JIMMY GOLEN, AP Sports Writer
BOSTON (AP) — Justin Verlander came out of the bullpen for the first time in his career, beating Chris Sale in an aces-turned-relievers role reversal on Monday and the Houston Astros advanced to their first AL Championship Series by rallying past the Red Sox 5-4 and eliminating Boston in four games.
“When we saw Verlander run to the ‘pen we said, ‘Our horse is on the mound, we need to win this game,'” said Houston third baseman Alex Bregman, who homered off Sale to tie it in the eighth before Josh Reddick’s single gave the Astros the lead.
“That’s kind of the whole energy that he’s brought since we brought him over here,” Bregman said of Verlander, the former AL MVP and Cy Young winner who was acquired from Detroit for the playoff run. “He’s brought an energy with him that, ‘Hey, when he’s out there, we’re going to win.'”
Houston will open the ALCS on Friday, either at Cleveland or at home against the New York Yankees. The Indians held a 2-1 edge over the Yankees going into Game 4 of the AL Division Series on Monday night.
With both Game 1 starters coming out of the bullpen, Verlander gave up a go-ahead homer to Andrew Benintendi — the first batter he faced — before shutting down the Red Sox for 2 2/3 innings. It was his first pro relief appearance after 424 starts in the majors and minors.
Bregman tied it before Reddick’s single off closer Craig Kimbrel made it 4-3. Carlos Beltran added to his postseason legacy with an RBI double — an insurance run that became the game-winner when Rafael Devers hit an inside-the-park homer off closer Ken Giles to lead off the bottom of the ninth.
“The two big boys, Sale and Verlander, both get into the game. Everybody did well,” Houston manager A.J. Hinch said. “Nobody really wanted to concede the game.”
The Astros last reached the league championship series in 2005 as a National League team, and were swept in the World Series by the White Sox. This year’s team, wearing “Houston Strong” patches to support the city that was flooded in Hurricane Harvey, is hoping to finish the job.
“The city of Houston is still rebuilding,” Hinch said. “It’s easy for us to look in the rearview mirror and think that the hurricane is over (but) the rebuild is not going to stop for a long time. … We want to win for them, we want to win for us, we want to win because we showed up in spring training to try to win a World Series.”
Giles pitched a perfect eighth before Devers opened the bottom of the ninth with a line drive over leaping center fielder George Springer and off the Green Monster toward center. The 20-year-old Red Sox rookie easily circled the bases before the throw.
Giles retired the next three batters for his first career postseason save.
Springer and Yuli Gurriel each had three hits for the AL West champions, and Reddick’s go-ahead single made up for misplaying a fly ball into a home run in Game 3 to force a fourth game.
Verlander also beat Sale in the playoff opener and is now 7-0 for his new team. Sale, who had never appeared in the postseason before 2017, pitched 4 2/3 innings, allowing two runs and four hits, striking out six.
“This is what we show up to spring training for. It’s what we work all offseason for. Ups and downs, all around the country,” Sale said. “This is what we live for.”
On a rainy day at Fenway Park — the fourth straight day game — the Red Sox again saw a starter struggle early, with Rick Porcello giving up Houston’s eighth first-inning run of the series. The reigning AL Cy Young winner, who led the AL with 22 wins last year and the majors with 17 losses in 2017, gave up two runs in three innings, walking three and striking out four while allowing five hits.
Like Houston, the Red Sox called on their ace in relief.
Sale was sharp before giving up Bregman’s leadoff homer in the eighth. He allowed a one-out single to Evan Gattis before closer Kimbrel came on with two outs, walked Springer and gave up Reddick’s single.
Xander Bogaerts also homered for the AL East champion Red Sox, and Hanley Ramirez had two hits a day after going 4 for 4 in Boston’s only postseason win since the end of the 2013 World Series.