HOUSTON — For you boxing enthusiasts, imagine if you had attended Mike Tyson’s 91-second knockout of Michael Spinks in 1988, only to have to sit around for another four hours for the result to be official.
Did you long for that experience? In that case, hope you got to watch American League Championship Series Game 2 on Saturday afternoon.
The upshot? In walloping the Astros, 9-5 in a 4:08 snoozer at Minute Maid Park to tie the series at 1-1, the Red Sox ensured that the Yankees’ Nightmare Series will not be a knockout — which in turn serves as the latest evidence that this 2021 season features no dominant AL team, a missed opportunity for the Bronx club.
J.D. Martinez and Rafael Devers cracked grand slams in the first and second innings, respectively, to put this one well out of reach early (the Astros scored a pair of garbage-time runs in the ninth), and by the time Devers sent his dinger 357 feet over the right-field wall, Astros starting pitcher Luis Garcia already had departed, felled by what the team called right knee discomfort. Veteran Jake Odorizzi gave up Devers’ shot. It marked another blow to a Houston pitching staff that already has lost its best starter, Lance McCullers Jr., to a right forearm injury.
The Red Sox’s best starter, former Yankee Nathan Eovaldi, threw 5 ¹/₃ innings of three-run ball, which is pretty much the 2021 equivalent of Don Larsen’s World Series perfect game in 1956. Improbably, with their pitching appearing to be in superior shape and with the home-field advantage reclaimed, the Bosox, who entered Game 162 with nothing guaranteed beyond a Game 163 (just like the Yankees), now appear to have the upper hand in reaching the Fall Classic for the fifth time in 18 years.
Of course, these Astros, competing in their fifth straight ALCS, have proven that they shan’t be discounted. Their dynamic duo of Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa, who combined to drive home four of the Astros’ five runs in their 5-4 Game 1 victory, managed just a single, by Correa in the fourth inning, in nine total at-bats.
“They say that you want to be strong up the middle: Catching, pitching, shortstop, second base, and center field,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said, as he mused about his second baseman Altuve and shortstop Correa. “This middle is something that is damn near like a vertebrae where it’s been there for how long? Approximately six, seven years, or whatever it is. [It’s seven.] That’s quite a long time to have a keystone combination, especially of All-Star caliber. A lot of times you have one All-Star caliber and like a Batman and Robin, but this time you got two Batmans. Those are some bad dudes.”
Bad dudes who won’t go away quietly. Therein lies the challenge for the Red Sox, who will host Game 3 on Monday night at Fenway Park.