Jackie Bradley Jr. Powers Red Sox to Game 4 Win vs. George Springer, Astros

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistOctober 18, 2018

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 17:  Jackie Bradley Jr. #19 of the Boston Red Sox reacts after hitting a two-run home run in the sixth inning against the Houston Astros during Game Four of the American League Championship Series at Minute Maid Park on October 17, 2018 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

The Boston Red Sox are one win away from eliminating the defending champions and clinching their first World Series appearance since 2013.

Boston defeated the Houston Astros, 8-6, in Game 4 of the 2018 American League Championship Series on Wednesday at Minute Maid Park. The Red Sox have a 3-1 series advantage after Jackie Bradley Jr. gave them the lead for good with a two-run homer in the sixth.

George Springer and Tony Kemp went deep for the Astros in the offensive battle, but the home team couldn't keep pace after a controversial fan interference call took away a potential Jose Altuve homer in the first inning and Andrew Benintendi saved the Red Sox and closer Craig Kimbrel with a diving catch in the ninth with the bases loaded.

            

Rotation Provides Astros With Clear Comeback Blueprint

Boston leads the series 3-1, but the starting pitching situation heavily favors the Astros.

Neither starter was effective Wednesday, as Boston's Rick Porcello allowed four earned runs and seven hits in four innings in a performance that would have been worse if Altuve's first-inning homer hadn't been called off for fan interference. Houston's Charlie Morton allowed three earned runs in 2.1 innings, forcing Josh James into early middle relief.

James won't be necessary in the upcoming games, as Houston can turn to Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Dallas Keuchel.

Verlander is a seven-time All-Star who won the 2011 American League MVP and Cy Young. He already has two victories in these playoffs, including Houston's first win against Boston in Game 1 of the ALCS. Cole is coming off his best career season with a 2.88 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 276 strikeouts, while Keuchel won the 2015 AL Cy Young and allowed only two earned runs in five innings Tuesday.

Boston can't match that trio, especially with lingering rotation questions.

Chris Sale was hospitalized with a stomach illness, and Buster Olney of ESPN reported he "still feels weak" and won't pitch until Game 6 "at the earliest." Elsewhere, David Price is a postseason disaster with a 5.42 career ERA, and he has allowed seven earned runs and three homers in 6.1 October innings this year. He also may have limited availability after warming up during the eighth and ninth innings Wednesday.

Boston has been forced to ride journeyman Nathan Eovaldi, who has responded with a 2.08 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in two playoff starts, both wins. While he has delivered, he also isn't the ace the Red Sox would surely prefer to counter Verlander.

The last MLB team to overcome a 3-1 playoff deficit was the Chicago Cubs in the 2016 World Series, and they did so on the backs of Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks in the final three games. Don't be surprised if Houston does the same with its three aces.

           

Jackie Bradley Jr.'s Resurgence Can Power Red Sox to World Series Title

Red Sox fans are watching an October legend emerge.

Bradley was the hero in Game 2 when his bases-clearing double turned a 4-2 deficit into a 5-4 lead, which Boston didn't relinquish. He then blasted a grand slam in the eighth inning of Game 3 to push a two-run advantage to six and ice the win.

His two-run moonshot Wednesday instantly swung momentum and continued his resurgence after Carlos Correa's RBI single broke a tie in the fifth inning.

Boston led all of baseball in runs (876), hits (1,509), doubles (355), batting average (.268), on-base percentage (.339) and slugging percentage (.453), and its order already features MVP candidates in Mookie Betts and JD Martinez. The lineup becomes borderline unfair now that the slick-fielding outfielder who slashed only .234/.314/.403 during the regular season is a threat from the 9 hole.

The Red Sox will need to mash their way to a World Series title given their starting pitching questions and Kimbrel testing the heart rates of their fans every time he enters a game. He's allowed at least one run in each of his four postseason appearances, and he loaded the bases in the ninth Wednesday before Benintendi robbed Alex Bregman of a potential walk-off hit.

Boston's World Series chances rest on its offensive dominance, and Bradley's heroics combined with the other weapons can overwhelm opposing pitchers.

                     

Controversial Fan Interference Overshadows Game 4

The 2018 ALCS is now part of Championship Series fan-interference canon.

Even casual baseball fans remember Jeffrey Maier reaching over the Yankee Stadium wall during the 1996 ALCS between the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles and touching Derek Jeter's homer. Baltimore right fielder Tony Tarasco could have made the catch and argued vehemently when he wasn't awarded fan interference.

Elsewhere, Chicago Cubs fan Steve Bartman drew ire from fellow Wrigley Field attendees and was the subject of an ESPN documentary after he prevented Moises Alou from making a critical catch in the eighth inning of Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS, which the North Siders eventually lost to the Miami Marlins.

Those both should have been ruled fan interference and weren't, while Wednesday's incident involving Altuve and Betts was ruled fan interference when it shouldn't have been.

Altuve appeared to tie the game with a two-run homer in the first, but he was called out after replay review. A fan touched Betts' glove as he leapt at the wall, but it wasn't a straightforward case of the spectator reaching into the field of play. Rather, Betts extended his glove into the stands while trying to make an incredible catch.

Twitter believed it was a home run given the ball's placement, and Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports shared the relevant rule:

Houston fans responded with a chorus of boos, and the Astros were still stuck in comeback mode in a tightly fought game. They could have used those two runs in the two-run loss.

If the legacies of past controversial fan-interference situations are any indication, the play will linger in baseball lore for much longer than the result of the series.

                     

What's Next?

The Red Sox have the opportunity to win the series on Thursday in Game 5 in Houston.

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