BOSTON — It was there for the taking. A win in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series was boxed and wrapped, ready for the Boston Red Sox to open it.

Didn’t matter that Boston was facing Justin Verlander, or that these Houston Astros are playing better baseball right now.

Boston should have beaten Houston, instead of a losing 7-2 Saturday night – actually, finishing on Sunday morning – at Fenway Park.

When the Red Sox needed a big defensive play, it wasn’t there.

The decisive pitch was never thrown.

Boston is still searching for a clutch hit.

“We’re human. We mess up sometimes,” outfielder and MVP candidate Mookie Betts.

Betts, who batted .188 in the ALDS against the Yankees, got off well with a lead-off single. It looked promising after J.D. Martinez’s one-out walk, but Xander Bogaerts grounded into a double play.

But the inning Betts remembers best is the fifth. Verlander had allowed a single and, with one out, walked three straight batters, giving Boston it’s first run, and keeping bases loaded, the score 2-1.

Betts came up. The Fenway crowd was stirring. Betts swung at the first pitch and grounded to third, resulting in a force-out at home.

“Just looking for a good pitch to hit and I got it,” Betts said. “I just didn’t do anything with it. I didn’t put a good swing on it.

“Fastball middle-middle. You can’t miss that pitch, especially against Verlander in a situation like that. Just one of those things where I didn’t get the job done.”

Betts went 1 for 4, and is now 4 for 20 in the playoffs.

“I definitely need to do my part to help,” Betts said, “and I haven’t been doing it.”

Andrew Benintendi could have done more, although the umpiring may have played a role there. Benintendi followed Betts, with bases loaded and two outs. With two strikes, he did a good job of checking his swing on a wild pitch, allowing the tying run to score. With the count full, Benintendi took an outside pitch that umpire James Hoye called a strike. In an uncharacteristic move, Benintendi slammed his bat down. Manager Alex Cora argued and was ejected.

“I guess Verlander executed his pitch and he called it a strike,” Cora said. “Andrew didn’t agree. I didn’t agree. It’s a big pitch right there. It’s ball four, bases loaded. … Most likely Verlander comes out of the game.”

Verlander stayed and would get the win on an unearned run in the sixth … just another way the Red Sox gave it away.

“We had our chances in the first inning and there (in the fifth) with bases loaded and one out, we didn’t cash in,” Cora said. “We didn’t make some plays defensively.

“We got (into) the ninth inning, with the game 3-2 and we’re three outs away … see if we can rally, and we didn’t finish the game.”

Had Boston made its plays, it would have had the lead in the ninth. Instead of sending out Brandon Workman – who got hammered for four runs on two homers – the Red Sox would have had Craig Kimbrel going for the save.

Boston’s troubles began with starter Chris Sale, could not command his fastball or slider early.

Still, Sale battled. He pitched a scoreless first and needed only six pitches to record two outs in the second inning.

Carlos Correa came to bat and fouled the first pitch. With the count 2-2, he fouled another, before walking.

“That at-bat that Correa had was just as significant as any of them,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said.

Sale followed that walk with a hit-batter (on a full count) and another walk to load the bases.

“Two quick outs and then load the bases. Not what you’re looking for,” Sale said, emphasizing the obvious.

“I went out there and lost it a little bit. Was battling myself.”

Still, Sale got ahead of George Springer 0-2, before the count went full. Springer ripped a grounder to the left of third baseman Eduardo Nunez. The ball went under his glove for a two-run single to left.

“That was a rocket,” Cora said. “(Nunez) tried to knock it down. He didn’t.”

One wonders if Rafael Devers would have done it. Devers has a penchant for making sensational plays. It is the routine balls the Devers has made too many errors on, which is why Nunez was starting ahead of him.

But Nunez flubbed a routine play in the sixth. With Alex Bregman on first base, Yuli Gurriel hit a grounder to Nunez. Thinking double play, Nunez gloved the ball, hurried and dropped it. Instead of two outs and no one on base, it’s no outs with two runners on. Bregman would score on Correa’s two-out RBI single.

“At this stage, you don’t turn double plays, you don’t make the routine play, teams are going to make you pay,” Cora said.

Boston paid the price for its mistakes. Now they face Sunday trying to even the series.

“It’s a matter of getting over it, turning the page and getting ready for (Sunday),” Betts said.

“We’ve turned the page all year. No sense in stopping now.”


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