With the Yankees freefalling on their west-coast road trip, the Red Sox have had a couple of opportunities to work their way into a tie for first place atop the American League East. They couldn’t make the most of their chance on Saturday, but with another loss for New York Sunday afternoon, the Sox had their shot that night. This time, they made the most of it, even if it wasn’t always pretty. In the process, they won a series against arguably the best team in baseball, and on the road no less. A series win in June is just that, but given all the other factors involved this was more satisfying than most series of its kind.
Coming into this series, the Red Sox offense was in the midst of another one of its frustrating stretches that have become all too familiar this season. They were able to pull out one of the games and almost pulled out another because of great pitching, but they only managed to score three runs over a three-game stretch. For much of Sunday night’s affair in Houston, it seemed like it was going to be more of the same.
It was a little more frustrating this time around, though, because they didn’t seem to be struggling against Astros starter Joe Musgrove. They made good contact with him throughout the game, but couldn’t sequence it correctly and/or they were simply finding gloves. That’s the worst kind of game to watch.
The first inning, in fact, started with ripped ball after ripped ball. Mookie Betts and Dustin Pedroia, for example, both got out in the first two at bats of the game, but they each squared up the ball extremely well. Fortunately, Xander Bogaerts followed that up with his third home run of the year and the Red Sox had a 1-0 lead before the first inning was even over. At that point, it seemed like the offense was ready for a breakout game.
Unfortunately, that was all they’d get for a while despite having some chances. They’d get a runner in scoring position in the second, only to strand them. Betts led the third off with a single, but was doubled up when Bogaerts ripped a line drive right at Alex Bregman with the hit and run on. After that, Musgrove settled in for a bit and Boston was set down 1-2-3 in the fourth and the fifth.
Meanwhile, David Price was looking for a bounce-back performance after a couple of really shaky outings, and he had a tough test against a potent Astros lineup. The end result was....interesting. The lefty got off to a shaky start in the first when he allowed a double and back-to-back singles to allow a run. While the run clearly wasn’t ideal, it’s worth noting that the double was really the only well-hit ball of the inning.
The same can’t be said of the second, which started in a 1-1 tie. This frame included two solid singles as well as a walk — and if you recall, the free passes have been a huge, uncharacteristic issue for Price of late. Fortunately, with Carlos Correa up with the bases loaded, the Red Sox southpaw got out of the jam to preserve the tie.
In the third, he allowed the two leadoff batters to reach on a hit-by-pitch and a walk, but once again got out of the inning without allowing a run. After a 1-2-3 fourth, Price got right back into trouble in the fifth by allowing a solo home run to Correa to lead off the inning. He was trying to throw a cutter in on the shortstop’s hands, but it caught the plate and Correa turned on it and destroyed it. He ended up allowing a double in the inning as well, but the score stayed 2-1 in the Astros’ favor heading into the sixth.
At this point, the offense finally broke out of its shell. As I said above, they were hitting the ball well so it seemed like this should happen soon enough, but it was still a relief to see it. After a quick first out, Pedroia drew a one-out walk and Bogaerts hit his second home run of the game to put the Red Sox up 3-2. Amazingly, it was the first multi-home run game of Bogaerts’ career. Boston didn’t stop there, though. After Mitch Moreland struck out for the second out of the inning, Hanley Ramirez reached on a single and Andrew Benintendi on a walk. That led to a big two-RBI double for Jackie Bradley. All of a sudden, the Red Sox were up 5-2.
Heading into the bottom of the sixth, John Farrell decided to stick with Price despite being over 100 pitches, barely scraping by in the first five innings and coming off a long rest between innings. That did not prove to be wise, as the only batter he faced in the inning (Jake Marisnick) hit the ball 454 feet for a solo home run. That brought on Heath Hembree, who promptly allowed another solo shot to George Springer, and all of a sudden the Astros were within one.
That was the score heading into the top of the seventh, which turned out to be quite the eventful frame. It started with Betts getting hit square in the knee with a pitch. He was shaken up but stayed in the game. After that, Pedroia was hit in the back and got very upset about it. I’m not sure if he thought it was intentional or not, but he definitely had some sort of thoughts. The outburst led to warnings for both sides, and the Red Sox had two runners on with one out. Then, the Astros tried to pick Betts off at second but instead hit him in the elbow. Once again he was shaken up, but stayed in. He was, however, grabbing onto his elbow for the rest of the inning. Fortunately, he would come around to score on a Bogaerts single to increase the lead to two.
The score was still 6-4 with Joe Kelly coming on for the seventh, and while he’d allow a double that was the score he left with, too. The Red Sox would go down without a fight in the top half of the eighth, which led to the most stressful inning of the game.
The Astros had the top of the order coming up for the bottom of the eighth, and just like Friday night Farrell elected to go with Matt Barnes over Craig Kimbrel for the frame. Barnes just didn’t have it, walking the first two batters he faced before allowing a lineout. That would be it for him as Farrell called upon Robby Scott to face the left-handed Brian McCann. Scott stayed in after walking McCann on four pitches to load the bases and promptly allowed a base hit to Carlos Beltran. The first run scored easily, but Benintendi threw an absolute dart to the plate to gun down Altuve and prevent Houston from tying the game. It was a massive, massive play from a player not really known for his arm strength. Scott would strikeout the next batter and the Red Sox kept the lead despite Houston having many chances.
Another 1-2-3 for the offense led to Kimbrel’s turn in the ninth. It wasn’t really his typical dominance, and he even allowed a hit, but thanks to some great defense behind him (and in front of him, I guess, considering the game ended on a caught stealing on a perfect throw from Christian Vazquez) the Red Sox came away with a win.
This really was an incredible game that sort of had the intensity of a playoff game. The Astros are a really good team and the Red Sox went toe-to-toe with them to take two out of three. Price wasn’t at his best, but he never folded and kept the team in long enough for the offense to breakout, led by Bogaerts. A big win, and the Red Sox are now tied atop the American League East.