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Houston on brink of crown

by The Associated Press | October 21, 2021 at 2:27 a.m.
Houston’s Yordan Alvarez is congratulated by teammates Wednesday after scoring in the sixth inning of the Astros’ 9-1 victory over the Boston Red Sox in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series in Boston. Alvarez hit a two-run double in the inning and had a solo home run in the second inning. (AP/Winslow Townson)

BOSTON -- Framber Valdez lost his perfect game and then bounced the following pitch off the next batter's leg.

Astros Manager Dusty Baker decided it was time for a chat.

"That's the time when you've really got to settle him down," Baker said. "I said 'Hey, you're the best. Just be natural and do your thing.' I didn't say a whole bunch to him."

It was enough to get Valdez through the inning -- and more.

Perfect through four, the Houston left-hander took a two-hit shutout into the seventh and became the first pitcher this postseason to complete eight innings, leading the Astros over Boston 9-1 on Wednesday for a 3-2 lead in the AL Championship Series.

Yordan Alvarez had three hits and three RBI for Houston, which needs could clinch a second consecutive trip to the World Series with a victory at home on Friday night.

The Red Sox need a win to force a deciding seventh game on Saturday.

"We came back to Boston exactly where we wanted to be: We were 1-1," Red Sox starter Chris Sale said. "Not in a good spot going back to Houston. There's no denying that, but this team has won two games in the playoffs back-to-back before, and we think we can do it again."

One day after the Astros scored seven runs to break a ninth-inning tie, they hung another crooked number on the Fenway Park scoreboard, chasing Sale while scoring five runs in the sixth. Alvarez, who homered in the second and singled in the fourth, had a two-run double to break things open.

That was plenty for Valdez, who extended the staff's shutout streak to 14 consecutive innings before Rafael Devers homered with one out in the seventh -- one of just three hits for Boston. The left-hander departed after retiring the Red Sox in order in the eighth.

"If a guy's dealing, you just let him keep dealing," Baker said. "Today, it was in the hands of Framber. Everybody talks about momentum, but momentum is controlled by the pitcher. If the pitcher's dealing, all that momentum's gone."

In all, Valdez gave up one run on 3 hits, 1 walk and a hit batter, striking out 5. He was also the first opposing pitcher to last eight innings in a postseason start at Fenway since Cleveland's Charles Nagy went eight in the 1998 division series.

Ryne Stanek (Arkansas Razorbacks) pitched a perfect ninth while the rest of Houston's relievers rested. Astros starters had not lasted three innings all series, pitching to a 18.90 ERA in the first four games and giving up 10 home runs -- including a record three grand slams.

Valdez was not much better, allowing two earned runs in 2 2/3 innings in Game 1.

"I didn't get frustrated at all. I wasn't down on myself," Valdez said. "What I did was I decided I'm going to work really hard so that when I come out here for the next outing, I'm going to be as 100% ready as I can be, to demonstrate to my team what I'm capable of, to demonstrate to my team that I can come out here and compete with any team in the league.

"So I just worked the entire time and I had my mindset set that I was just going to come out and have a way better outing," he said. "And that's what I was able to do tonight."

Valdez retired the first 12 batters on Wednesday -- eight on grounders, four on strikeouts. Devers singled to lead off the fifth, then Valdez bounced the next pitch off J.D. Martinez's leg. The Astros escaped when Hunter Renfroe grounded into a double play and Alex Verdugo bounced out to first.

Sale started almost as well, allowing just two hits -- both to Alvarez -- in his first five innings. But he walked Jose Altuve to start the sixth, then Michael Brantley nubbed one toward third. Devers fielded it and made the throw in time but Schwarber dropped it at first; after sliding into second, Altuve popped up and took off for third, which was uncovered.

Brantley moved up to second on a groundout to the pitcher, then Alvarez doubled to left, scoring two to make it 3-0 and chasing Sale. Ryan Brasier struck out Carlos Correa before giving up an RBI double to Yuli Gurriel and a two-run single to Jose Siri that made it 6-0.

Brantley added an RBI single in the seventh, and Gurriel singled in two more in the ninth.

Sale was charged with 4 runs -- 2 earned -- on 3 hits and 2 walks, striking out 7 in 5 1/3 innings.

"I was good for five, and then I sucked for one," he said. "I told myself coming into this game I had a job to do; obviously didn't get it done. But I left (it all) out there on that mound tonight."

Championship series

WEDNESDAY

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Houston 9, Boston 1

Houston leads series 3-2.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Atlanta 9, LA Dodgers 2

Atlanta leads series 3-1.

THURSDAY

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Atlanta at LA Dodgers, 7 p.m.

FRIDAY

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Boston at Houston, 7 p.m.

Houston Astros starting pitcher Framber Valdez celebrates the end of the seventh inning against the Boston Red Sox in Game 5 of baseball's American League Championship Series Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Houston Astros starting pitcher Framber Valdez celebrates the end of the seventh inning against the Boston Red Sox in Game 5 of baseball's American League Championship Series Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Houston Astros starting pitcher Framber Valdez celebrates the end of the seventh inning with first baseman Yuli Gurriel against the Boston Red Sox in Game 5 of baseball's American League Championship Series Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Houston Astros starting pitcher Framber Valdez celebrates the end of the seventh inning with first baseman Yuli Gurriel against the Boston Red Sox in Game 5 of baseball's American League Championship Series Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Houston Astros starting pitcher Framber Valdez throws against the Boston Red Sox during the seventh inning in Game 5 of baseball's American League Championship Series Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, in Boston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Houston Astros starting pitcher Framber Valdez throws against the Boston Red Sox during the seventh inning in Game 5 of baseball's American League Championship Series Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, in Boston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Boston Red Sox left fielder Alex Verdugo reacts during the sixth inning against the Houston Astros Game 5 of baseball's American League Championship Series Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, in Boston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Boston Red Sox left fielder Alex Verdugo reacts during the sixth inning against the Houston Astros Game 5 of baseball's American League Championship Series Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, in Boston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Chris Sale reacts after giving up a two run double to Houston Astros' Yordan Alvarez during the sixth inning in Game 5 of baseball's American League Championship Series Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, in Boston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Chris Sale reacts after giving up a two run double to Houston Astros' Yordan Alvarez during the sixth inning in Game 5 of baseball's American League Championship Series Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, in Boston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Boston Red Sox's Enrique Hernandez reacts after making an out against the Houston Astros during the fourth inning in Game 5 of baseball's American League Championship Series Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, in Boston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Boston Red Sox's Enrique Hernandez reacts after making an out against the Houston Astros during the fourth inning in Game 5 of baseball's American League Championship Series Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, in Boston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Houston Astros' Yordan Alvarez watches his single off Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Chris Sale during the fourth inning in Game 5 of baseball's American League Championship Series Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, in Boston. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
Houston Astros' Yordan Alvarez watches his single off Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Chris Sale during the fourth inning in Game 5 of baseball's American League Championship Series Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, in Boston. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
Houston Astros' Jose Altuve reacts after striking out against the Boston Red Sox during the third inning in Game 5 of baseball's American League Championship Series Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, in Boston. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
Houston Astros' Jose Altuve reacts after striking out against the Boston Red Sox during the third inning in Game 5 of baseball's American League Championship Series Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, in Boston. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

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