You expect at any moment that Jackie Bradley Jr. will bedazzle you with his defense, but what you don’t expect is for Bradley to bedazzle you with offense. Yet that’s exactly what he did with two outs in the third inning, hitting a bases-loaded double off Gerrit Cole that scored three runs, propelling the Red Sox to a 7-5 win over the Astros in Game 2 of the ALCS.
On the other side, Houston’s Gold Glove catcher Martin Maldonado is known for his tremendous catching and great arm, which produced an almost 48 percent caught-stealing rate, and his ability to block balls. But he had what many Astros observers call the worst inning he’s had this year with two passed balls while reliever Lance McCullers Jr. was in the game in the seventh inning, enabling Mookie Betts, who had walked to start the inning, to advance from first to home on a wild pitch and two passed balls.
McCullers’s curveball was hard for Maldonado to navigate.
“Lance threw a couple of nasty breaking balls and it looked like either Martin lost it in the people in center field or just got a little, I don’t want to say lax back there, but just had a tough time,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said.
Such is life in the playoffs where things don’t always go according to the large sample size that is the regular season. Nobody thought Maldonado wouldn’t be able to catch the ball and very few thought Bradley would produce with two outs and the bases loaded against Cole, whose velocity was hitting 99 miles per hour with regularity.
Bradley was hitting .143 in the playoffs heading into the game. Cole had held lefties to a .162 average in 2018 and a .519 OPS. Uncharacteristically, he allowed hits to lefthanded hitters Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers, and later, Bradley, who solved one of the nastiest pitchers in the American League.
He was part of a Sox offense that went silent against Justin Verlander in Game 1. You don’t expect Bradley to be the offensive star after the rough season he had offensively, but when the playoffs begin much of that stuff is tossed out the window. Bradley decided he was going to make his mark in at least one of these games. He sure did.
To further illustrate how different Bradley’s double was, the ball was laced off the left field wall and strangely dribbled down the padding of the left-field railing. By the time the ball fell off the railing and Marwin Gonzalez could field it, all three runs had scored with Bradley standing on second base.
Another go-figure moment for Maldonado was a positive development for the Astros. The weak-hitting catcher produced a key double in the second inning, which set the stage for George Springer’s two-out, two-run double off David Price that tied the score at 2-2.
Bradley did make a nice running catch of a sinking liner by Jose Altuve in the seventh. In that respect he did what he was supposed to do.
Bradley was also involved in a controversial play in which home plate umpire Vic Carapazza called him out on a ball that had actually bounced up and hit him in the arm. The play was reviewed for a rules clarification.
But when the replay was watched the umpires ruled that it was a foul ball. Bradley wound up flying out, but Hinch had questioned why the umpires were reviewing what was an unreviewable play.
Nevertheless, Bradley was invited to the postgame podium with Betts, who finally broke out of a playoff slump and contributed a 2-for-4 night. The postgame podium is reserved for stars of the game. It was Bradley’s only hit, but it didn’t come as a surprise to Red Sox manager Alex Cora.
“I mean he’s been doing that for a while,” Cora said. “It got to the point during the season that we had to actually take him out of the lineup for three, four, five days during the week, actually right before we went to Houston. And he worked on his craft.
“He found a few things that he really liked about his swing. Seems like he understands who he is as a hitter. There’s not too many hard-hit ground balls into the shift. He’s staying through it. He’s driving the ball against lefties and righties, going the other way, he’s been very consistent with it.”
It was that struggle that finally got him going.
Bradley said that his first at-bat against Cole set up his double.
“The first at-bat [an inning-ending bases-loaded ground out to second base], I think it kind of starts with that,” Bradley said. “I saw a lot of off-speed pitches with the bases loaded. Second at-bat, got started off with a fastball and saw another off-speed pitch and I was in a hitter’s count. So I just wanted to not do too much, see a pitch in the zone that I could handle and I got it on a 2-1 count.”
Bradley doesn’t believe he’s ever before seen a ball roll down that padded railing in left field.
“Not ever since I hit the ladder. I want to say that was two years ago or maybe a year ago. But it’s pretty cool. I’ve never seen it ride the top of the little ledge like that before. It’s pretty unique,” Bradley said.
Listen, you need unorthodox things to go your way once in a while. Bradley traveled with his teammates to Houston as the guy who got the big hit and saw it trickle down a ledge on a play you’d be hard-pressed to see again, and on a night when one of the best defensive catchers in baseball couldn’t catch the ball.