trim the lead to 7-5. Alex Bregman was next, and just barely got under one that went to deep left field, but resulted in the final out to tie the series.
Game 3: The series, now a best-of-five, will shift to Houston for the next three games. Both teams will have a travel day on Monday, then resume the series on Tuesday at 4:09 PM Central. The game can be seen on TBS. Dallas Keuchel has been named the starter for Houston, while Boston's starter, though not officially named, will likely be Nathan Eovaldi. The Astros will look to benefit from the comfort of their home stadium and support of their home crowd to shift the momentum back their way after the Game 2 loss.
Have you ever looked forward to something so much that you wish you could fall asleep and wake up on that day?
That’s how I feel about the upcoming Houston Astros season. The Astros are hosting the New York Yankees on Opening Day at Minute Maid Park on March 28. Astros v. Yankees! Does it get any better than that?
Let’s get this out of the way now. The Astros better beat the Yankees that day — otherwise they won’t be able to sell beer the rest of the season. Why? They will have lost the opener. (Credit: Highlights Magazine in my dentist’s office.)
Why am I so excited and optimistic about the Astros in 2024? Plenty of reasons …
Mostly it’s because there’s a new sheriff in town. Manager Joe Espada is not shy about taking the Astros on a different course. The names on the back of the jerseys will be the same as last year, but this is Espada’s team and they’ll be playing an exciting, whole different style.
It seems like Espada may have been a yes man standing next to former manager Dusty Baker the past few years, but things will change now. The Astros will be playing Espada ball.
First the Astros will run more, they’ll take extra bases more aggressively. Last year the Astros finished dead last in “extra bases taken percentage,” meaning the runner on first held up at second when the batter hit a single, or the runner didn’t advance more than two bases on a double. This year Astros baserunners will have their butts in gear. Coaches Gary Pettis and Dave Clark have the Astros practicing base running down in West Palm Beach like it’s back to Baseball 101.
Oh, and pitchers can’t pick their boutique catcher anymore. Last year divas Justin Verlander and Framber Valdez insisted that Martin Maldonado be behind the plate. Maldonado with his .191 batting average and horrible defensive performance. Astros management asked/told Baker that rookie Yanier Diaz needed to be the primary catcher, or at least play more. Baker dug in his heels and Maldonado caught practically every game the last couple of months.
And that’s why Maldonado is gone. And a big reason that Baker is gone, too. The question is, if Baker had made Diaz the starting catcher, would Baker be managing the Astros in 2024? The Maldonado thing really did become that contentious between Baker and Astros management, particularly general manager Dana Brown.
Espada has created a bit of a ruckus by announcing that he plans to bat slugger Yordan Alvarez second in the batting order. Some fans argue, no, the best power hitter belongs batting third or fourth. That’s how baseball has been played since Babe Ruth batted third and Lou Gehrig hit cleanup for the Yankees’ Murderers Row in the 1920s.
Espada’s current vision for the batting order has Jose Altuve leading off, followed by Alvarez, Alex Bregman and Kyle Tucker. I’d go to war in the American League West with that top of the order.
Alvarez batting second makes a whole lot of sense. Baseball is a numbers game today. The leadoff hitter gets 19 more plate appearances than the 2-hole hitter. And so on down the line. Each position gets about 19 more plate appearances than the next batter in the order.
You don’t think Yordan Alvarez getting 30-40 more plate appearances than if he hits fourth would help the Astros? Heck, the Astros missed the World Series by one stinking home game in the ALCS last year. The more Yordan, the more homers, the better.
It’s not like Espada has stumbled on the secret to the universe. According to MLB nerd boys, statistically the No. 2 hitter was the most productive bat in the lineup in 2023.
Mike Trout bats second for the Angels. Shohei Ohtani batted near the top of the lineup last year. Freddie Freeman bats second for the Dodgers. Ronald Acuna Jr., maybe the best all-around hitter in baseball, bats leadoff for the Braves. Remember when George Springer led off for the Astros? As Larry David would say, that worked out pretty, pretty, pretty good. It’s not like Altuve is a Punch and Judy slap hitter, either.
The Yankees’ Aaron Judge batted leadoff down the stretch in 2022, the year he broke the all-time American League single season home run record.
The Astros have sold more season tickets than any year before. The food has been upgraded on the concourse. The Astros will stretch doubles into triples. We have the best bullpen in the league. All the regulars are back from last year’s American League West championship team. And new manager Joe Espada has the right players on the field.
It’s going to be a fun season. If the season would just get here already.