I once had a business trip to Texas. The hotel at which I was staying was sold out, and I was checking in at night. The clerk apologetically explained to me that the previous occupant of my room had violated the hotel’s no-smoking policy, and while there was an air cleaner running, the room basically smelled like an ashtray. I was unhappy; I’m not a smoker, and nothing absorbs the odor of cigarette smoke quite as well as a wool suit. The clerk explained that I had absolutely the last room at the property.
Would I be interested in a free room at another hotel across town? No, I wanted to be at the same place as the other people from my company. Free dinner at the dining room? No, we had dinner reservations. How about a free breakfast? No, we had a breakfast meeting the following morning. We settled on free wifi and a bucket of Shiner Bock as recompense for my inconvenience.
Shiner Bock, if you don’t know, is a dark lager brewed by Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, Texas. Spoetzl is owned by Gambrinus Company in San Antonio, the fifth-largest craft brewery in the U.S. As the Bock in its name implies, Shiner Bock was originally brewed specifically for Lent, but is now produced year-round, and accounts for 73 percent of Spoetzl’s production. It’s rated at an above average 4.11 Beers Above Replacement by BeerGraphs.
It's also not the typical accompaniment for a one-day business trip. After sampling one of the beers following dinner, I put the rest in the plastic dry-cleaning bag in the closet and brought them out to our rental car the next morning.
When you’re in the investments business, there are things that you’re expected to bring to meetings with clients. Business cards. Handouts. Maybe a chartbook. That sort of thing. It’s not customary, at the conclusion of a meeting discussing the merits of investing in various healthcare stocks, to say, “Hey, I’m flying out this afternoon—you want a couple beers?” I gave away the whole bucket’s worth over the course of my meetings, but it was unexpected and people didn’t know how to react.
The Red Sox faced a similar situation. Three home runs by Jose Altuve on Thursday night was their equivalent of a room full of cigarette smoke. They were handed several unexpected gifts on Friday. They didn’t know what to do with them.
First Inning: Getting Away with One
Red Sox starter Drew Pomeranz retired George Springer and Alex Bregman before allowing a single to, of course, Altuve. That brought up Carlos Correa. With the count 2-2, Correa fouled off two pitches. The next pitch is labeled "7" here:
That’s not where he wanted that knuckle-curve to cross the plate. Fortunately for Pomeranz, Correa fouled it off. That was the unexpected gift. Taken aback, Pomeranz threw the next pitch, a fastball, to almost the exact same spot.
This is what happened:
Second Inning: Keuchel’s Second Walk
Then Christian Vazquez walked, the second walk Keuchel surrendered. During the season, Keuchel walked batters in consecutive innings in only eight starts. In those starts, he had a 4.96 ERA and the Astros were 4-4. The Red Sox, though, were taken by surprise, and didn’t know what to do. With one out, Jackie Bradley drove in Young with a single, but Keuchel retired the next 13 batters, allowing a first-pitch ball to only four of them.
Third Inning: Putting Out the Fire
Pomeranz was on a short leash, and after allowing two more runs in the third, he was pulled in favor of Carson Smith. Smith is right-handed and the next two Houston batters, Correa and Evan Gattis, bat right. Smith, receiving an unexpected platoon gift, walked them both. Smith has now appeared in 90 games in his career. He had never before walked consecutive batters.
Smith got Josh Reddick, who bats left, on a soft liner. John Farrell brought in David Price, who retired right-handed Yulieski Gurriel and switch-hitting Marwin Gonzalez on pop-ups. The Red Sox, to use a Bill James term, pulled a Houdini—got out of a no-outs, bases-loaded jam—created by a pitcher who had a platoon advantage by retiring three batters who had a platoon advantage. The gift clearly was messing with them.
(Along the way, the Price-can’t-pitch in-the-postseason narrative took a hit, as he pitched 2 2/3 sparkling innings, allowing one hit and an intentional walk while whiffing two. You can already hear his detractors countering that the Red Sox lost the game.)
Sixth Inning: One Hit, No Runs, No Errors, One Left On … Oops
The final score of the game was 8-2, which isn’t particularly close. But it was still 4-1 when the Astros batted in the bottom of the sixth. In that situation, the home team can be expected to win over 90 percent of the time. But that’s better than being down 8-1, which the Red Sox were by the end of the inning.
Gonzalez singled and Brian McCann was hit by a pitch, which wasn’t a great way to start the inning. But then the Astros gave the Red Sox two unexpected tokens of their appreciation, and Boston fumbled them both.
First, George Springer hit a sharp grounder right up the middle, directly at a shifted Dustin Pedroia, who had a short flip to Xander Bogaerts to start a double play. Except … pitcher Addison Reed reflexively reached for the ball, and by the time it deflected off his glove to Pedroia, the Red Sox could only force McCann at second. So instead of a runner and third and two out, the Astros had runners on first and third with one out.
Then Alex Bregman flew out to Mookie Betts. It should’ve been the third out of the inning. Instead, it was only the second. Then this happened:
A walk and two doubles later, and that 90 percent win expectancy was virtually 100 percent.
Seventh Inning: Curb Your Enthusiasm
Austin Maddox came in to pitch the seventh for the Sox, with the team trailing by seven runs. He ran into trouble, loading the bases with two singles and a walk with one out. He retired Bregman on a pop-up to first, then ran the count to full to Altuve—with M-V-P chants ringing in his ears—before striking him out to end the inning. That was the unexpected gift. His reaction, well, was not exactly what you’d expect for a pitcher whose team was about to go down by two games in a best-of-five series.
Throughout the Game: Angel Hernandez, Home Plate Umpire
I’m not going to go into the details of Hernandez’s suit against MLB, or how he was subsequently named to umpire the All-Star Game and the postseason. Let’s just say he’s been controversial. The Red Sox probably didn’t view his assignment behind the plate as an unexpected gift. And it wasn’t. To be fair, he wasn’t part of the game story. But this gives me the opportunity to show you this:
Top of the third, two down, nobody on, full count to Hanley Ramirez. That orange box with the "6" next to it? That’s the called strike three. Ramirez demurred:
After a day off today, the series resumes in Boston on Sunday. The Red Sox need to sweep two at Fenway and then come back to Minute Maid and win again in order to go to the ALCS. Of course, if memory serves, the Red Sox have come back from deficits in the past. In any case, maybe they were able to savor some Shiner Bocks on the long flight to Boston.