Culture / Sporting Life

Alex Bregman Scares the Red Sox to Near Death — and Their Pitchers are Determined to Make Him Pay: With Craig Kimbrel Just Dodging Bill Bucker Infamy, Expect More Brushbacks and Walks for Astros Star

BY // 10.15.18

BOSTON – Even as an entire ballpark holds its breath and Red Sox Nation suffers a near collective panic attack, Alex Bregman knows it is not happening. The Houston Astros’ most dangerous hitter did not get it.

Craig Kimbrel is safe from Bill Buckner level infamy. At least for now.

Bregman’s blast ends up in Andrew Benintendi’s glove at the edge of the Green Monster for the last out of the game. There will be no wall ball, no amazing Astros comeback.

Not on this night.

“I knew I popped it up,” Bregman says, leaning against another wall in the cramped visitors clubhouse at Fenway park. “I missed it. If I had got it, we’d have tied it up and still be playing right now.”

Instead, the Red Sox end up winning 7-5, evening this best of seven American League Championship Series 1-1 by the hair of their chiny chin chin. After it’s over, Alex Cora’s team does not jump around as much as they exhale. It’s like the Red Sox and all of Boston know how close this all came to disaster.

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Series tied. Advantage Astros.

The Red Sox aren’t charging to Houston for Games 3, 4 and 5 of this ALCS as much as they’re wobbling there, almost looking as dizzy as Astros utility star Marwin Gonzalez admits he felt after slamming into that steel wall of a Green Monster in the third inning. That’s what these Astros can do.

They can scare teams even when those teams hold on for a win.

For while Bregman quickly shoots back, “No, not at all” when someone asks if he thought his ninth inning shot might be gone, the Red Sox tell a different story. Benintendi tells his teammates that the ball drifted back in away from the wall at the last moment.

These 108-win Red Sox seem to be completely cognizant of how dangerously they flirted with disaster. When you know that Kimbrel’s last clean postseason outing came eight years ago — yes, eight years ago! — well all those lame “Houston, We Have a Problem” signs in front of the bars on Boylston Street seem to be completely misdirected.

Series tied. Advantage Astros.

“Obviously, we wanted to win this one,” Astros starter Gerrit Cole says. “But I feel like we’re in good shape. Our guys we’re able to take the temperature of some of their guys we haven’t seen before.”

The temperature of the Red Sox closer is frigid with a case of the shakes.

The never-give-up, two-outs-in-the-ninth noise from the defending champs that we’ve come to expect may not have stolen Game 2. But George Springer hitting a hot shot to the wall for a double to prevent the 27th out, Jose Altuve following that with a loud single off the Green Monster to score him and Bregman blasting it to the edge of the Monster still makes a statement.

It still leaves this Red Sox team with plenty to think about.

“This team just always keeps coming,” Astros pinch hitter Tony Kemp tells me the night before, after the Astros put up four runs in the final frame of Game 1. “We never let up. We always want more. We really work to make the most of every at-bat.

“That’s one of the things I absolutely love about being on this team.”

Four runs to blow it open in the ninth inning of Game 1. Two loud hits and a few feet from tying it at 7 in the ninth inning of Game 2.

The Red Sox might as well pack some extra antacids for the trip to Houston. And maybe Tony Soprano’s psychiatrist. Yes, Mookie Betts finally went off in a playoff game, ripping off two doubles, scoring two runs and driving in another to look like one of the most dangerous hitters on the planet again.

“He’s a ticking time bomb to do some damage,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch says of Betts before the game.

George Orwell never did foreshadowing as well.

But before 10 minutes have even passed since the last out, the Astros giant duffle bags are already being loaded into a cart in one of Fenway’s ancient corridors. Bregman and buds are already moving on, eagerly awaiting their next swings.

Bregman’s Barry Bonds Worthy Walk Spree

Only one thing is decided on this Sunday night marathon of a three hour and 45 minute game. The Astros aren’t going to go 11-0 this postseason. They’re 4-1 now with their playoff scoring advantage having been cut to 33-15.

That’s still a dominant number and Red Sox pitchers are still treating Bregman the way most of us would react to coming across Connor McGregor in a bus depot. They’re running the other way.

Bregman’s been walked six times and hit by a pitch (a 100 MPH pitch no less) in the first two games of the American League Championship Series. The Red Sox want no part of Bregman — and after seeing what he almost did when he got to swing in the ninth inning, the chances seem very high for the walk parade to continue.

“We have to get him off the plate,” Cora, the Astros bench coach turned first-year Red Sox manager, says of Bregman and the hit by pitch. “We have to establish the inside part of the plate.”

The Red Sox are determined not to let Alex Bregman beat them in this series. Their nervousness around him is well deserved — and it also fits the baseball mood in New England.

A crowd of 37,960 crams into Boston’s old ballpark on this Sunday night, almost 500 souls more than Fenway Park is even supposed to be able to hold. Many of the Red Sox fans came in unsure, as jittery over Game 2 starter David Price as a first-time mom is over a new baby.

This is the opposite of the Patriots crowd that always expects Tom Brady to come back and win.

Now, they’ve got the memory of Kimbrel teetering and just holding on. Of seeing Benintendi catch that Bregman ball with his back against the wall.

“For us to come out of here with a split is good,” Springer says.

Series tied. Advantage Astros.

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