The Houston Astros win the 2021 American League Pennant and advance to their third World Series appearance in five years. The Red Sox end an overachieving postseason run following Alex Cora’s first ever postseason series loss and Boston’s first ALCS loss since 2008.
Everything looked bright after game three of the ALCS but once things turned south for the Sox in game four, Houston had all the momentum and Boston could never get it back the rest of the series. What I don’t think anyone saw coming was the bats going quiet for the Red Sox after how hot they were all postseason so far.
Do we need to give more credit to Astros pitching, which was heavily criticized around this time a week ago, for figuring it out? How much should we blame the Red Sox offense for collapsing when they were in complete control of the series after three?
Optics wise, this Red Sox team fell apart being two wins away from the World Series. But I think most agree they probably shouldn’t have made it this far to begin win. So, when you exceed expectations, it makes this a good year.
It also makes the expectations that much higher for next year. Crazy to think they’re already at a ‘World Series or bust’ expectation level again after last year and while we as fans may like to think that’s the case every year, most realists and experts will tell you it’s not.
However, the Boston Red Sox continue to show that they’re going to be in contention for it all at least every other year. But if this is really just a bridge year for the Sox next year, then next year should be pretty damn good.
Regular Season Summary
When this Red Sox team opened up the season by getting swept at home by the Orioles many thought this year wouldn’t be much different from the last. Then they went on to win nine straight games and held on to first place of the AL East for most of the first half of the season. They had some slumps here and there but their big drop was around the trade deadline.
Around that time the Red Sox traded for Kyle Schwarber who took some time to heat up but eventually did. When they went 1-6 following that move most thought their season was over but the Sox stuck around.
They finished out the year with various slumps and win streaks. Often down the stretch it seemed like they were done and had no realistic hope to make the playoffs based on how bad they looked in their losses but based on standing they were always in the wildcard hunt.
They continued to follow bad performances with good ones and would go on to win just enough to clinch a spot in the wildcard game on the last day of the regular season thanks to a 7-5 win following a 5-1 comeback in Washington. Finishing with the same record as the Yankees and getting the tie breaker over them to get the game to be played at Fenway.
Wildcard Game Summary
This game was kicked off, after the first two outs, with a Stanton hit that somehow wasn’t a homerun. Everyone; Stanton, radio announcers, TV commentators, anyone watching, said it was gone once they saw the ball up in the air then somehow it hits the wall of the monster. An early sign of a good omen for the Red Sox, meanwhile possibly one of the most disappointing singles in Yankees history. Especially since the next batter struke out to end the inning.
In the bottom of the first Gerrit Cole walks Devers with two outs and then Bogaerts hits a two-run homer to center. In the bottom of the third Schwarber gets a home run off of Cole as well. Schwarber got one off Cole in the 2015 NL wildcard game and got him again this year. Cole lets the next two on and gets pulled after only completing 2.0 IP with 3 ER.
In the top of the sixth Eovaldi picks up his 8th strikeout of the night. Then next batter, Rizzo, hits a solo home run to right field hugging the pole. Next batter, Judge, gets on first safe on a tough ground ball play. Eovaldi gets pulled then next batter, Stanton, hits another ball off the monster but thanks to a bad decision by the Yankees third base coach, Judge gets thrown out at home for the second out. With Stanton now on second, Gallo pops out to end the inning. While the score was only 3-1 it felt like this was the end of the game.
The Sox scored one in the bottom of the sixth to make it 4-1. Then two more in the seventh to make it 6-1. Stanton finally gets his well-deserved home run in the ninth but it’s far too little too late as the Red Sox win the American League wildcard game 6-2 over the Yankees to advance to the ALDS to face the AL East champion, 100-win, Tampa Bay Rays.
Game one was pretty much what was expected the entire series. Not a good start for Eduardo Rodriquez as the Rays take a two-run lead in the first. They tack on one more in the third, Sox leave a couple men on in the fourth, then Arozarena crushes one off Pivetta in the fifth.
Rays score another in the seventh and the Sox leave bases loaded in the eighth. Game one ends 5-0 and it feels safe to say at this point that at least they beat the Yankees and that’s all this season will really be. But no one thought they’d win three straight following that game one loss. The explosion of the offense and the reliability of the pitching went on to really exceed expectations.
