BOSTON (AP) - The Houston Astros poured back onto the field after advancing to their first AL Championship Series, posing for pictures with the Green Monster as a backdrop before a few players bellyflopped in the puddles in the infield dirt.
No matter, they were already soaked from celebratory beer and sparkling wine.
“Both teams were throwing their guys, and that’s what you live for,” Houston third baseman Alex Bregman said on Monday after Justin Verlander came out of the bullpen to beat Chris Sale in an aces-turned-relievers role reversal and helped the Astros eliminate the Red Sox in four games with a 5-4 victory.
“When we saw Verlander run to the ‘pen we said, ‘Our horse is on the mound, we need to win this game,’” said Bregman, who homered off Sale to tie it in the eighth before Josh Reddick’s single gave the Astros the lead. “That’s kind of the whole energy that he’s brought since we brought him over here. He’s brought an energy with him that, ‘Hey, when he’s out there, we’re going to win.’”
Verlander, who was acquired for the playoff run after spending his first 13 seasons in Detroit, gave up the go-ahead homer to Andrew Benintendi - the first batter he faced - before shutting Boston down for the next 2 2/3 innings.
The former AL MVP and Cy Young winner earned the victory in his first relief appearance after 424 starts in a major and minor league career.
“All the things that you would like to do as a starter, and I was able to do that,” Verlander said. “Top to bottom, man, these guys grinded against two of the toughest competitors in this game in Sale and (closer Craig) Kimbrel.”
The Astros will open the ALCS on Friday, either at Cleveland or at home against the New York Yankees. The Indians and Yankees will play a decisive Game 5 on Wednesday night.
The Red Sox forced a Game 4 after losing the first two games in Houston, and then took a 3-2 lead in the fifth on Benintendi’s homer. Bregman tied it before Reddick’s single off closer Craig Kimbrel made it 4-3.
Carlos Beltran added to his postseason legacy with an RBI double in the ninth - an insurance run that became the game-winner when Rafael Devers hit an inside-the-park homer off closer Ken Giles over leaping center fielder George Springer and off the Green Monster toward center.
The 20-year-old Red Sox rookie easily circled the bases before the throw to make it 5-4.
Giles retired the next three batters for the six-out save.
“The two big boys, Sale and Verlander, both get into the game. Everybody did well,” Houston manager A.J. Hinch said. “Nobody really wanted to concede the game.”
The Astros last reached the league championship series in 2005 as a National League team, and were swept in the World Series by the White Sox. This year’s team, wearing “Houston Strong” patches to support the city that was flooded in Hurricane Harvey, is hoping to finish the job.
“The city of Houston is still rebuilding,” Hinch said. “It’s easy for us to look in the rearview mirror and think that the hurricane is over (but) the rebuild is not going to stop for a long time. … We want to win for them, we want to win for us, we want to win because we showed up in spring training to try to win a World Series.”
Springer and Yuli Gurriel each had three hits for the AL West champions, and Reddick’s go-ahead single made up for misplaying a fly ball into a home run in Game 3 to force a fourth game. Reddick got a postgame drenching in the clubhouse while wearing a red, white and blue flag Speedo.
Verlander also beat Sale in the playoff opener and is now 7-0 for his new team. Sale, who had never appeared in the postseason before 2017, pitched 4 2/3 innings, allowing two runs and four hits, striking out six.
“This is what we show up to spring training for. It’s what we work all offseason for. Ups and downs, all around the country,” Sale said. “This is what we live for.”
On a rainy day at Fenway Park - the fourth straight day game - the Red Sox again saw a starter struggle early, with Rick Porcello giving up Houston’s eighth first-inning run of the series. The reigning AL Cy Young winner, who led the AL with 22 wins last year and the majors with 17 losses in 2017, gave up two runs in three innings, walking three and striking out four while allowing five hits.
Xander Bogaerts also homered for the AL East champion Red Sox, and Hanley Ramirez had two hits a day after going 4 for 4 in Boston’s only postseason win since the end of the 2013 World Series.
Red Sox manager John Farrell was ejected by home plate umpire Mark Wegner in the bottom of the second inning after coming out to argue a called third strike on Dustin Pedroia. The previous batter, Jackie Bradley Jr., had also been called out strikes on a close pitch.
It is the 19th ejection of Farrell’s career and his third this season.
The Red Sox ball girl was called for interference when she tried to field Gattis’ fair-ball grounder down the third base line in the eighth. Instead of a potential double, Gattis was sent back to first; pinch-runner Cameron Maybin took second on a wild pitch and scored the go-ahead run on Reddick’s single.
PLAYING THE SCHEDULE
The teams finished Game 3 before 6:30 p.m. on Sunday but didn’t find out until about 11 p.m. what time they would be playing Game 4, because TV wanted to keep the Yankees in prime time. That left the Red Sox and Astros with a brief afternoon window before the rain began to fall, as expected.
The game started on time and was not delayed, but the rain kept the grounds crew busy raking drying agent on the infield.
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