BOSTON — For the first two games of their American League Division Series, the Houston Astros followed a simple blueprint in taking a 2-0 series lead against the Boston Red Sox: score early and let the pitching take care of the rest.
They successfully did the first part again in Game 3 on Sunday, but for the first time in this series their pitching wasn’t enough to tame Boston in a 10-3 loss.
The Astros are still just one win away from their first trip to a league championship series since 2005. But they are also expecting even more fight from a Red Sox team that finally resembled the club that has won back-to-back AL East crowns.
Houston outscored Boston 16-4 in Games 1 and 2, and arrived in Boston thinking about a sweep. With that now off the table, the Astros say they are digging in, and are prepared to do whatever is necessary to advance. And that means not deviating from doing what got them to this point.
“We try to win. That’s not changing,” manager A.J. Hinch said about potential tweaks to the game plan for Game 4 on Monday. “There are no secrets between the two of us. I think we know what we’re going to get.”
Houston is set to start right hander Charlie Morton, who will be making just his second career postseason start.
Part of the reason Hinch isn’t expecting much adjustment is because the approach that earned Houston its 2-0 series lead was working again Sunday.
They again scored first, putting up three runs in the first inning, including a two-run home run by Carlos Correa — the Astros’ fourth first-inning homer of the series. It would have grown to 6-0 in the second, if not for Mookie Betts reaching over the right-field wall to take away a home run from Josh Reddick.
“It was like a knockout punch if that ball goes out,” Correa said. “But Mookie did a great job. And their team came back and put amazing at-bats together.”
Most of those good at-bats came at the expense of starter Brad Peacock. He entered the game having allowed two runs or fewer in 16 of his 21 starts during the regular season, including his previous seven outings.
Instead he looked like the pitcher that had given up 12 earned runs in 12 2/3 innings pitched at Fenway. He lasted only 2 2/3 innings Sunday, giving up three earned runs and six hits.
His teammates didn’t fare much better, with replacement Francisco Liriano giving up a two-run home run to rookie Rafael Devers that put Boston in front. The Astros did everything they could to slow down the Red Sox’s surge. Lance McCullers, who was 7-4 in 22 starts this season, made his first career relief appearance when he entered the game in fourth inning with Houston trailing 4-3.
But any realistic hope Houston had of getting back in the game vanished in the seventh. That’s when Jackie Bradley Jr. curled a three-run home run just inside the right-field foul pole out of the reach of Josh Reddick to make it 10-3.
“Nothing you can do. You get one taken away from you and you give one right back,” Reddick said. “It’s just one of those things where it doesn’t go your way.”
McCullers said getting the call from the bullpen was awkward, though he said he’s been trying to mentally prepare for the possibility since the playoffs began.
He remains open to filling whatever role he is cast into the rest of the series.
“We’re up 2-1 in the series, and our main focus is to win it. It doesn’t matter how it’s done,” he said. “We’ll come back tomorrow, clean slate and try to get it done.”
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