Chaos. Confounding, glorious, compelling chaos.
Pennant-race baseball came alive at Fenway Park on Thursday night in 3 hours and 47 minutes of performance art masquerading as competition between the Red Sox and Astros. Glimpses of the unexpected lurked around every turn of a 12-8 Red Sox victory that featured:
▪ 8 lead changes;
▪ 12 pitchers;
▪ 20 runs;
▪ 24 hits;
▪ 35 baserunners;
▪ 337 pitches;
▪ a Yuli Gurriel 315-foot homer off the Pesky Pole;
▪ a José Altuve homer on a pitch that was 10 inches off the ground;
▪ 3 strikeouts over the entire game by the Red Sox lineup — tied for their fewest in any game since Aug. 17, 2018;
▪ 2 dropped flyballs by the Astros (“Looked like it was tough for them,” Sox manager Alex Cora shrugged about the wind), though only one that counted as an out thanks to an infield fly ruling;
▪ a 2-3-4 double play when the only person on the field who seemed to recognize that a Gurriel tapper in front of the plate was in play;
▪ and, for good measure, a manager getting ejected and a fan sprinting onto the field.
Where to begin? Nowhere. Everywhere. Maybe just skip to the end.
This was a win that the Red Sox wanted — badly. They entered Thursday having been bulldozed by the Astros this season, beaten in five of six games while outscored, 34-13.
The lopsided nature of the games had been unsettling enough, but there is an additional undercurrent to games against Houston. Many Red Sox have competed with the Astros in recent Octobers as members of the Sox (2017 and 2018 — Xander Bogaerts, Eduardo Rodriguez, Christian Vázquez, Rafael Devers, Matt Barnes, and others), Dodgers (2017 – Kiké Hernández), Yankees (2019, Adam Ottavino), or Rays (2020 – Hunter Renfroe).
With both teams asserting themselves as AL contenders in 2021, the Red Sox need few reminders about the past — and, they hope, future — stakes greeting games against the Astros. And so, the Red Sox took particular delight in avoiding a sweep and claiming a win on a night when they stared down deficits of 1-0, 3-2, 7-4, and 8-7.
“They have a good baseball team,” Cora said of the Astros. “I do feel they’re about to take off as a team over there. They’re a complete team. Offensively they’re very dangerous. But we do believe we can play with them. Hopefully we have the chance to do that when it really matters, kind of like in ’18.
“You saw what happened in October. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but obviously we have big goals, just like they do. They have a good team, and we do believe we have a good team, too.”
That belief seemed to resonate with 23,378 partying partisans at loud, uncensored Fenway. For a third straight day, profane invective rained from the crowd onto the Astros.
But in contrast to the first two games of the series — losses in which the Red Sox fell behind early and never had a meaningful chance by the middle innings — the competitive dynamics on Thursday brought the park to a boil, the crowd erupting repeatedly in response to the (literally) shifting winds of the game.
“We missed this. We missed the crowd,” said catcher Christian Vázquez (3 for 4, 3 RBIs, 2 runs). “It was loud and felt like a playoff game. That team is good. The Astros are a good team. It’s fun to play those games like that.”
The Red Sox responded by playing at an emotional full throttle. Christian Arroyo, who crushed a three-run homer to turn a 7-4 deficit into a 7-7 tie, admitted that as he rounded the bases, he “kind of just blacked out a little bit. … To say that I was excited was probably an understatement.”
It was the sort of excitement that has seemed impossible for so much of the past 15 months — particularly in 2020, when an empty Fenway housed a singularly uninspiring Red Sox season. On Thursday, as Fenway celebrated Pride Night, the dull hues of last season receded from memory, giving way to a more colorful vision of possibility — for a team, for a ballpark, for a community, for a joyride through the summer.
It was, Cora cautioned, but one game in a 162-game slog — a win to improve to 2-2 on the homestand and avoid a sweep, nothing more in the standings. Even so, it was something more, a night when Fenway offered not just a game but drama.
“When you see Fenway like this and you see the players showing emotion, our guys were very emotional,” said Cora. “For both teams, I do believe we know what we are and what we have. We respect each other. It was just a fun game. At the end, they beat us three out of four [in Houston last week], they beat us two out of three [this week], but I think this game was a cool game to watch. A tough game to manage, but at the end it was a fun one. It was a fun one.”