The Real McCoy

Hall of Fame baseball writer Hal McCoy shares his thoughts on the Cincinnati Reds
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McCoy: Red Sox dethrone defending champions to win ALCS, advance to World Series

UNSOLICITED OBSERVATIONS from The Man Cave after reading more than 600 birthday wishes on Facebook, many with extremely nice comments and I thank you all and I am humbled.

And I share a birthday with Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who had more to celebrate Thursday than I did. Amazingly, Cora was born in 1975, four days before the Cincinnati Reds won the World Series over the Red Sox in Game 7.

—There will be a different World Series champion in 2018. The reigning champions, the Houston Astros, were dethroned Thursday night by the Red Sox, 4-1.

The Bosox clinched it by sweeping three games on the road at Houston’s Minute Maid Park and they have won five straight playoff road games, outscoring the opposition in those game, 40-13. And Cora, a first-year manager who was Houston’s bench coach last season, is off to the World Series. And it is Boston’s fourth trip to the World Series in the last 15 years.

—Going into Game 5 Thursday, the Astros figured to have the advantage because Justin Verlander was on the mound. His opponent, David Price, was pitching on three days of rest for the first time this year and he had warmed up in the bullpen Wednesday night, but didn’t get into the game.

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But on this night, Price was right. He held the Astros to no runs, three hits, no walks and he struck out nine in six innings, easily outdueling Verlander. Price and Verlander were both part of the 2014 Detroit Tigers rotation.

Verlander, which usually meant ‘V’ for victory, pitched six innings and gave up four runs, seven hits, walked two and struck out only four.

Verlander gave up a solo home run to J.D. Martinez and a three-run game-decider in the sixth inning to Rafael Devers.

—The Red Sox loaded the bases with two outs in the second inning, bringing up a dream match-up: Possible Cy Young pitcher Verlander against probable MVP Mookie Betts. On this occasion, Verlander won, striking out Betts.

—Home plate umpire Chris Guccione blew a call in the third inning and it cost the Astros a run. Verlander threw a 0-and-2 slider right down Main Street at the bottom of the strike zone to J.D. Martinez. Guccione called it a ball. The next pitch was driven 396 feet and chipped concrete off the Viaduct behind the Crawford Boxes for a home run. As Martinez made his triumpant trot around the bases, Verlander stared a hole in Guccione’s chest protector.

And it was a big, “Take that,” from Martinez on two fronts. Martinez and Verlander were teammates with the  Detroit Tigers. And toward the end of spring training in 2014 the Astros released Martinez after he was originally drafted by Houston.

—What a battle. With two outs in the fourth, Houston’s Yuri Gurriel fouled off the first six pitches David Price threw. On the ninth pitch, Gurriel doubled to left. But Price struck out Marwin Gonzalez, his third strikeout of the inning and he had seven strikeouts in four innings.

—Rafael Devers took the heat off umpire Chris Guccione in the sixth inning. The first three Red Sox hit safely to start the inning, a double by Mitch Moreland, a single by Ian Kinsler and Devers’ first-pitch home run to left field for a 4-0 lead. Devers hit two home runs last year in the postseason against Houston, but the Astros won that series.

—Verlander says he is obsessed with tne number 3 — he uses the third stall in the clubhouse bathroom, ties his shoe laces in a triple knot and cleans the pitching rubber with three swipes of his cleats. But a three-run home run is not part of his obsession.

—The Astros cracked the scoreboard against Boston relief pitcher Matt Barnes with a two-out solo home in the seventh by Marwin Gonzalez, just the fourth Astros hit, but it cut the lead to 4-1. Tony Kemp walked and Barnes was done.

Cora brought in starter Nathan Eovaldi, the winner in Game 3 and possessor of a 100 miles an hour fast ball. With Minute Maid Park in a frenzy, Josh Reddick drove one to the warning track and Mookie Betts caught it to silence the crowd and the Astros.

—Eovaldi pitched a scoreless eighth, giving the Bosox four big outs. Cora turned the ninth over to closer Craig Kimbrel, who nearly blew Game 4 Wednesday in the ninth. Kimbrel had given up runs in every one of his four postseason appearances. He began the inning by striking out Carlos Correa. He walked Yuri Gurriel on four pitches. He struck out Marwin Gonzalez on three pitches, the last one a 98 mph fastball that Gonzalez took. Tony Kemp, Houston’s last gasp, flied deep to the left center gap and it was caught to end it.

—The Red Sox were ultra-dangerous in the five games with two strikes. They had 39 hits and 18 came with two strikes on the hitter. 

—Boston now awaits the winner of the Los Angeles-Milwaukee series, which resumes tonight in Milwaukee with the Dodgers leading three games to two, needing one win to advance to the World Series for the second straight year.

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