BOSTON — The veteran Boston sportswriter Mike Shalin, the official scorer for American League Championship Series Game 1 on Saturday night, punctuated the top of the sixth inning with a declaration that conveniently encapsulated the entire contest:
“That run is unearned.”
With two teams this good, this evenly matched at the outset, unforced errors just might send one team to the World Series and the other one home. A miscue by old pal Eduardo Nunez of the Red Sox broke a tie in the opener and symbolized the Red Sox’s messy play in the 7-2 Astros victory.
Boston now resides in a 1-0 hole and, therefore, the unenviable position of needing Octoberphobe David Price to even the series here on Sunday night against baseball’s defending champions.
Red Sox pitchers issued a stunning 10 walks and hit three batters, allowing the Astros to overcome their two singles through eight innings before Josh Reddick (solo homer) and Yuli Gurriel (three-run homer) broke out with a power display in the ninth. George Springer’s two-run base hit in the second inning marked the only hit in that Astros rally as the visitors jumped out to a 2-0 advantage, and likewise Steve Pearce’s leadoff single that sparked the Sawx to tie the game in the bottom of the fifth, the home team scoring on a bases-loaded walk to pinch hitter Mitch Moreland and a Justin Verlander wild pitch. Verlander outlasted his opposing ace Chris Sale, who needed 86 pitches to get through four innings before getting the hook.
The score stood tied at 2-2 when Nunez, the Yankees’ international signing from 2004 who at one time displayed the potential to succeed Derek Jeter at shortstop, failed to transfer Gurriel’s grounder from his glove to his right hand, allowing Gurriel to reach first safely and advancing Alex Bregman, whom losing pitcher Joe Kelly had hit with a pitch, to second base.
Kelly, best known in New York as Tyler Austin’s sparring partner in that April brawl here between the Bosox and the Yankees, threatened to escape the jam and acquit Nunez of all charges, retiring Tyler White on a popout to second baseman Brock Holt and striking out Marwin Gonzalez. However, Carlos Correa looped a two-out single to left-centerfield that scored Bregman for the Astros advantage.
Verlander tossed a 1-2-3 bottom of the sixth and handed his slight edge over to the Astros’ bullpen, which took care of the rest. Ironically, a Correa fielding error in the bottom of the seventh allowed Nunez to reach first base with one out, but Ryan Pressly, acquired from the Twins in July, retired the next two batters to pick up his teammate. Hence Verlander enhanced his Hall of Fame resume with his 13th career postseason victory, and he outpitched Sale, who labored through four innings, throwing 86 pitches.
Yankees fans know all too well about Nunez’s defensive shortcomings, and Red Sox rookie manager Alex Cora — who earned a fifth-inning ejection from home-plate umpire James Hoye for arguing a called third strike on Andrew Benintendi — has toggled between Nunez and Rafael Devers at third base and the same with Brock Holt and Ian Kinsler at second base. Nunez committed an error in AL Division Series Game 2 to help the Yankees record their one win of that series.
The Astros are now 4-0 in this postseason, and they can take a commanding lead if their second ace Gerrit Cole prevails over Price in what will be a battle of top-overall draft picks (Price in 2007, Cole in 2011). Price will be looking to win his first postseason start in his 11th try.
“It’s different baseball, it is,” Price said Saturday, in a news conference, of this time of year. “It’s fun. I enjoy it. Haven’t been successful the way that I know I can be and will be, but I look forward to getting out there tomorrow.”
If he can’t break his very negative trend, the Red Sox might find themselves looking forward to winter vacation far more quickly than they desired.