Game two is the beginning of everything changing. The Sox score two in the first to go up 2-0. Then starting pitching continues to hurt the Red Sox in this series as Chris Sale goes on to give up a grand slam in the first after already allowing a run. 5-2 Rays after one.
Tanner Houck took over on the mound and provided great support as the Red Sox fought back to take the lead and eventually go on to explode offensively throughout the game earning 14 runs including back-to-back homers in the third, a three-run shot by J.D in the fifth, and a two-run homer by Devers in the eighth. All of which led the Red Sox to a 14-6 game two win and possession of home field advantage going back to Boston.
In game three Eovaldi gave up two in the first but Schwarber answered back with a solo shot in the bottom of the inning. The Red Sox take a 3-2 lead in the third and Keke Hernandez extends the lead to 4-2 in the fifth as he has had an incredible postseason hitting the ball. The Rays go on to tie the game in the eighth and the Sox get out of a jam in that inning to still keep the game tied.
The game goes into extras and the top of the thirteenth is what feels like the deciding point of the series looking back on it now. A play that turned out to be one of the biggest breaks in Red Sox and maybe even MLB history that fortunately went Boston’s way. The ball gets hit, goes off the short wall in front of the bullpen, bounces, hits Keke Hernandez, then bounces off of him and goes out of play into the bullpen. Since there was a man on first base, they would’ve definitely scored on this play but since it’s ruled a ground rule double, they have to keep the baserunners at second and third.
The umps apparently had an opportunity to make a decision based on discretion but decided to stick strictly to the rulebook even in what felt like an unprecedented moment. Since there were two outs of course the next batter went on to strike out. Then Vazquez walks it off with a two-run homer in the bottom of the thirteenth, the Rays get screwed and the Sox go up 2-1 and one win away from going to the ALCS.
E Rod has a redemption game in game four. The Sox go up 5-0 but their bullpen blows that lead (1 run in the 5th, 2 runs in the 6th, and 2 runs in the 8th). Bottom of the eighth Verdugo gets thrown out at third base to end the inning but the Red Sox still win on a walk off sac fly in the ninth by a final score of 6-5, winning the ALDS 3-1, and advancing to their second ALCS appearance in four years.
In game one the Astro’s go up 1-0 on sale in the first, Keke makes a great diving catch to get out of the inning with bases loaded. Keke ties it up with a solo home run in the third. Sox get two more in the third. Altuve ties it up with a two-run shot off Houck in the sixth.
Correa with a homer in the seventh makes it 4-3. Astro’s pick up an insurance run in the eighth off Sawamura which proves to be crucial since Keke hits another homer in the ninth but isn’t enough as the Red Sox drop game one, 5-4, in Houston.
Game two starts off with a J.D gram slam in the first with two outs. Devers then hits a grand slam in the second and this game is now essentially over at 8-0. Keke hits another solo shot in the fourth to make it 9-0. Houston pick up five runs throughout the rest of the game but it’s never enough to catch up.
In game three the Sox jump out to a 6-run lead in the second following a Kyle Schwarber grand slam to make that three grand slams for the Red Sox this series. Sox get three more in the third while E Rod is lights out until giving up a 3-run homer in the fourth but it’s still 9-3.
E Rod gets through the sixth keeping the score at 9-3. Sox get two more in the sixth from a two-run homer from J.D then one more from a Devers home run in the eighth. They would take a 2-1 lead in the series with the next two games at home, unfortunately this turned out to be the last win of the season.
Game four is kicked off with a Bregman homer off Pivetta in the first but Boston takes the lead in the bottom of that inning with a two-run bomb over the monster from Bogaerts. Altuve ties it with a solo shot over the monster as well off of Whitlock in the 8th.
Two on two outs in the ninth, Cora has Eovaldi in pitching to keep the game tied. 1-2 count and Eovaldi hits the top right corner of the strike zone but unfortunately the ump makes a questionable call and calls it a ball. Very bad timing for it but championship winning teams don’t let calls like that affect them, which the Red Sox essentially did two pitches later.
