HOUSTON - They would routinely come to the edge of the cliff, slam on the brakes and start heading to safer ground. Friday night, the Red Sox finally fell off the ledge.
The resiliency that had defined Alex Cora's club through losing streaks, COVID-19 cases and roster upheaval was ultimately no match for a really bad offensive slump at a really bad time. It's why the Red Sox had to put a wrap on their 2021 season, falling to the Astros, 5-0, in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series.
While the nitpicking that comes with an elimination will undoubtedly unfold in the coming days, there is one reason above all that the Red Sox maxed out at 98 wins - an inability to hit.
In their final three games of the season, the Red Sox were outscored 23-3. End of story.
The team that had found itself on a record offensive pace through the first eight games of the postseason got turned inside-out in its final three games. Two runs in Game 4. One in Game 5. And, finally, just to properly punctuate the problem, a goose egg in the series finale.
The Red Sox' offensive futility from the last two games at Fenway Park carried over in dramatic fashion, with Houston starter Luis Garcia rebounding from his bad knee-induced, one-inning Game 2 to hold the Sox hitless until Kiké Hernandez's two-out triple in the sixth inning.
The Hernandez hit - which traveled 394 feet and missed clearing the Minute Maid Field left-center field wall by just a few feet - was the final batter for Garcia, who gave up just the one hit while striking out seven over his 5 2/3 innings. It was also striking how the righty managed his dominance, displaying the kind of fastball he hadn't offered throughout his entire career.
It's not as if the Red Sox didn't have some glimmer of hope, with the seventh inning against reliever Kendall Graveman offering just that. That's when Cora pushed his chips to the middle of the table.
With one out, the Red Sox put runners on the corners thanks to a J.D. Martinez walk and Alex Verdugo single. The Sox manager chose to replace Christian Arroyo with Travis Shaw, who worked a 3-1 count against the righty reliever. But after a called strike, Shaw swung and missed at a Graveman changeup, resulting in an inning-ending double play after Verdugo was caught trying to steal.
As was the case in the previous two losses, the Red Sox pitchers did their part for the majority of the contest, with Nathan Eovaldi once again stepping up when it counted the most. Just three days after throwing 24 pitches in the intense ninth-inning environment of Game 4, Eovaldi allowed just one run (scoring when Hernandez dropped a first-inning fly ball by Yordan Alvarez) while going 4 1/3 innings.
And while Josh Taylor allowed a leadoff triple to Alvarez in the sixth inning, Tanner Houck did his part to keep it a ballgame by inducing a double-play grounder to first baseman Kyle Schwarber. After tagging Carlos Correa (who had been hit by a pitch) at first base and stepping on the bag, Schwarber's throw home was just too late to prevent the Astros' second run.
The Astros would once again pull away in the late innings, this time using a Kyle Tucker three-run homer in the eighth off Adam Ottavino to seal the deal.
In the end, the nun who threw out the first pitch - pointing to her wrist as an homage to Correa - was right: It was the Astros' time. Not so much for the Red Sox.
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