Friday night had a legitimate playoff feel at Fenway with early pitching changes and a crowd that was very much into it. Unfortunately, the hometown team came up just short. They got a solid performance from Doug Fister, but he made one big mistake that was enough to give the Astros a large enough margin to hold on for the victory. On the other side, the Red Sox offense was entirely nonexistent early on. They got going a bit in the second half of the game, but it wasn’t quite enough as they had some big outs in important spots. In particular, Andrew Benintendi had a couple of big strikeouts in high-leverage situations.
As we all know from watching Fister through this second half, the first inning has been his kryptonite. Given that and how poorly the beginning of starts have gone for the rest of the rotation over the last week, just keeping runs off the board in the first seemed like a huge win for Fister, though it wasn’t easy. He let the first two runners on with a walk and a double, putting him in a precarious situation with two in scoring position with nobody out. He made a massive recovery from there, though, getting a ground ball back to him, a strikeout and another groundout to escape the inning with the score still tied at zero.
After a quick 1-2-3 second, it seemed Fister was starting to find his groove, but then he got into a little bit more trouble in the third. That inning started with a single from Derek Fisher, who would move over to second on a groundout in the next at bat. Fister couldn’t escape this time, allowing a single into right field for Alex Bregman that scored Fisher. Mookie Betts had a chance at a play at the plate, but his throw was too far up the line for the out to be recorded. Bregman would move to second on the throw, but he was stranded there.
Once again, Fister followed up that slightly troublesome inning with a quick and easy one befor struggling a bit once again in the fifth. As it turned out, this was an outing in which Fister struggled in the odd frames. In the fifth, he allowed a leadoff single before getting two outs and looking like he might get a scoreless inning and keep Houston to just the one run. Instead, with Bregman up, Fister let a fastball catch too much of the plate on the inner half and the Astros third baseman was all over it, sending it over the Monster in left field and giving the Astros their second and third run with one swing.
Fister would get out of that inning in the next at bat and then come back out and get one more out in the sixth before being pulled early in this playoff-like game. Overall, it was a solid if unspectacular outing for Fister. The Astros got some solid contact on him and put together multiple encouraging rallies. However, Fister also had good location with his two-seam fastball — the biggest key for him — and made big pitches when he needed them.
While all of this was going on, the Red Sox were getting absolutely nothing off Charlie Morton, the Astros starter. And when I say absolutely nothing, I mean absolutely nothing. The veteran righty had his best stuff going and was commanding the strike zone to perfection, leading to four perfect innings to start the game. There wasn’t even many at bats that threatened to end in a hit as Morton was racking up strikeouts and inducing weak ground balls all over the place.
Fast-forward to the fifth with the Astros having just taken their 3-0 lead, and things took a bit of a positive turn for the hometown squad. The Red Sox finally got their first baserunner of the game with one out in that inning when Mitch Moreland smacked a double out to left field. The offense started to roll a little bit at this point, and two batters later Rafael Devers would come through with a double of his own to knock in Boston’s first run.
That was all they’d get in that inning, and after David Price come on to finish off the sixth, the Red Sox got right back to their run scoring. This one started with a single from Rajai Davis that was followed by a double from Xander Bogaerts to put two in scoring position with nobody out. Dustin Pedroia couldn’t get a hit, but did get a groundball to the right side to score one run and move Bogaerts on over to third. That marked the end of Morton’s night as the Astros went to the left-handed Francisco Liriano against Andrew Benintendi. That move worked as he got a huge strikeout before intentionally walking Betts and normally walking Moreland. This would end the night for Liriano, creating a Hanley Ramirez-Chris Devenski matchup with the bases loaded and two outs in a one-run game. Devenski won that battle inducing a routine, inning-ending ground ball.
After Price tossed another scoreless inning in the seventh — and in the process continued to show that he is ready to be a great weapon out of the bullpen — the Red Sox came back out against Devenski looking for more. The bottom of the lineup was up, though, and went down 1-2-3. Curiously, John Farrell opted to allow both Sandy Leon and Davis to hit in their spots.
That brought us to the eighth with Addison Reed coming in. After a couple of quick outs, Reed walked Carlos Correa then allowed him to get to second on a wild pitch. After intentionally walking Marwin Gonzalez, Reed was in a tough spot. He got a hard-hit ground ball hit to the left side, but Devers made a nice diving stop. His throw to second was off-target, but Pedroia had some big defense of his own to make the huge out at second.
In the bottom half the Red Sox got a baserunner with one out when Pedroia drew a walk before leaving as Brock Holt replaced him as a pinch runner. Benintendi came up next and was set down on a big strikeout for the Astros. That brought up Betts, but he didn’t get a chance to do anything as Holt made a bad read on a ball in the dirt and was thrown out at second base. It was a close play, to be fair, but with Betts at the plate you absolutely cannot make that out in that situation. Holt is not the fastest player on the Red Sox bench, but he presumably got the call over Deven Marrero because of his experience. The experience did not work out in this situation, and it was extremely costly.
Craig Kimbrel had the ninth, and he did allow one runner on a single but still got out of it facing only three batters thanks to a caught stealing — that, frankly, appeared to have been a botched call by the replay center in New York. Either way, that brought us to the bottom of the ninth in a one-run game with Betts, Moreland and Ramirez due up against Ken Giles. The middle of the order couldn’t come through, though. Ramirez did get a big two-out double, but Devers grounded out to strand the runner at second and end the game.
So, the Red Sox lost tonight and the Yankees won earlier in the afternoon, so the division is still up for grabs. This, unfortunately, means Drew Pomeranz will have to come out for his start on Saturday night as the Red Sox look to lock up this division. As a reminder, that can happen with either a Red Sox win or a Yankees loss. New York will be playing at 1:05 tomorrow, as will the Red Sox.