HOUSTON — Remember Alex Bregman’s Instagram story?
Yes, hard as it is to believe, 36 hours ago the storm hovering over baseball was whether it’s all in good fun when a player posts “lil pregame video work” along with footage of his team going back-to-back-to-back off his forthcoming opponent. (It is, everyone involved eventually decided, especially after the Red Sox’ Nathan Eovaldi, the opponent in question, held the Astros to two runs in six innings in Game 3 of the ALCS.)
Since then we have entertained—and been entertained by: an accusation of cheating; a counter-accusation of cheating; three lead changes plus two ties; three unbelievable outs made from rightfield, only one on a catch; two replay reviews; nine two-out runs; four hit batsmen; 62 balls in play; the presumptive Game 5 starter pitching in the sixth inning of Game 4; the presumptive backup Game 5 starter warming in the ninth inning of Game 4; a home run that had a 96% chance of being an out; an out that had a 79% chance of being a hit; the leakiest pitcher in the series facing the best hitter in the series and prevailing. The whole thing took four hours and 33 minutes, four shy of the record for longest nine-inning postseason game of all time. The Red Sox won 8–6 to take a 3–1 series lead … which is about all any of them can keep straight at this point.
“I blacked out,” said leftfielder Andrew Benintendi.
“I got some gray hairs,” said centerfielder Jackie Bradley Jr.
“I don’t remember what-all happened,” said second baseman Brock Holt. “So much happened.”
(Things were not much smoother over in the National League, where in a 24-hour span the Dodgers and Brewers played a 13-inning game; endured a controversy over whether L.A.’s Manny Machado is playing too hard, as when he kicked Milwaukee’s Jesús Aguilar at first base, or not hard enough, as when he described hustling down the line as “not my cup of tea”; and engaged in debate over whether the Brewers’ new strategy of using their starting pitcher for one batter before pulling him is in the spirit of the game.)
The night before, Metro News had reported that a man with a small camera was ejected from an area near the Red Sox’ dugout during Game 1 of the ALCS. Yahoo! Sports added that the same man, identified as Kyle McLaughlin, had filmed the Indians’ dugout during the ALDS before security removed him there, as well. He had been credentialed by Houston and photographed with team owner Jim Crane.
The Astros insisted that no, actually, they had only been spying on the Red Sox to confirm that the Red Sox were not spying on them. (If that argument sounds familiar, it might be because former Cardinals scouting director Chris Correa insisted after he was caught hacking into Houston databases that he was just making sure the Astros hadn’t stolen anything from St. Louis.)
“I don’t like the implication that the Red Sox were doing something illegal,” said Boston GM Dave Dombrowski.
The league hastily investigated and reported that they “consider the matter closed.”
No one at Minute Maid Park seemed to agree, but eventually they all decided to play Game 4 anyway. It took nine batters before something went sideways there. In the bottom of the first, with a man on and a 2–0 deficit, hobbled Astros DH José Altuve lined a ball into the rightfield stands—almost. Rightfielder Mookie Betts leaped to make the catch and came into contact with a fan’s hand. Umpire Joe West ruled spectator interference and called Altuve out.
The game only seemed to become crazier from there. The only break we got was the minute it seemed to take 65-year-old West to shuffle from his position down the rightfield line over to the third-base dugout, where the replay kit resides. No half-inning elapsed without a man reaching base. The 5’ 6” leftfielder Tony Kemp wrapped a pop fly around the rightfield pole to break a tie in the third. Betts uncorked an astonishing throw in the eighth to turn an easy Kemp double into an out; Astros rightfielder Josh Reddick made a diving catch an inning later to save three runs. The Red Sox used one option for Game 5 starter, Eduardo Rodríguez, for one out, and had plans to go to the other one, David Price, if closer Craig Kimbrel could not convert the first six-out save of his career.
He nearly could not. With the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth, Kimbrel stared in at third baseman Alex Bregman and his .580 series on-base percentage. Kimbrel had hit him an inning earlier. Bregman lined the first pitch he saw into leftfield, where Benintendi decided to dive. The game will be over one way or another, he thought as his feet left the ground. He was grinning before the ball even settled into his glove.
“It’s probably the most excited I’ve ever been after making a catch,” said Benintendi. Holt gave him a kiss on the cheek. Kimbrel speculated with reporters about adding the leftfielder to his Christmas shopping list. Red Sox radio man Joe Castiglione fell out of his chair while making the call.
And then reality set in: There would be another game in 19 hours.