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Red Sox 5, Astros 4: Hanley's blast helps Sox overcome bullpen struggles

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Hanley Ramirez was responsible for some big missed opportunities early on, but he scored the run that put the Red Sox back on top in the sixth, and hit the game-winning homer in the seventh to secure a series win.

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The Boston bullpen almost led to another loss to the Astros Sunday afternoon, but Hanley Ramirez picked the Red Sox up after Alexei Ogando stumbled to give the Red Sox the game and series win alike.

It did not look like there would be much call for the bullpen the way Eduardo Rodriguez started the game. While he didn't have his best fastball command, he struck out the first two batters he faced on a total of eight pitches, and even with a pair of singles gumming up the works in the second, he still finished the inning with just 30 pitches on his arm.

But as the game went on, the Astros batters did start to key in a little, and even with Rodriguez showing the ability to put batters away earlier in the game, they started to grind out their at bats. The third inning saw just a single and ended on a first-pitch out, but it still cost him 17 pitches. Then the fourth came, and the game seemed to change completely for Rodriguez.

Luis Valbuena led off the inning with a walk, but it was no simple free pass. Valbuena was up against it at 2-2 four pitches in, but it took a full eleven for him to draw ball four. The next three batters took five, six, and seven pitches, albeit resulting in only one single, with Jake Marisnick putting the Astros on the board by knocking Valbuena in with another base hit. That was all the Astros got in the inning, but they made Rodriguez throw 38 pitches, taking what looked like a long start in the making and cutting it down to just one more inning--a scoreless fifth that saw Rodriguez strike out the side around a walk.

At the time, the Houston run was enough to tie the game for the Astros, with the Sox having done a bad job of taking advantage of their early opportunities. Hanley Ramirez led off the second with a walk, but made the first out of the inning at third trying to take the extra base on a single up the middle from Pablo Sandoval. What could have been a big frame led to just the one run on a Ryan Hanigan base hit. The third saw them make nothing of a first-and-second, zero out situation when David Ortiz struck out and Ramirez grounded into a double play. The fourth saw another double play erase a leadoff baserunner, and in the bottom of the fifth, after putting runners on second and third to start the frame, Brock Holt popped out and Ryan Hanigan was thrown out at home running on a contact play with Xander Bogaerts at the plate.

Finally, in the sixth, after Alexei Ogando turned in a scoreless sixth with Chris Carter being caught stealing at second, the Sox took advantage of some rough Houston fielding, with Hanley Ramirez reaching base on an error from Carlos Correa, and then scoring when Evan Gattis dropped a Pablo Sandoval double to left while trying to get it back to the infield. Ryan Hanigan was again good to add to Boston's tally by driving in Pablo Sandoval with his third hit of the day, making it 3-1 for the Red Sox.

But just as they took the lead, Alexei Ogando was there to give it up as John Farrell tried to get another inning out of him. He started the inning off by striking out Jake Marisnick, but Jose Altuve singled, and then things got really bad. A line drive off the bat of Preston Tucker was the freebie warning shot as it ended up in Xander Bogaerts' glove, but Carlos Correa got ahold of a hanging slider for a two-run blast, and Evan Gattis went back-to-back with him, sending a fastball to the same part of the Monster to put the Astros ahead 4-3.

In the end, though, the Red Sox would strike last, and it would be Hanley Ramirez once again making up for his earlier transgressions. After Will Harris started the inning by striking out Xander Bogaerts, the Astros went to left-handed Tony Sipp to face David Ortiz. The platoon split did not pay off, however, as Ortiz mirrored the eleven-pitch walk that seemed to so unsettle Eduardo Rodriguez, drawing a walk and leaving the southpaw facing Hanley Ramirez, presumably in an attempt to reach Pablo Sandoval. That platoon split proved true to history, with Hanley going down out of the zone and still managing to put a big charge in a changeup and send it out to left to make it 5-4.

And while the Red Sox bullpen has its faults, it still has two solid options in the back when they're not wasted on side sessions. Junichi Tazawa worked around a walk to record a scoreless eighth, and Koji Uehara survived a leadoff error by stirking out Colby Rasmus and Luis Valbuena to end the game.