Red Sox now one loss away from calling it a season

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It was a nice story for a while. Then it became the Red Sox' nightmare.

Suddenly, Alex Cora's team finds itself one win from exiting the 2021 season.

By the time the Red Sox walked off the Fenway Park field, they had been saddled with a 9-1 loss to the Astros in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series, putting the visitors one win away from advancing to the World Series.

The historic offense that was supposed to be powering the Red Sox through October has now managed one run over the last 17 innings, getting outscored, 18-3, in the past two games.

Making matters worse was the about-face that took place this time around, with the electricity and excitement supplied by Chris Sale for five innings out-of-nowhere becoming a distant memory.

After going through the first five frames flashing images of the dominance Sale had come to know for the majority of his pre-Tommy John surgery career - allowing just one run while striking out seven - the lefty and the Red Sox ran into some game-changing trouble in the sixth inning.

It was a frame that started innocuous enough, but ultimately turned into a five-run inning that left the Red Sox flying back to Houston on their heels.

Jose Altuve walked and then moved to third when Kyle Schwarber dropped Rafael Devers' throw to first on Michael Brantley's grounder. After a dribbler back to the mound by Alex Bregman put runners on second and third, up came Yordan Alvarez.

While conventional wisdom might suggest Sale was the right guy at the right time when it came to facing the lefty-hitting Alvarez, a few things suggested letting the Sox starter go against the slugger wasn't the right move. First of, Alvarez - who hit nine points higher against lefties than righties - had been right on Sale all day, homering in the second inning and rifling a single in his second at-bat.

First base was also open, offering the opportunity to intentionally walk Alvarez and bring in Ryan Brasier to face Carlos Correa for a potential inning-ending, double-play ball. But Sale did stay in to face Alvarez, who rifled the starter's 87th pitch of the night (a 95 mph fastball) into left field for a two-run double.

It ended Sale's outing, brought in Brasier, and ultimately led to a 6-0 Houston lead after six innings.

Not helping matters was an offense that has suddenly disappeared. This time, Astros starter Framber Valdez held the Red Sox hitless until the fifth inning when Devers (who homered in the seventh for the Sox' only run) led off the frame with a single. After J.D. Martinez was hit by a pitch, there seemed like the Sox might be showing signs of life. The flatline, however, was right around the corner thanks to a double-play grounder by Hunter Renfroe, who has one hit in the entire series. (He now shares the MLB record for hitting into the most double plays in one series.)

As for Valdez, he went on to become the first pitcher this postseason to go as many as eight innings.

The Red Sox have dug themselves a hole that can conceivably be dug out from considering the uncertainty of the Astros' pitching staff, but have left them in a predicament few saw coming after the first three games.

Oh yeah, Darwinzon Hernandez came on to strikeout Alvarez in the seventh.

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