Red Sox

4 takeaways as Red Sox fall apart late again, drop Game 5 to Astros

The Red Sox need a win Friday to keep their season alive.

Game 5 takeaways
The Boston bench in the seventh inning of Game 5 of the ALCS. Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

Here are the takeaways as the Red Sox fell apart late once again in Game 5 against the Astros, falling 9-1 to drop down 3-2 in the ALCS.

The big picture

After a pair of perfect frames in the first inning, the Astros got the scoring started in the top of the second when Astros DH Yordan Alvarez ripped a homer over the Monster off Red Sox starter Chris Sale.

But the story of the first five innings was the pitching. Astros starter Frambers Valdez was perfect through four, in which the highest expected batting average of any Red Sox contact was .140 on a groundout by Alex Verdugo. Sale, meanwhile, gave up a double to Alvarez in the fourth but pitched his way out of a first-and-third jam with one out by striking out a pair of batters.

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The Red Sox, however, might have left Sale in the game one inning too long. After Sale ripped through the top of the fifth, José Altuve led off the sixth with a walk. Michael Brantley then hit a chopper and reached first when Altuve distracted Kyle Schwarber by digging for third. One batter later, Alvarez doubled in both runners.

Sale was pulled from the game, but the damage wasn’t done. The Astros plated three more runs in the frame and another in the seventh. Fenway Park was silent, staring at a 7-0 deficit on the scoreboard.

Rafael Devers tallied the Red Sox’s only run with a solo homer in the seventh, but it was far too little and far too late. The Astros tacked on two more in the ninth and now have a chance to end the series at home on Friday.

Star of the game

Yordan Alvarez — 3-for-5, two runs, three RBIs, homer, double

Without Alvarez, it’s not clear the Astros would have won Wednesday’s game. He was the one player for whom Sale seemed to have no answer, and he drove in enough runs on his own to stoke the Astros to their 3-2 series lead.

Frambers Valdez — 8 IP, five Ks, one BB

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In an era when managers pull their playoff starter for giving up two hits in a row, Valdez did the impossible: He pitched eight innings. What’s more, he was dominant in all eight, allowing just three hits and one run. Suddenly, thanks to Valdez, the Astros’ pitching rotation is in much better shape, and their bullpen has reset.

What it means

The Red Sox have cooled off, and they are on the ropes. They have a trip to Houston, an extra day to regain their confidence, and Nathan Eovaldi ready to pitch Game 6.

Takeaways

1. If the biggest question after Game 4 was “Why can’t Laz Diaz spot a strike?”, the big question after Game 5 might be why the Red Sox pitched to Alvarez in the sixth. First base was open after Sale made a nice play to coax a groundout, and Alvarez — again — was the only player who was consistently hitting Sale.

Plenty of hits followed Alvarez’s double, but the Red Sox were clearly dispirited. Facing Carlos Correa with the bases loaded might have been less nerve-wracking than facing the Astros’ red-hot DH with runners on second and third.

2. If there’s a minor positive for the Red Sox on a dismal evening, it might be that for five innings, Sale looked like the superstar ace the Red Sox hoped he would be. The homer Altuve hit in the second inning was a mistake, but Sale dialed up the intensity in high-leverage moments and dominated in nearly every at-bat against Astros players not named Yordan.

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If the Red Sox’s season is over on Friday or Saturday, they can look forward to Sale’s return next year. If they rally, a rejuvenated Sale would be a huge boost in the World Series.

3. As noted by @redsoxstats on Twitter, the Astros accounted for 20 of the 26 hardest hit balls in Wednesday’s game. The Red Sox weren’t exactly robbed in their three-hit performance — their expected batting average was .212.

Quietly, the Red Sox’s offense cooled off dramatically at home even considering Game 3, when the grand-slam parade continued. In their three ALCS games at Fenway, the Red Sox’s starting lineup was a catastrophic 19-for-96, a .197 batting average. That offense wasted solid outings by Nick Pivetta and Sale in Games 4 and 5.

4. Kiké Hernández’s hot streak might have been representative of the Red Sox’s offense as a whole. Hernández was unsustainably hot, mashing seemingly everything anyone threw at him. The Red Sox as a whole were unsustainably hot as well, and their performance over the last two games feels like an inevitable regression to the mean.

Maybe the Red Sox got cold at the wrong time. Maybe an otherworldly hot streak at the plate papered over the very real flaws they showed throughout the season, and when the bats cooled off — which was always going to happen — those flaws were thrown once again into sharp relief.

Or maybe we are overreacting to a second bad loss in a row, and all of this will look reactionary on Friday. For now, however, the situation for the Red Sox looks bleak.

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Game 6 starts at 8:08 p.m. on Friday.

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