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HOUSTON — The slow-moving, commercial break-infested, bullpen-visiting reliever-palooza the Red Sox and Astros put us through in Game 1 of the ALCS was not a good reflection on the state of modern baseball, no matter what the time or circumstance.

But to foist that game upon us, to subject us to an MLB-record 16 combined pitchers in a postseason game, well, that sounded an alarm bell the game should absolutely hear. And heed.

Quite simply, playoff baseball is infinitely better when the starting pitchers go deep into games, when aces deal from the top of the deck and hold our attention with their sustained greatness. For all the single moments of glory that can happen at the plate, a dominant pitching performance, crafted across multiple innings and many hours, remains among the most memorable and impressive in baseball’s cherished record books.


Think Pedro Martinez, or Roger Clemens, or Bob Gibson, or Orel Hershiser, or Madison Bumgarner, or Clayton Kershaw, or Mike Scott, or Randy Johnson, or Jack Morris, or Curt Schilling. That type of postseason excellence in baseball’s pre-analytic world shouldn’t get lost in this analytic one, at least not to the extent we saw in games like that interminable Game 1, which took 4:07 to play but felt like it took 14:07. Baseball lifer and longtime manager Dusty Baker, whose Astros won it, 5-4, on the way to their 4-2 series victory, called it “the battle of the bullpen.”

It’s more like a battle for baseball’s soul.

Alex Rodriguez, only one of the best hitters in the history of the game and now an analyst for FOX, wrote this on Twitter after Game 1: “Baseball has to get back to trusted starters going 6/7/8 innings. The assembly line of relievers that come in one after another every game isn’t it. Fans need the heavyweight fight matchups … Pedro v Rocket, Kershaw v Bumgarner, [Jon] Lester v [Adam] Wainwright, etc.”


“The point is:” he added,” Starting pitching still matters.”

A-Rod was spot on. By Game 2, the Sox were in better shape, with their horse Nate Eovaldi at least taking his night into the sixth inning, earning the win after 5⅓. But the Astros, who lost 9-5, pulled an ailing Luis Garcia after an inning, and the combination of five pitchers was too taxed.

That prompted A-Rod to reinforce his argument, writing after Game 2: “What we’ve seen so far in the first [two] games is how important starting pitching remains. Asking relievers to get anywhere from 15 to 21 outs on a daily basis is just too tall an order. Astros did it again last night but doing it again is almost impossible. Most relievers don’t give you this much volume in such a condensed period of time during the regular season.”

Led by the indomitable Eovaldi, who started again in Game 6 and who also appeared in relief (though that didn’t go nearly as planned), the Sox starters weren’t awful — Eduardo Rodriguez got the win on six solid innings in Game 3, Nick Pivetta gave the Sox five good innings in Game 4, and Chris Sale pitched his best game in three years in five-plus innings in Game 6.

Yet for all the grand slams and Kiké Hernández fireworks early in the series, if you ask me, the best, most dramatic moment of all came when Eovaldi worked his way out of the second-and-third, no-out jam in the fourth inning Friday night. His three strikeouts (with an intentional walk in between) even prompted A-Rod to tweet again.


“What a job by Eovaldi,” he wrote. “That’s called an ace. [Alex] Cora could have overreacted and gone to his rested bullpen there but believed in the guy he has on the mound. Trust your players!”

Eovaldi ended up taking the loss, his second of the postseason, because by then, the Astros’ starters were ready to flash their ace cards too, and behind Framber Valdez (eight innings, one run) in Game 5 and a suddenly healthy Garcia (5⅔ innings, seven strikeouts) in Game 6, the reminder was clear. Good pitching wins out. Valdez’s distance and dominance made for great theater, and Garcia’s increased velocity and control backed him up well enough to silence a Red Sox lineup that had bashed its way across the first three games. Hitters know when they’ve seen an ace at work.

“I feel like the Game 5 back in Boston, you tip your cap to Framber there,” Kyle Schwarber said late Friday night, after the Sox were eliminated. “He was lights-out. The guy was ticked up in velocity the whole time and dotting. When that guy is on and he has a really high ground ball rate, you tip your cap.

“Going into today, you know, we had our game plan. You come out and the guy is ticked up in velocity and a little bit more sharp than he was in that first game that we saw him. I want to say even though, like, the results weren’t there, the resiliency was there. It was a full-on battle, right? You’re not going to go out there and score 10 runs in every postseason game. That’s a dream, right? That’s what you want to do.”


What baseball should want to do? Let the aces deal. The game is better for it.

Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at tara.sullivan@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Globe_Tara.