With his team down one run going into the eighth inning, Houston manager AJ Hinch went to closer Roberto Osuna in hopes of keeping it that way.
Things only got worse for the Astros in Game 3 of the AL Championship Series.
Osuna gave up a grand slam to Jackie Bradley Jr. after hitting consecutive pinch-hitters with two-strike pitches, and the Boston Red Sox won 8-2 on Tuesday to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
“It’s a 3-2 ballgame until all hell broke loose in the eighth inning,” Hinch said. “A couple of hit by pitches and a huge swing by Bradley and there’s the game.”
Hinch treats one-run deficits like a tie game in the post-season, figuring his team still has a good chance to win.
“Trying to keep it at a one-run game with a really effective closer against the middle part of their order,” he said. “We get out of that 3-2, we’ve got plenty of outs left, and you never know what can happen.”
In his first ALCS appearance for the Astros, Osuna came on with Houston trailing 3-2 and retired J.D. Martinez on a deep fly to start the eighth before an infield single by Xander Bogaerts.
After a fielder’s choice grounder for the second out, Rafael Devers singled. Pinch-hitter Brock Holt was hit on the foot to load the bases before Mitch Moreland got plunked as well, forcing in a run.
“Just a weird inning,” Osuna said. “I got Martinez on the first pitch and then I got after Bogaerts with two strikes early in the count, and then I don’t know what happened.”
Bradley’s slam to right field broke it open, giving Boston an 8-2 cushion.
“No margin for error,” Hinch said. “It’s really a matter of he didn’t finish at-bats as well as he normally does, whether it’s going to pitches or executing the pitch. Execution was a little bit of a problem at the end of at-bats. And he lost a lot of those at-bats at a huge time in the game.”
It was another post-season meltdown for a hard-throwing Astros closer, similar to Ken Giles last October. Giles was traded to Toronto in July as part of the deal that brought Osuna to the Astros.
In Game 4 of the World Series last year, Giles came into a 1-1 tie in the ninth inning and was charged with three runs without getting an out in a loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers. It was the sixth time in seven post-season appearances that he gave up a run.
Osuna made two scoreless appearances for the Astros in the AL Division Series against Cleveland, getting the save in Game 2 after pitching the final 1 1/3 innings.
The Astros will likely need more of that if the defending World Series champions are going to get a chance to win it all again this season.
“You don’t want to do this to your team, especially in a situation like that,” Osuna said. “But I’m ready to bounce back tomorrow.”
His teammates didn’t seem worried about one bad outing by Osuna.
“He’s a pretty confident guy and he’s going to turn the page quick,” said Jose Altuve, who had two hits and scored both Houston runs.
In his 23 regular-season games with the Astros after being acquired, Osuna was 2-2 with 12 saves and a 1.99 ERA. He had 19 strikeouts and three walks.
“This guy, he’s been here before and he’s one of the best young pitchers in the game,” catcher Brian McCann said. “We were one pitch away at two outs, and a couple of pitches got away and hit them. ... He’s got the temperament (for) closers that you strive to be. He’s going to be ready to go tomorrow.”
Canadian prosecutors last month dropped a domestic assault charge against Osuna, who agreed to stay away from the alleged victim for one year and continue counselling.
Osuna was still with the Blue Jays in May when he was suspended without pay for 75 games for violating Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy.
“We have a very close-knit group in there and he’s absorbed some of that love and affection and he’ll get that tonight. He’ll be ready to go,” Hinch said.