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There Was Just Enough World-Class Talent, Officiating Shenanigans, and God-Awful Relief Pitching to Make Astros–Red Sox a Modern Classic

Houston should’ve won Game 4 of the ALCS at least three separate times, but somehow they didn’t, and now Boston has three shots to knock out the defending World Series champs

MLB: ALCS-Boston Red Sox at Houston Astros Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Red Sox took a commanding 3-1 series lead in the ALCS by beating the Houston Astros 8-6 at Minute Maid Park. And on one level, that’s a pretty straightforward proposition. But this game was a four-hour, 33-minute assault on the nerves, with more twists than a Chubby Checker concert.

Down 2-0 in the bottom of the first, José Altuve, who’s DHing through a knee injury that makes him run like a scale model of Kirk Gibson, hit what looked like a game-tying home run. Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts leapt up against the short right-field wall to try to grab the ball, but his glove bounced around among some fans in the first row and the ball went over the fence.

Right-field umpire Joe West signaled that Altuve was out by fan interference, and the play was referred to replay review. By rule, if a fan reaches into the field of play and makes contact with a fielder, that’s fan interference; if a fielder reaches into the stands, though, it’s at his own risk—anything goes once that glove is over the wall.

I think Betts went over the wall, where he ran into several fans, including one fellow in a Reagan-Bush ’84 hat who, apparently having never heard of Steve Bartman, volunteered his name to Matt Young of the Houston Chronicle. But the MLB replay office failed to find conclusive evidence to overturn West’s call, which is defensible from a process standpoint, even if it probably produced the wrong result.

At this point, veterans of the Jeffrey Maier Incursion of 1996 are probably wondering where the other camera angles are. Doesn’t an MLB broadcast usually include at least one camera stationed by the foul pole, filming parallel to the outfield wall? Indeed so, and this broadcast was no exception. Here’s what that camera produced.

After starting out in such controversial fashion, the game just remained at the redline for another four hours. Astros starter Charlie Morton recorded just seven outs, and while his opposite number, Rick Porcello, went four innings, he allowed four runs and seven hits along the way. Neither team recorded a 1-2-3 inning in the entire game.

The Astros replaced Morton with rookie Josh James, who alternated between a 101 mph fastball and a 92 mph changeup but for some reason struggled with two outs. Carrying a 4-3 lead into the top of the fifth, James allowed the tying run to score on a two-out Xander Bogaerts single, then the next inning he recorded two quick outs, gave up a double to Christian Vázquez, and allowed a two-run homer to the red-hot Jackie Bradley Jr., who had hit a grand slam in Game 3.

Bradley, in addition to being the likely ALCS MVP, is an exceptional defensive center fielder. This is important because both Betts and Andrew Benintendi could both play center themselves, but since Bradley’s out there, they’re both extremely overqualified corner outfielders, a fact that saved the game for Boston several times over.

In the seventh, Betts prevented a run by tracking down Carlos Correa’s two-out double and holding Marwin González at third, where he was stranded. And when Astros outfielder Tony Kemp, Betts’s childhood friend from their days playing travel ball in Tennessee, hit a ball in the corner to lead off the bottom of the eighth, Kemp broke for second. Kemp is a fast runner, and barring a perfect play by an exceptional outfielder, he would’ve had a leadoff double. Betts delivered just such a play.

This is one of six outs Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel recorded, and I am genuinely at a loss at how he came by the other five. Kimbrel is one of the best closers in baseball history, but dating back at least to Game 4 of the ALDS, when he nearly blew a three-run lead to the Yankees, he’s been unable to find the strike zone.

Kimbrel’s six-out save was the first of his career, but he had to work for it. Only 19 of his 35 pitches went for strikes, and six out of the 11 batters he faced reached base. In the ninth inning, despite a gift of a two-pitch pop-out by Yuli Gurriel to lead off the inning, Kimbrel walked the bases loaded with two outs, leaving the red-hot Alex Bregman at the plate with the game on the line. Bregman laced the first pitch to left, where it looked like it was going to roll to the wall and either tie or win the game, but Benintendi intervened.

According to Statcast, four out of five balls like the one Bregman hit fall.

This was the kind of game where the peaks were so memorable, events that would be highlights in a normal game end up being lost in memory. Like when Red Sox first baseman Steve Pearce tried to lean over the dugout railing to catch a foul ball and tumbled into the Astros dugout and nearly broke his neck.

Or how Red Sox manager Alex Cora’s faith in Kimbrel is obviously wavering, to the point where he had David Price warm up for two innings in case … actually I’m not sure how much worse things could’ve gotten for Kimbrel without him actually surrendering a decisive hit. So Price ended up throwing several dozen pitches and pacing the visitors bullpen like he was waiting for his turn in the Fast Money round on Family Feud.

On Thursday night, Price will take the mound on short rest against Justin Verlander for Game 5, with the World Series on the line, hours after he got warm enough to potentially come into Game 4 and bail Kimbrel out. Will he be too gassed to pitch effectively? We asked 100 people and survey says ….