HOUSTON — Typically after a Red Sox playoff game, I share nine thoughts in this space on what we just saw, and then on social media, you tell me I’m wrong about at least five of them. I dig it. It’s our thing.
Forgive me, but after the Red Sox’ exhilarating, exhausting and epic 8-6 victory over the Astros in Game 4 of the American League championship series Wednesday night/Thursday morning, this guy’s brain is not currently capable of thought, or at least it’s slightly less capable than usual.
Right now, I’m just repeating the famous Jack Buck call in my mind, over and over again: “I don’t believe what I just saw!’’
No thoughts. We’re going thoughtless. Instead, let’s go with questions. Perhaps attempting to answer those at least semi-coherently will help make sense of a crazy, long (too long, at 4 hours and 55 minutes) ballgame that put the Red Sox one win from the World Series.
Where does Andrew Benintendi’s game-ending catch rank among the best in Red Sox history?
The Red Sox now have 114 wins this season. We need to see if they get to 119 – which would mean they’d have clinched a fourth World Series in 15 years – before Benintendi’s catch can truly be put into context. Dwight Evans’s catch on Joe Morgan in the 1975 World Series, Tom Brunansky’s diving grab to the clinch the 1990 AL East title, and pretty much any tremendous catch Yaz made in ’67 are contenders. But in the joy of this moment? Oh, yeah, it’s the best one I’ve ever seen given the stakes and relative degree of difficulty. That game is over if the ball gets by him, the series is tied at 2-2, and the Red Sox would have to deal with Justin Verlander Thursday. Now they’re up 3-1, and there’s a bit of a buffer with Games 6 and 7 at home.
Does Craig Kimbrel think the strike zone is in the lefthanded batter’s box?
At this point, that’s a plausible explanation for how erratically the Red Sox closer has been performing. Had Benintendi not made that catch – which had an extra degree of difficulty because it looked like a rocket coming off Alex Bregman’s bat but actually wasn’t hit that hard – Kimbrel would be drawing unfavorable comparisons to Calvin Schiraldi this morning. Kimbrel allowed two hits, three walks and a run in earning the first two-inning save of his stellar career, but that stat line doesn’t come close to telling the story of how much tension he added to the game. His fastball was flat, and he continues to yank his slider. How scary was it? David Price, the Red Sox’ Game 5 starter with Chris Sale recovering from illness, was warming up in the bullpen … and he was easily the more appealing option. I’m starting to the think the Red Sox’ middle relievers and setup men, who were excellent again, have stolen Kimbrel’s powers and divided them amongst themselves.
Are there any Jackie Bradley Jr. doubters left now that he’s having one of patented hot streaks at the perfect time?
We all pick our strange hills to die on, but I’ll never get the anti-Bradley factions of the Red Sox fan base. He’s a spectacular center fielder, and there’s not much that’s more fun to watch on a daily basis than a spectacular center fielder.
Of course, it’s very easy to throw around a few I-told-you-so’s now, given that he hit the game-icing grand slam in Game 3, then put the Red Sox ahead 6-5 in the sixth inning Wednesday night with a two-run homer off impressive Astros reliever Josh James.
Sure, his streakiness can be frustrating. Even now, his numbers are oddly abstract – he has nine RBIs in this series on just three hits. Ask me, that’s part of his charm. But the weirdest thing about his performance Wednesday is that he was the one Red Sox outfielder who did not make a spectacular defensive play.
Why should Red Sox fans appreciate Joe West?
West would be on the short list of umpires who are most likely to try to steal a few scenes from the show for themselves, as if anyone is there to watch umps. He does not seem especially pleasant, either. But here’s the thing: He’s a pretty good umpire, and has especially been a good umpire when there’s something significant at stake for the Red Sox. It’s not just about Wednesday night and ruling fan interference on what looked like a two-run homer by Jose Altuve in the first inning. Had that been called a homer, it would have changed the tenor of the game — I don’t think, for instance, that struggling starter Rick Porcello would have lasted even four innings if Altuve’s ball had been a home run.
Think back to the 2004 ALCS between the Red Sox and the Yankees. West is the ump who ruled that Mark Bellhorn’s home run in Game 6 was indeed a homer. He made the call on Alex Rodriguez when he got slappy with Bronson Arroyo. And two games earlier, he called Dave Roberts safe, a steal that changed history. He made two of those calls in Yankee Stadium, and he got them right in front of a hostile crowd that was waiting for the ghosts to show up.
Red Sox fans, the least you can do is tell him you liked his Country and Western album.
Would Mookie have caught it?
Mookie would have caught it. Mookie said he would have caught it: “I’m 100 percent positive I was going to be able to catch that one,’’ he said after the game. Never underestimate Mookie. But … I’m still not convinced Altuve’s drive was fan interference. The call held up on replay, but most – if not quite all – angles indicated that his glove was in the stands, and the ball is up for grabs at that point. In layman’s terms, the rule says it’s only interference in that circumstance if it’s deliberate. That wasn’t deliberate. That was a half-dozen dudes in orange jerseys thinking “FREE BASEBALL FOR ME’’ all at the same time. Of course it’s going to be chaos.
What’s the most amusing thing you heard all night?
This, from Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who for some reason addressed the crowd before the game: “We’re going to beat the Red Sox! My boy Bregman just told me so! Play ball!
The Texans are 0-6 against the Patriots in Hopkins’s career. What does he know about beating Boston teams?
Why did Benintendi’s catch look so familiar?
Because, as Red Sox team historian Gordon Edes pointed out on Twitter, it looked remarkably like the play Carl Crawford failed to make in the final scene of the 2011 Red Sox season, when a liner by the Orioles’ Robert Andino eluded the hesitant left fielder and they had officially gagged away their postseason hopes like they were choking on a chicken bone. Which they might have been. The weird coincidence of Benintendi’s catch? He made it at Minute Maid Park … which is on Crawford Street, in Carl Crawford’s hometown. Mind blown? Eh, it already was, man.