BOSTON – When Jose Altuve came to bat in the top of the seventh inning Wednesday night, the boos from the Fenway Park crowd scarcely registered, a stark contrast to the full-throated cries of dissent that greeted the Houston Astros second baseman during his previous plate appearances here.
As he dug into the batter’s box, a pair of fans directed a profane chant toward Altuve, a refrain that gained significant traction in Games 3 and 4 of this American League Championship Series.
This time, in the dying moments of Game 5, the two gentlemen repeated it just twice before Altuve silenced them with a line drive single.
It’s quite likely these Astros will never snuff out the boos, quiet the complaints and regain their good name among a vast majority of baseball fans. But in a startling two-game stretch, the Astros seized control of this American League Championship Series with a nearly perfect display of baseball that perched them on the verge of a third World Series trip in five years.
Altuve and Yordan Alvarez took the fight to the Boston Red Sox in Game 5, the diminutive second baseman sparking a five-run rally with an aggressive burst of baserunning and Alvarez putting on a majestic hitting clinic, driving three balls the opposite way over, off and beneath the Green Monster.
With left-hander Framber Valdez retiring the first 12 Red Sox hitters and galvanizing Houston’s emaciated pitching staff with eight innings of three-hit artistry, the Astros got out of town with a crisp 9-1 victory in front of 37,599, quite possibly the final gathering at Fenway this year.
The Astros are jetting home to friendlier ground, a 3-2 ALCS lead in hand and two chances to win the pennant, beginning Friday night at Minute Maid Park.
They earned that advantage with a 10-inning blitz that began in Game 4, when Altuve’s eighth-inning home run tied the score just six outs before Boston would claim a 3-1 ALCS advantage. A two-out, seven-run rally in the ninth delivered a 9-2, series-tying win.
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Wednesday’s rout completed the 24-hour barrage in this series of split personalities: Boston outscored the Astros 21-8 in Games 2 and 3, only for the Astros to respond with an 18-3 aggregate in winning Games 4 and 5.
This one was decided in a sixth-inning, eight-batter barrage that former heavyweight champ and Houston native George Foreman might appreciate.
That man Altuve started it with a leadoff walk against Chris Sale, who to that point had given up just two hits, striking out seven and flashing his best stuff since returning in August from Tommy John surgery.
The Astros would soon undo him.
With Michael Brantley batting, Altuve took off for second base and Brantley chopped a grounder to third baseman Rafael Devers, who charged and threw across the diamond. With Boston in a shift, Altuve failed to break stride and zoomed to third.
The daring dash possibly caught the eye of Boston’s Kyle Schwarber, who’s developed into a serviceable first baseman but still had just 11 career starts there entering the postseason.
And Schwarber dropped the ball.
A batter later, Alvarez – who homered off Sale in the second inning – pounced. He guided a 95-mph Sale fastball to left field, where it rattled into the corner for a two-run double and 3-0 lead.
That finished Sale, but the Astros only proceeded to prove how hard they are to eradicate.
Their ninth-inning Game 4 rally came with two outs and so, too, would the Game 5 pile-on, proving what can be done when you put the ball in play: A Kyle Tucker infield single, a Yuli Gurriel opposite-field dunker for an RBI double, a two-run double from rookie Jose Siri.
It was 6-1, and by night’s end, Houston would increase its two-out postseason run total to 41, already ranking sixth in playoff history.
Valdez didn’t even need most of them.
The curveball artist finally showed out this postseason, becoming the first starter in the 2021 playoffs to complete eight innings. He struck out five Red Sox, induced double plays in the fifth and seven innings and restored dignity to Houston’s starters. Valdez began this series with a slog of an outing – 2 2/3 innings in Game 1. Luis Garcia followed with a one-inning effort, while Jose Urquidy and Zack Greinke recorded five and four outs, respectively, in Games 3 and 4.
He effectively reset the Astros’ overworked bullpen, making for an undeniably happy flight back to Houston – where history is ready to be made, haters be damned.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: ALCS Game 5: Astros silence Red Sox, one win from World Series