BOSTON — Rafael Devers got the Fenway Park crowd hopeful with an inside-the-park home run in the ninth inning Monday afternoon. The Boston Red Sox closed to within one run of the Houston Astros.

“Nobody really wanted to concede the game,” Astros Manager A.J. Hinch said.

But the comeback ended. Houston beat Boston 5-4 to win their American League division series, 3-1.

Houston advances to the American League Championship Series, while Boston is finished with a second straight ALDS defeat.

“It’s tough,” Boston center fielder Mookie Betts said. “But you got to live with it.”

What the Red Sox must live with is a 3-2 lead that disappeared with Boston’s best two pitchers on the mound.

Chris Sale, who had pitched four innings of scoreless relief, gave up an Alex Bregman home run to lead off the eighth, tying the game.

Sale exited with two outs, and a runner on first. Closer Craig Kimbrel entered. He threw a wild pitch, walked a batter, and then faced left-handed batter Josh Reddick, the former Portland Sea Dogs and Boston Red Sox outfielder.

The count went full. Reddick fouled off two 99 mph fastballs. Kimbrel came with another one, outside, and Reddick poked it into left field, for the RBI, and 4-3 lead.

“Had a good battle against Reddick and he put a ball where nobody was,” Kimbrel said.

But the damage against Kimbrel was not over. In the ninth inning, a hit-batter and single put two runners on. Pinch-hitter Carlos Beltran, like Reddick, kept fouling off pitches. Kimbrel could not put away batters when he needed to.

Beltran got a curve and hit an RBI double off the left-field wall for a needed insurance run.

Houston closer Ken Giles retired six of the seven batters he faced – except for Devers, who launched a ball off the wall in left-center, over the outstretched glove of George Springer. The ball bounced in no-man’s land in center field and Devers kept running.

Boston was within 5-4 and Fenway was rocking.

“After that, you think we can manufacture another run, someway, somehow,” Betts said.

But Christian Vazquez grounded out, Jackie Bradley Jr. struck out and Dustin Pedroia grounded out, starting a celebration of Astros.

“Our guys just hung in there the whole time,” Hinch said.

The game featured both teams’ aces coming in relief – Sale and Justin Verlander.

Boston starter Rick Porcello lasted three innings. He gave up two runs on five hits, but he also stranded six runners.

The Red Sox used home runs to take the lead. Xander Bogaerts got his first hit of the series with a first-inning homer, clubbing a 3-1 fastball into the Red Sox bullpen.

Boston loaded the bases in the second off starter Charlie Morton.

But Morton struck out Bradley Jr. and Dustin Pedroia on borderline pitches. Pedroia argued. Manager John Farrell came out to keep his second baseman from being ejected – and then Farrell was ejected by home plate umpire Mark Wegner (who had a wide strike zone all day).

Morton then got Bogaerts to fly out to end the threat.

In the third, Boston had three hits and no runs. A double play wiped out one runner. Mitch Moreland followed with a double. Handley Ramirez hit a broken-bat single to left field. Moreland tried to score and left fielder Marwin Gonzalez threw him out by five feet.

In the fourth, Verlander came in from the bullpen – his first relief appearance ever – with one on, one out, and Andrew Benintendi up.

With a 2-2 count, Verlander came inside with a slider. Benintendi swatted it over the right-field wall and Boston led 3-2.

Verlander allowed no more damage over 22/3 inning.

Bregman tagged Sale on a 2-1 change-up.

Then Kimbrel gave up two RBI hits.

Season over.

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: @ClearTheBases

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