BOSTON – Framber Valdez began the game with a statement. He pitched the Boston Red Sox 12 straight sinkers to start Game 5 of the American League Championship Series on Wednesday, after which he and the Astros returned to the bench with a 1-2-3 inning on the books. Why open the game without even a hint of mystery or deception?
“That’s the field where he’s most comfortable throwing strikes,” says Houston catcher Martin Maldonado.
Valdez typically throws his plumb bob at 92.5 mph. These leads were more angry. They were speeding along at 94, 95, even 96 mph. Better yet, the plumb bob slid away from the barrels of the Boston bats with a late, swift movement.
Maldonado was so impressed by the first dozen sinkers that he asked the Astros’ analytics managers after the inning if the metrics matched what he was seeing behind the plate.
“And they said it was probably the best thing they’d had all year,” says Maldonado.
This has been the postseason that has devalued starting pitching. Starters average four innings per start. Only three times in the first 52 starts has a pitcher thrown 100 pitches. So in this era, for Valdez to pitch so long and well enough to invoke the greatness of Bob Gibson was a huge throwback in time. Relying heavily on his sinker, Valdez strangled Boston with eight innings of supreme old-school pitching. He allowed the Red Sox just three hits and got 15 of his 24 outs on ground balls.
Of the 91 postseason games played at Fenway, Valdez and Gibson, in the 1967 World Series, are the only visiting starters who have gone at least eight innings and allow three hits or fewer. Valdez is also the only starter this postseason to last eight innings.
“That’s the best there is with him,” says Maldonado. “That was his ‘A’ game.”
Valdez put the Astros in the doorway of his third World Series in the last five almost alone. A starting pitcher dominating a game? How picturesque.
He had some help, especially from Yordan Alvarez, who had an amazingly impressive night against Boston starter Chris Sale. Three times, Alvarez punished Sale’s four-seam fastball for hits, once for a home run, once for a double and once for a single. Alvarez is the best left-to-left slugger in the game. He has more RBIs in his first 233 games (186) than any active player. And what he did in Game 5 was his most amazing achievement yet.
A left-handed hitter who throws three hard shots in front of Sale is unheard of. The home run from left to left? A rarity. Sale had allowed just one career home run on his four-seam fastball to a southpaw, in 2017 to Kevin Kiermaier.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox struggled to get Valdez’s pitches up. The dozen leads in the first inning announced the rules of engagement: He was armed with a good plumb line and was going to attack with it. Valdez threw a few four seams and rolled on his curveball often enough, especially with two strikes, but that plumb bob took him deep into the night of the Fenway, lit by the arc lamps of the 109-year-old ballpark and a luminous full moon. . This moon was known as the hunter’s moon. A hunter’s moon is one that follows a harvest moon, an ancient sign to seek sustenance that will carry one through the winter. Hunting is a good way to describe how Valdez attacked the strike zone.
Valdez was so good with his plumb / curve ball combo that at one point early in the game he asked Maldonado, “What’s up with the switch?”
“Wait,” Maldonado replied. “Maybe we’ll throw it out later.”
Valdez threw a change all night.
“I felt like I was running,” says Maldonado, when asked why Valdez kept the pitch in his pocket. “So we are left with the curve ball and the plumb bob. We didn’t need it. “
Valdez looked like a different pitcher than the guy in Game 1 who got knocked out in the third inning. He smiled on the mound and closed his eyes in the dugout between innings as if to nod, the image of satisfaction.
“Quiet,” Valdez says, putting a word to the calm he was maintaining.
Maldonado says, “Today was [calm]. That was one of the things he didn’t do in the first game. I think it was amplified before the first game.
“That guy has been through a lot. A broken finger in spring training, people say I’d be out all year … here it is. “
Before his previous start, Valdez dived deep into the Red Sox search reports to find weaknesses he could exploit. His task on the opponent was exhaustive, which was out of the norm for Valdez.
“Usually the meetings are all the same,” says pitching coach Brent Strom. “We could talk for about a 45 minute and then just say, ‘Aw, just Framberize’ em ‘: dips down and curveballs for swings and crashes. Your stuff is so good. “
You have to go back nine years to find a pitcher who won an American League postseason game with eight or more innings with five or fewer strikeouts (Justin Verlander in the 2012 American League Championship Series). Watching Valdez release was like listening to vinyl: nostalgic, with a sweet reminder of what we’ve been missing. No one seemed more impressed than Boston manager Alex Cora.
“I think her man was amazing,” Cora said in the interview room. “He was throwing harder than usual. The ball was moving. We don’t hit the ball hard. I think we had two fly balls, if I’m not mistaken, and a home run, right? Credit to him. His plumb line was unreal tonight. Unreal. You take off his hat and move on. “
Valdez was hired for just $ 10,000 in 2015 at age 21, five years after the age when the best prospects create bidding wars. The Astros found a gem in the city of Palenque, Dominican Republic, the same city that produced Francisco Liriano and Ivan Nova, two other pitchers with outstanding breakthroughs.
Valdez didn’t record an out on the air until after he had worked in Boston’s lineup two full times. The first eight balls put into play against him were grounders. Watching Valdez continually force the Red Sox to hit their pitches on the ground, and then watching veteran Houston infielders devour them with soft hands and textbook footwork, was seeing a gray flannel suit that has faded. for a long time, especially in this postseason where we see 12, 13, even 14 pitching changes.
There was rhythm and beauty, like ballet. He invoked Gibson’s grace on the mound. When Gibson pitched the other gem at Fenway for a visitor with no more than three hits allowed in at least eight innings, he did so in Game 7 of the 1967 World Series. On the eve of that start, Gibson went to the Jazz Workshop, a club on Boylston Street near Copley Square, to hear his good friend, Les McCann, an innovative jazz pianist and vocalist. Gibson stayed a couple of hours.
Gibson would later say, “We danced in our seats.”
It is easy to imagine the scene. McCann plays cool, funky jazz as Gibson, his Red Sox Game 7 date at Fenway, just hours away, basks in the evening as music fills the room. Such was the vibe that Valdez brought to Game 5 of the ALCS. It was a vinyl night at the Fens.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.