ALCS: Houston Astros rely on their enclosure to carry the team

BOSTON – Brent Strom’s father Chester grew up in Worcester, Massachusetts, about 45 miles west of Fenway Park. Chester raised his son i...


BOSTON – Brent Strom’s father Chester grew up in Worcester, Massachusetts, about 45 miles west of Fenway Park. Chester raised his son in San Diego but passed on his love for the Boston Celtics, who reigned atop the NBA when Brent was young.

Brent Strom, now 73, is said to have a long career in baseball, throwing five seasons in majors and coaching many more. Now he guides the bruised and battered Houston Astros pitching staff, who have tied their American League Championship Series with the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday, two games apiece, with an effort from Red Auerbach’s playbook.

When Strom was 10, he explained, he would open the sports section of the local newspaper and see two columns on the NBA page: standings on the left, top scorers on the right. The Celtics still led the left row, but rarely seemed to have a top 10 player on the right. Invariably, the stars of the Stroms’ favorite team – Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Bill Sharman, Tommy Heinsohn – would be clustered among the teens.

“Why is that?” Brent would ask his father.

“They play as a team,” replied Chester.

Which brings us to Game 4 of the ALCS, when Astros starter Zack Greinke allowed a two-run homer in the first set and came away with a strikeout in the second. It would take tremendous teamwork to win, but the Astros’ enclosure was up to the task.

Five relievers – Brooks Raley, Cristian Javier, Phil Maton, Kendall Graveman and Ryan Pressly – pulled off Boston’s offense to the end. Their efforts gave the Astros a chance to tie the score in the eighth and open it in the ninth in a 9-2 victory.

“I think that was the real key to winning the game, the way they pitched,” said second baseman Jose Altuve, whose rocket at the green monster tied the game in eighth. “I know we scored a few points at the end, but they kept the game tight until the end, and that’s what we needed. “

The Red Sox torched the Astros starters this series for 16 points (14 won) in just six and two-thirds innings. That equates to an 18.90 earned-run average – with 14 hits allowed, 11 walks and five strikeouts – for the rotation of Framber Valdez, Luis Garcia, Jose Urquidy and Zack Greinke.

That’s a horrendous stat line for a group that lost their ace, right-hander Lance McCullers Jr., to a pronator flexor strain during the divisional series. Garcia injured his knee in Game 2, and Greinke, who was slowed down in September by Covid-19 and neck pain, hadn’t started for a month.

It was showing. Greinke, who turns 38 on Thursday, has faced more hitters in his career than any other active pitcher – but only saw nine on Tuesday. Strom said the Astros didn’t expect him to go much further, following the new and disturbing model of a team once laden with durable and dominant starters.

“I always come back to Rick Pitino,” said Strom, referring to the famous coach who couldn’t revive the Celtics in the late 1990s. “When they were struggling, he basically said: There is no McHale, Parish or Bird walking through that door. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have Verlanders and Coles and Keuchels and Mortons and all those types of guys over the years here.

But Justin Verlander missed this season recovering from Tommy John surgery, and the other Stroms named have moved on: Gerrit Cole at the Yankees, Dallas Keuchel at the Chicago White Sox, Charlie Morton at the Atlanta Braves. Without them, the bullpen could continue to carry the burden of playoff survival.

“You have to face it head-on, but I think in the future our starters are going to be great,” Graveman said, later adding: “The conversation in the bullpen is if we have to take someone. ‘One, we will. I think today was a telltale sign of that. Keeping our team close and Altuve hitting a big home run to match it, then putting in a bunch of zeros. So conversations can’t. not complaining. Whoever does the job, he just goes to the next guy and passes it on.

Graveman and Javier won’t be available for Game 5 on Wednesday, Strom said, but Garcia will be, as will Ryne Stanek and Blake Taylor, who rested on Tuesday. Strom said the team would need Pressly again on Wednesday, even though he threw 22 shots to close Game 4.

The way this series has gone, the Astros’ late-July trade for Graveman (of Seattle) and Maton (of Cleveland) seems even more essential. Both pitchers thrived in October, combining with Javier, Pressly, Stanek and Taylor for a 1.11 playoff ERA in 31⅓ innings. They put the games together as best they can.

“That’s all we can ask for,” Strom said. “And finally with these young starters, if you look at the youngsters, with Framber and all these guys, they pitched well last year, but what did we miss? You didn’t have anyone in the stands. There was no energy that you see. So it will only benefit them on the road. “

The road will end in Houston for this ALCS, with a Game 6 on Friday and a possible Game 7 on Saturday. If the Astros win the American League Championship, their relievers should hoist the trophy – as long as they can still lift their tired arms.

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Newsrust - US Top News: ALCS: Houston Astros rely on their enclosure to carry the team
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