Nine thoughts on the Red Sox’ 8-2 win over the Astros in Game 3 of the ALCS . . .
1. Well, wasn’t that such a swell turn of events for the dedicated but occasionally beaten-down members of the Jackie Bradley Jr. Is Very Valuable Player (He Is, And Don’t Call Me That) Society. Bradley is probably the most polarizing current athlete in Boston sports, though Marcus Smart is basically the basketball version of Bradley — great defense, erratic offense, lots of fans, lots of doubters.
I would not call Bradley’s eighth-inning grand slam that turned a 4-2 Red Sox lead into an 8-2 no-doubter a redemptive moment, because I’ve never thought he needed redemption in the first place. But it sure was sweet for those that believe his strengths make his weaknesses easily tolerated. (The bonus was that it came against Roberto Osuna — it couldn’t have happened to a much worse guy.) Forget what Bradley can’t do, because he does what he can do better than just about anyone. Membership remains open in the society, people.
2. Bradley is the best defensive center fielder the Red Sox have had in my 40 years of following this franchise. They’ve had some gifted glovemen in that period — Fred Lynn, Ellis Burks, Coco Crisp for a time, Otis Nixon for a year, even steady Darren Lewis — and he’s far and away the best I’ve seen. Sure, he is far from the best hitter among them, though he might be the streakiest. Bradley was genuinely good in the second half (.827 OPS, 25 extra-base hits in 193 at-bats).
3. Where you would rank Bradley’s grand slam among the six in Red Sox postseason history? I’ve actually got it . . . last, which isn’t a diminishment of the moment, but an acknowledgement of the importance and joy of the five that came before. Here’s my ranking. 1) Johnny Damon. Game 7, 2004 ALCS. 2. ) Troy O’Leary, Game 5, 1999 ALDS. (Too high, I know, but that was the most satisfying Red Sox win in years.) 3) J.D. Drew, 2007 ALCS, Game 7. 4) Shane Victorino, Game 6, 2003 ALCS. (Don’t worry/’Bout a thing . . .) 5) David Ortiz, Game 2, 2003 ALCS. 6) JBJ, Tuesday.
4. If someone had told me to guess before Game 3 which outfielder would make the most spectacular catch of the night, the choice would have been Bradley. But the correct answer would have been Astros left fielder Tony Kemp, who is 5 feet 6 inches tall and apparently has a 5-foot-6-inch vertical leap. Kemp robbed Steve Pearce of extra bases and the Red Sox of at least one run and probably two with the grab. In fact, it was such a great play that the replay officials in New York apparently didn’t notice the ball appeared to clang off the wall before it went into his glove. Still a heck of a catch. Just not an out, maybe.
5. I didn’t catch who said it, but I heard someone on the MLB Network postgame Tuesday night say that Alex Bregman’s defensive wizardry is “getting into Brooks Robinson territory.’’ Not to diminish Bregman’s glove work, but that’s a hard nope. Robinson won 16 Gold Gloves in his career. Bregman should win a trophy case’s worth of awards in his career, but his next Gold Glove will be his first. I’ll say this: His performance in this series isn’t far off from Graig Nettles in the ’78 World Series against the Dodgers. And you can see some Scott Rolen — who won a mere eight Gold Gloves — in his style.
6. As fun as it is, Bregman’s Internet trolling game needs some work, however. His cheeky Instagram post that showed the Astros crushing three straight homers against Nathan Eovaldi in June did not have the desired effect. Eovaldi, who was with the Rays in June and came to the Red Sox at the July trading deadline, allowed two runs on six hits in six innings in Game 3. He didn’t quite dominate the Astros like he did the Yankees in the ALDS, but he was very good, and clearly unbothered by any social media gamesmanship.
7. Red Sox fans and media spent an awful lot of time in the second half of the season lamenting what Dave Dombrowski didn’t do at the deadline — add a relief pitcher or two — rather than acknowledging the good things he did. That cannot be ignored now, what with Eovaldi’s emergence as their most reliable starter so far this postseason and Steve Pearce’s contributions not only at the plate (he got a measure of revenge for Kemp’s “catch’’ with a home run later in Game 3) and his Stretch Armstrong defense at first base. These guys have given the Red Sox everything a midseason roster enhancement is supposed to in an ideal world, and even a little more than that.
8. Speaking of changed perceptions, Rick Porcello gets the ball for the Red Sox in Game 4 Wednesday night, and don’t you have to feel really good about that? I’ve always thought of Porcello as the epitome of a league-average, durable, innings-eater (a fine way to make millions upon millions of dollars), but not a top-of-the-rotation starter, even after he went 22-4 with a 3.15 ERA and won the AL Cy Young Award in 2016. And his playoff record, to be kind, was spotty. He wasn’t someone you’d expect to be nails this postseason. He was someone who could pitch well enough to win if he got some run support. Yet he’s been a total bulldog as a starter and in relief.
9. I’ve always thought of Porcello as the second-coming of Jon Garland in style, appearance and accomplishment, a tall, generic, kind of good righthander. For a long time Garland rated as Porcello’s all-time most comparable pitcher statistically per baseball-reference. (Now, through the mutual age of 29, Porcello’s top comp is Dennis Eckersley. Whatever happened to that guy?) But I think the Garland comp might fit more than ever now. In 2005, Garland went 18-10 for the White Sox with a 3.50 ERA, then was exceptional in the postseason, going 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA in two playoff starts as the White Sox won the World Series. Porcello seems intent on crafting a similar postseason himself.