The Sox end up collapsing all still with two outs and ultimately letting up seven runs in that inning and losing game four, 9-2. It felt like a serious turning point in the series, this time against the Red Sox.
Sale gives up a solo homer to Alvarez in the first of game five. The Astro’s explode in the sixth for five more runs. The Astro’s and Sox each get a run in the seventh, then Houston grab two more in the ninth and go on to take a dominating 9-1 win in game five and a 3-2 series lead going back to Houston, one win away from a world series. You can just feel all the momentum on Houston’s side.
But the Red Sox have been here before, they just have to win one game. Win game six and you make Houston pretty nervous for a game seven in which anything can happen.
However, the Red Sox bats were completely silent and shut out in the biggest game of the year. A few key plays went the Astro’s way (like the strike out throw out at second to end the inning in the seventh). The Sox often left men on while the Astros drove in runs when they needed to (one in the first, one in the sixth, and three in the eighth off a three run Kyle Tucker home run), finishing out the Red Sox 5-0 in game six to win the ALCS.
Getting “screwed” by the called ball in game four that was technically a strike (and would’ve ending the ninth inning tied) doesn’t give the Red Sox an excuse to crap their pants the rest of the way (21-1 Astro’s since that call – that’s right 21 runs to the Red Sox 1 since the ninth of game four), and no one should really be complaining about it because you can truly say that it cancels out with the break that we got in the ALDS.
I’m still proud of the two wins they got in this series. Even though I didn’t enter the series expecting to win, I’m glad I saw a couple wins and had a day or two of real hope that this team could do it. At least it was a competitive series but man, were they close to pulling it out. It was too bad this ALCS didn’t go seven games because it was really too good not to.
Early Preview of 2022
Last year at the peak of the pandemic when all things Boston sports were not looking too ideal, I said the next Boston sports team to win a championship is going to be the Red Sox. I was often laughed at for it. And probably because they were so bad at the time but they’ve always been such an up and down year by year club that I felt they had a really good year ahead of them at some point… but I never expected that to be the following year.
It’s been such a ride for Sox fans this season. Especially for those who never gave up because many, and for good reason, quit on this team at various points of the season. You can’t blame them because of how bad it looked at times however this Red Sox team always did just enough to stay alive, clinching a wildcard spot on the last game of the regular season after a rough looking stretch against some poor competition to finish out the 162.
Given expectations and how the season went, just beating the Yankees in the wildcard game was really enough to say that in the end it wasn’t a bad season, maybe even a good one at that point. But who knew that would only be the beginning?
As a fan you should be proud of this team for where they ended up this year but at end of the day no matter how you look at it, this is still a blown world series opportunity. Especially considering now knowing that you would have home field against the Braves in it.
This team now knows what they can do and how close they are to getting back into the world series. It’s encouraging but also very important to not get comfortable because of how hard it truly is to make the ALCS.
So, what needs to be fixed?
It’s tough to really bash on anywhere with this offense considering most of this postseason but they did get silent at the end and they have a few weak pieces that often come up to be very non clutch with runners on base like Bobby Dalbec and Hunter Renfroe. But pitching is where this team really needs to improve. Ideally as a whole in the bullpen since they have a few key pieces but more liabilities.
Once Sale gets completely healthy which I don’t think he was coming back this year, this starting rotation will be in better shape. I have faith Eduardo Rodriguez will improve in consistency and Nathan Eovaldi is clearly our ace right now. I would like a Pivetta or Houck move to a starting role but this team still needs depth at pitcher and that includes the rotation as well as the pen.
Looking around the rest of the division, the Yankees are a mystery but the Boone resigning is what’s really a head scratcher. The Rays will continue to be good, even a playoff team, but they won’t ever win it all as long as they continue to manage purely based off analytics and without any sort of feel of the game, pulling pitchers way too soon. The Sox made them pay for it a bit in this year’s ALDS. The Blue Jays can be a real long-term threat in this division including next year. Meanwhile the Orioles, maybe in contention at some point in four or five years.
This season was a roller coaster to watch unfold but it was ultimately rewarding in the end and it made October a blast. Here’s to hoping next year is even more fun.