BOSTON -- A deep and talented Astros team that began the season with October expectations didn't advance to its first American League Championship Series presented by Camping World without being tested in ways few clubs have been before.
A starting rotation that was decimated by injuries, a hurricane that ravaged Houston and forced them to play home games in Florida and a dismal August that was capped by an uplifting trade for Justin Verlander helped shape the identity of the club that beat the Red Sox, 5-4, on Monday afternoon at Fenway Park in Game 4 of the American League Division Series presented by Doosan. With the win, they advanced to the LCS for the first time since 2005. The ALCS series will begin Friday, and the Astros will host Game 1 vs. the Yankees.
Beating the Red Sox in four games turned out to be a tougher task than the Astros would've imagined after a pair of 8-2 victories in Games 1 and 2 in Houston, but the Astros found heroes across the clubhouse to win Monday's thriller in Boston.
"We're thrilled to advance and that's what we came out to do," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "When we had the 2-0 lead, you got to be careful not to assume too much. We brought our bags to the ballpark today because we were going back to Houston one way or the other. We're happy to go back as the Division Series champions, but there was nothing assumed here."
The series appeared to have swung in Boston's favor when Mookie Betts reached over the short wall in right field and robbed Josh Reddick of a home run that would have given the Astros an early six-run lead in Sunday's Game 3, which the Astros lost 10-3. The Red Sox carried the momentum through the middle innings Monday and appeared destined to send the series back to Houston for Game 5 when ace Chris Sale was mowing down the Astros in a rare relief appearance.
The Astros didn't blink.
"I didn't expect eight runs [in each of] the first two games," Reddick said. "I thought it was going to be a 3-2 ballgame, 2-1 ballgame. We really got the bats going at home. Not so much here, but we grinded out Game 4. We didn't want to go back home to Game 5, just because we wanted to celebrate here."
The Astros won their first playoff series since moving to the AL in 2013 and their first since beating the Cardinals in the 2005 National League Championship Series in the final game at the old Busch Stadium. Two years ago, they celebrated a Wild Card Game win at Yankee Stadium. Celebrating at storied Fenway Park on Monday? Not too bad either.
"There's a lot of ghosts in this ballpark," said Verlander, who threw 2 2/3 innings in relief and got the win. "I've seen crazy things happen here, personally, in the playoffs. To be part of this, you never know what's going to happen, and you don't want to get to a Game 5 scenario because you even more don't know what's going to happen.
"When you're in the playoffs and there's a really good ballclub with their backs against the wall and you pull all the stops to try to win a ballgame, it's hard to win those games. We were able to do it in dramatic fashion today."
Verlander's solid pitching after giving up a go-ahead homer to Andrew Benintendi in the fifth, Alex Bregman's game-tying homer off Sale in the eighth and Reddick's go-ahead single off Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel later in the inning showed the Astros' resilience. They kept on chugging.
"We've been there before a lot this year," Bregman said. "We've had our whole starting pitching go down. We've had [shortstop Carlos] Correa go down. And we've overcome stuff. We knew that it was a matter of time before we'd come through and get the job done."
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.