BOSTON — Who’s the wise guy who flipped the script?
This American League Championship Series was supposed to be over.
The Boston Red Sox, with their flawed bullpen, weren’t supposed to be more than a little speed bump on the Houston Astros’ path to their second consecutive World Series.
Yet, the Red Sox became the first team to beat the Astros in the postseason, 7-5 Sunday night, evening this ALCS at 1-1 with the series now going to Houston for the next three games at Minute Maid Park.
The Red Sox not only have a pulse, but momentum, watching their offense explode, David Price survive, and their bullpen go all Nasty Boys after having the worst ERA in the American League in September.
Price, who remains winless in 11 postseason starts, still got a hero’s ovation when he walked off the field after 4 2/3 innings, clinging to a 5-4 lead.
Little did anyone know that the Astros, who set a major-league record by homering for their 14th consecutive postseason game, wouldn’t get a single hit after the third inning until the two-out ninth, handcuffed by the Red Sox’s sudden vaunted bullpen.
If you thought that was surprising, there was the heroics of No. 8 hitter Jackie Bradley Jr., who is known for his Gold Glove-caliber defense, and little else. He hit just .234 with 13 homers and 59 RBI, with a paltry .314 on-base percentage.
This night, he looked like Carl Yastrzemski.
Bradley walked to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded in the third inning against Gerrit Cole. The Red Sox already were down 4-2 after Marwin Gonzalez’s two-run double in the top of the third, and Ian Kinsler had just struck out on three pitches.
Bradley delivered the biggest hit of his life, launching a fastball off the Green Monster that rolled along the ledge, and by the time Gonzalez retrieved the ball, three runs had scored and the Red Sox had a 5-4 lead. The bullpen did the rest.
Who are these guys impersonating a World Series-caliber bullpen?
The quartet of Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier, Joe Kelly and Heath Hembree have yet to give up a run this postseason in 16 1/3 innings, without a single extra-base hit. Barnes and Hembree haven’t even given up a hit in 9 1/3 innings.
“We’re really confident,’’ Kelly said. “We pitched good towards the end of the year in the regular season. And we threw the ball well in the ALDS against the Yankees, who has a great offense, similar to these guys. And we stayed with our game plan and attacked them.
“I think if we continue the same thing with the Astros, trying to stick to the game plan as much as we can, I think we'll still have a successful series against these guys.’’
So far, so good. Why, with the exception of Brandon Workman, the Red Sox bullpen has given up just one earned run in 9 1/3 innings the first two games.
This night, they even got a little surprise help, with starter Rick Porcello coming out of the bullpen in the eighth inning, just as they did in Game 1 of the AL Division Series against the Yankees. Porcello, whose next start likely will be pushed back to Game 4 instead of Game 3, pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning, with the Fenway Park crowd rocking with emotion.
“Playoffs change the way you play a baseball game,’’ Kelly said. “It sounds weird to say but it does. With the way the bullpens are used, you're seeing these games with seven pitchers on each side go. So to have starters come down there, that's not different because you know it's going to take anything to win that game.
“The only thing that is different is starters have to come down there and stand in front of the guys who have been there all year, and take some sunflower seeds to the face.’’
Well, who knows about the sunflower seeds, but the Red Sox can laugh about it all of the way to Houston. This ALCS has become awfully intriguing.
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