HOUSTON – From this point forward, will Red Sox Nation hold a special place in its heart for Country Joe?
It will if Alex Cora’s guys keep stomping their way through October.
The Red Sox stand one win away from their fourth World Series appearance in 15 seasons, and their taut, 8-6 victory over the defending champion Astros Wednesday night in American League Championship Series Game 4 — putting them in position to clinch the AL pennant in Thursday night’s Game 5 at Minute Maid Park — will be remembered most of all for the controversial assistance they received from veteran umpire “Country Joe” West on a first-inning home run-turned-flyout by the Astros’ Jose Altuve.
“You’re talking about the whole course of the game,” said Astros right fielder Josh Reddick, who described himself and his teammates as “pissed off” by the decision. “We lost by two runs. Those are two runs we could’ve used and we’d still be playing a ballgame right now. They have to get the call right. That’s the bottom line.”
Boston didn’t cruise solely on West’s gift. Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. enhanced the finest professional week of his life with a game-winning, two-run homer off the Astros’ Josh James in the sixth inning, and Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers each tallied two RBI as well. They earned their 3-1 lead in this series and now own a 4-0 road record this postseason, having gone 2-for-2 both here and at Yankee Stadium. — quite a testament to rookie manager Cora and the players.
Nevertheless, the Red Sox’s individual heroics paled in comparison to the shadow cast by West, a major-league umpire since 1976, when his on-the-spot call in the first inning resulted in arguably the most questionable ruling since replay on home runs started in 2008.
With the Red Sox already up 2-0 in the bottom of the first, the Astros had one out and a runner on first when Altuve, the reigning AL MVP, stepped to the plate. When Boston starter Rick Porcello offered a 2-and-1 heater, Altuve lofted a flyball the other way that sailed over the wall, hitting the side of the glove of a leaping Mookie Betts after it struck a fan’s hands ...
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