BOSTON – These aren’t entirely the Houston Astros you love to hate, deep and indomitable and treating a World Series berth practically as a birthright.
Yet in a virtual must-win Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, the Astros proved yet again that regardless of their cast, they are awfully hard to kill.
Despite getting just four outs from their starting pitcher, the Astros pieced together an inspiring relief effort and quieted Boston’s red-hot lineup long enough for backup catcher Jason Castro to smack a go-ahead RBI single in the top of the ninth inning, opening the floodgates to a 9-2 victory before a Fenway Park crowd that pivoted from delirious to stunned in mere moments.
Just six outs from falling into a 3-1 ALCS hole, the Astros instead will play baseball at Minute Maid Park at least one more time this season. The series is tied, 2-2, and Game 5 Wednesday evening (5 ET) at Fenway is no longer a likely Red Sox coronation but rather for control of this battle of attrition.
The turnabout was jarring, as unexpected as a seven-run ninth inning rally in which all the runs were scored with two outs – and with the winning blow delivered by a catcher with an .091 batting average in 26 career playoff plate appearances.
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In fact, Red Sox starter Nathan Eovaldi – reprising his heroic relief role for the 2018 World Series champs – was one strike from delivering the game to the bottom of the ninth, tied 2-2.
Yet a 1-2 curveball to Castro landed just outside the zone. Castro fouled off one pitch and then drilled a single to center, driving home Carlos Correa with the go-ahead run. A gaggle of orange and blue parkas bobbed up and down in the Astros dugout, giddy at their new life.
They wouldn’t stop celebrating until Eovaldi was chased, and six more runs crossed the plate.
That turnabout was almost as startling as Houston’s pitching effort.
After scoring 21 runs and slugging three grand slams in capturing Games 2 and 3, the Red Sox failed to gain separation in Game 4. Xander Bogaerts’ two-run, first inning home run gave them a 2-1 lead and negated Bregman’s solo homer in the top of the inning.
And when Zack Greinke, making his first start since Sept. 19, was lifted with one out and one on in the second, the script was intact.
Surely, the Boston offense would suffocate an Astros bullpen that had to absorb the many failings of their starting pitchers. Yet as Brooks Raley, and Cristian Javier and Phil Maton and finally Kendall Graveman emerged from the bullpen, the Red Sox seemed too intent on delivering the knockout blow.
The quintet delivered 6 2/3 innings of scoreless relief, Javier contributing three hitless innings while pitching around two hits and three walks.
That kept the score 2-1 long enough for Altuve to clobber a Garrett Whitlock pitch over the Green Monster to tie the score, 2-2, leading off the eighth.
The Red Sox could muster nothing but a two-out Hunter Renfroe walk, leaving the door open for Houston.
And as they so often do, they walked right in and made this a series, once again.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: ALCS Game 4: Astros score seven runs in ninth inning to beat Red Sox