Chris Sale and the Red Sox just cannot seem to get over this Astros hump. Granted, Sale wasn’t terrible, but Houston’s best bats got the best of him early and even though he settled in as the game went on his offense couldn’t pick him up. That’s two straight losses to start this series.
This was, on the surface, a strange outing for Sale. He seemed to alternate between dominant and awful inning-to-inning, but looking at the opposing lineup makes that easier to understand. It was the top of Houston’s lineup that did all of the damage, as it is at least in the conversation for most talented top four in any lineup in baseball.
The first inning (obviously) came against the top of that lineup, and it didn’t end well. Sale certainly had some command issues here, but the extent to which Houston scored was absurd given the series of events. The inning started with a walk — though ball four was very close — and that was followed by a single that only snuck through the left side because Xander Bogaerts was playing up the middle. Sale got a pair of strikeouts after that, but the second one got weird.
Carlos Correa swung and missed on a slider down and in, but it bounced off Sandy León’s arm and way over towards the Astros dugout. It was such a big bounce that George Springer and Alex Bregman each advanced two bases, with the former scoring a run. It was bizarre and frustrating. Yuli Gurriel followed that up with an RBI single in the form of a 40-foot dribbler before the inning finally, mercifully ended. Still, Sale had thrown 40 pitches and was down 2-0.
After a seven-pitch 1-2-3 inning in the second, Sale got into more traditional trouble in the third. Again, it was Springer leading off, but this time it was more damaging. The outfielder took a middle-middle fastball and smoked it to center field for a solo homer. Correa would then come through with a two-out single before moving to second on another wild pitch. That was important because Gurriel followed it up with a single of his own to give Houston their fourth run of the day.
Sale would settle down for the next couple innings, even getting through the top of the order in the fifth.
Still, the Red Sox were trailing at that point as the offense was trying and failing to really break out against Astros starter Gerrit Cole. They went down in order against the righty in the first before getting going a bit jn the second. Trailing 2-0 at that point, Eduardo Núñez came through with a two-out single and came around to score on a Brock Holt double. The latter would be stranded there, but the deficit was cut in half.
The third was another quick one for the Red Sox offense, going down 1-2-3. Then, they entered the fourth trailing 4-1 but they quickly closed that gap. Mitch Moreland kicked things off by taking a middle-middle fastball crushed to straightaway center field to cut the lead to two. J.D. Martinez came up next, and he did what he does. That is, he took a fastball up and away and smashed it just over the walk in right field for his 19th dinger of the year. It was back-to-back homers for the Red Sox, and they were now trailing by just one.
From here, both pitchers settled into grooves and that 4-3 score carried into the late innings. The best scoring chance for either side came for the Sox in the top of the fifth. The Red Sox got two runners onbwith just one out, but both Bogaerts and Moreland struck out to end that threat.
Sale’s night ended after six, bringing Matt Barnes on for the seventh. The righty allowed the first two batters to reach, but escaped trouble thanks to a timely double play.
The Red Sox would get a chance to see the Astros bullpen for the eighth, going up against Chris Deveski and his filthy changeup. The offspeed would get Andrew Benintendi and Moreland, but Bogaerts got a single, moved to second on a wild pitch and to third on a ground out. Martinez was then intentionally walked and Blake Swihart came in to pinch run. He immediately stole second, but it wouldn’t matter as Rafael Devers flew out to end the chance.
The Astros then got themselves some valuable insurance in the eighth when Correa launched a Joe Kelly pitch out to left field for a solo shot. Things only got worse when Kelly allowed a walk and a two-run shot to break the lead open to four.
Brian Johnson came in for Kelly, and he didn’t allow any more runs though he did load the bases. The Sox did get a single in the ninth, but that was it and that was game.
The Red Sox will look to get back in the win column on Saturday with David Price taking on Justin Verlander. First pitch is at 7:15 PM ET.