It all seemed so familiar.
The Red Sox, for the second year running, found themselves at home, on the verge of being swept out of the ALDS. For the second year running, they had been stifled offensively through the first two games of the series, had seen their pitching underperform. It was a dim, slightly gloomy afternoon at Fenway Park, the fan presence was muted, and in this do-or-die game, the Red Sox were running out Doug Fister as their starting pitcher.
The game started about as well as I’d expected.
By the time the top of the first was over, then, I was pretty certain I knew what I was going to be recapping. Something simple and linear, like:
â— The Astros scored a bunch of runs.
â— The Red Sox didn’t.
â— The Astros won, because they are powerful and fun and good.
â— The Red Sox lost, because they are less good than the Astros.
All of this has happened before, you see. It happened last season, and it happened Thursday, and it happened Friday. I had no reason to believe it wouldn’t happen again.
The ball Josh Reddick hit with two men on in the top of the second would not have been a home run in many ballparks. But it was a home run at Fenway: a three-run home run that would have put the Red Sox in a 6-0 hole and essentially wrap up the game. A neat, mildly ironic death blow, a victory for inevitability, that the Astros won this game so handily because they were playing on the Red Sox’s home turf.
Mookie Betts, playing injured, the man responsible for that embarrassing error in Game 2, didn’t care for inevitability. He knew what was going to happen, and he stopped it anyway.
The ball Reddick hit was a home run at Fenway. The game was 6-0 Astros with two out in the top of the second. Betts created a different reality. In this new version, the Astros’ lead was still only 3-0. In the new game, the fans had something to cheer about, and the Red Sox were coming up to bat. There was still hope left.
It would take more than Betts’ singular, superlative effort to stop the weary trudge towards the Astros winning and the Red Sox losing. The Sox had the bases loaded with nobody out twice in the bottom of the second; they only managed to get one run across. An opportunity squandered, perhaps, or an opportunity that wasn’t fated to be fruitful. The heavy pall of fatalism fell over the crowd again.
Enter Rafael Devers, age 20. Rafael Devers, perhaps only in the lineup because Eduardo Nunez went down painfully. Rafael Devers, who probably wasn’t supposed to be this good this soon.
The first pitch to Devers from Francisco Liriano, himself somewhat of an agent of chaos, almost knocked him over. The second pitch was a hanging slider.
As Devers circled the bases, barely containing his grin, you knew that this was a different game than the one you were watching in the first inning. That game was a quiet, unhappy crowd, and John Farrell scowling in the dugout, and a series of triumphant Astros racing to their foregone conclusion. This was something else. Something essential had changed, something in the air, in the atmosphere, in the players themselves.
It was now 4-3 Red Sox, the first lead they’d had all series. It was a lead that they did not relinquish.
You probably know about David Price and the postseason. After he signed that massive contract, after the defeat of last season’s Red Sox, after his over-publicized squabble with Dennis Eckersley—whenever Price struggles, people bring it up, scornfully, resentfully. Even when he’s cruising, as he was in the 2015 ALCS, something will go wrong. A pop-up will get dropped and the floodgates will open. It’s bound to happen. David Price does not win in the postseason.
Yesterday, David Price won*.
*Joe Kelly technically was credited with the "win" but c'mon.
For four near-perfect innings, Price was in complete control of the Red Sox’s fate. While his team’s batters couldn’t come up with anything against Lance McCullers, Price held the offense that rang up Chris Sale for seven runs Thursday to almost nothing: a walk here, a bloop there. None of them were ever threatening.
I was about to write that if Price felt the burden of inevitability on him, he didn’t show it. But upon further reflection, I don’t think that’s true. I think David Price knew exactly what he was doing, and it showed in the way he pitched. It was there in the fire, in the strikeouts, in the way he walked straight past Farrell on the dugout steps after his third inning—not even entertaining the notion that someone could take this game out of his hands.
When he screamed at Marwin Gonzalez, striking him out to end his final inning of relief, he might as well have been screaming at everyone who’s heckled him this year, at everyone who’s tweeted his postseason record at him, at the very idea that this game was not his to control and dominate.
After he left the field, the Red Sox scored him six runs.
The knowledge that one’s actions are caught in a cycle of eternal, inevitable repetition is a heavy burden to bear. It is easy to get crushed under the weight of despair and inevitability, to allow life and time and fate to stomp you into nothingness.
The smart money is still on the Astros to win this series. They probably are the better team, and the edge on the series. Perhaps the Red Sox win Sunday will end up being a mere digression in the path that leads the Astros to ultimate victory. Perhaps the Red Sox are always going to lose.
On Sunday, though, I thought I’d seen the game before; I thought I knew what the outcome was. And rather than sink under the unbearable heaviness of their fate, the Red Sox rose up and created something completely different. They started Doug Fister in a do-or-die game and they won.
For one day, at least, the weight was lifted.