Well, those questions about the bullpen certainly aren’t going away after Friday night’s game. Things were looking very good for the first six innings of this game. The offense wasn’t great, but they got a couple of rallies going against Gerrit Cole and put a couple runs on the board. That was enough for much of the night because David Price was masterful. In one of the best games of his strong season, the lefty shut down the Astros for six innings. He got into trouble and left two baserunners for his bullpen, and then things fell apart. Houston took a 3-2 lead in the blink of an eye, and after the Red Sox tied it back up Joe Kelly came in for the eighth — why he came in rather than Matt Barnes, I have no idea — and he allowed three more runs. People will be viewing September as a test for this bullpen, and they are not passing.
The story of the first half of this game was obvious, and it was David Price. Now, I think at this point we’ve gotten past the point of worrying about the Red Sox lefty every time he faces a good team, particularly in the postseason. He’s been too good too often this year to have that kind of worry. That being said, there was some reason for uneasiness, partially because that top of the Astros lineup is terrifying, but also because Price had recently missed a small amount of time after being hit in the wrist with a line drive. All indications were that the injury was not serious, but you just never know how a pitcher will react.
Price reacted incredibly and was just about as good as we’ve seen him in 2018. He was mixing his pitches well, and most importantly he was hitting all of his spots and living on the corners. When this veteran version of the former Cy Young winner is at his best he’s getting a bunch of backwards K’s. He was getting them on this Friday night against Houston.
The first inning was always going to be a test, mostly because the aforementioned top of the Astros lineup. Price passed that test, allowing just one baserunner in that inning. It seemed like he might lose it for a minute after not getting a call on the inside corner against Alex Bregman. Price walked the star third baseman then had trouble finding the zone against Carlos Correa. He’d settle down, though, and get a strikeout against the All-Star shortstop. In the second, he’d allow another baserunner on a single but once again that was all he’d allow while also striking out a pair of Astros. By this point we were certainly satisfied with what Price had given, but he had been a little inefficient.
Well, all we had to do was ask because after that second inning Price shifted things into another gear. He added two more strikeouts in a 1-2-3 third, got the middle of Houston’s lineup in order in the fourth and added in another 1-2-3 inning with a strikeout in the fifth. He’d do exactly the same in the sixth, giving him 14 consecutive retired batters.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox offense had a hell of a test in its own right on the other side of the ball. They were going up against Gerrit Cole, who has totally changed his profile since coming over to Houston from Pittsburgh this past winter and the righty is a legitimate Cy Young candidate this year. Boston was going to see some serious gas and they were looking to prove they could handle it.
They did well enough in the first, though it could have been better. Mookie Betts led it off with a single — something he’d been struggling with in a recent stretch — and with Andrew Benintendi at the plate they ran a little hit and run. With Betts off on the pitch, Benintendi poked a line drive into left field for a base hit. The Astros infield was shifted right and Betts noticed Bregman over towards the second base bag. The Red Sox star was ultra-aggressive and took third base on the liner into left, something you rarely see anywhere, never mind at Fenway. It ended up being an important play, too, because J.D. Martinez followed it up with a fly ball to right field, and Betts would score the game’s first run. Unfortunately, the inning ended soon after that when Xander Bogaerts struck out and Benintendi was caught stealing, but it was still a 1-0 lead.
After that, Cole settled into a bit of a groove and it felt like the Sox might regret not putting more on the board in that first inning. They went down in order in the second before getting a little going in the third. There, Jackie Bradley Jr. would draw a one-out walk and Betts followed it up with another base hit and Boston had two on with one out. Benintendi and Martinez both went down, though, and the runners were stranded.
In the fourth, they got their revenge. Bogaerts led off that inning and with two strikes Cole tried to sneak a curveball by him. Unfortunately for the pitcher, it hung right over the center of the zone and Bogaerts smoked it 432 feet to straightaway center field. Just like that, Boston’s lead was extended to 2-0.
In the fifth, it looked like they were poised to open it up even more. Sandy León got on base to lead the inning off when a strikeout pitch got by Houston catcher Martin Maldonado, and Betts got a one-out single after that. With two outs, J.D. Martinez drew a walk to load the bases for Bogaerts, who not only had a home run in this game but also has thrived with the bases packed all year. He couldn’t come through this time, striking out to leave ‘em loaded and keep the score at 2-0.
In the top half of the seventh, Price’s retired batter streak ended with Bregman to lead off that inning when the star ripped a double down the third base line. After a huge strikeout against Correa, Price issued his second walk of the night and that would end his outing. It was a phenomenal job from the lefty, but he left two on with two out for Brasier.
Brasier got into trouble immediately. The pitch he threw was taken to the Monster by Yuli Gurriel for a double, and the Astros had their first run of the game with two runners in scoring position and still just one out. Brasier came back to get a big out against Josh Reddick on a pop up, putting him one out away from at least holding the one-run lead. That brought up Tony Kemp, and after working a full count he sliced a little line drive into left field, scoring two runs and putting Houston up 3-2.
So, now it was up to the offense with nine more outs remaining to at least tie this back up. They’d get a one-out walk from Bradley Jr., and he’d quickly move over to second base on a wild pitch (that Brian McCann likely should have stopped, to be fair). Betts would walk on four pitches, putting two on for Benintendi with one out. He’d ground into a fielder’s choice to get Betts at second base, leaving runners on the corners with two outs for Martinez. He’d come through, smoking a single through the middle to tie the game. Benintendi would get to third on the play — the throw easily beat him but the umps ruled that Bregman missed the tag — and Bogaerts had a chance with runners on the corners. He flew out, and the Red Sox had to settle for a 3-3 tie after seven.
Joe Kelly would come on for the top half of the eighth, and he had to deal with the top of Houston’s order. George Springer led the frame off with a base hit, and Jose Altuve followed it up with an infield single of his own. After Bregman got a third consecutive single, the bases were loaded with nobody out. Correa then came through with a fly ball to right field, scoring Springer and allowing the other two runners to advance as well. Houston extended their lead to two on a wild pitch and then got it to three on an RBI single from Tyler White. That was all the Astros would get, but it was a 6-3 deficit for the Sox heading into the bottom of the eighth.
The Red Sox came back in the bottom of the eighth looking to add another layer to this rollercoaster game, and they’d get two on with one out after back-to-back singles from Ian Kinsler and Eduardo Núñez. That brought up Rafael Devers in a pinch hitting spot, but he’d strike out and leave it up to Bradley Jr. The outfielder grounded out and no runs would cross the plate.
After Tyler Thornburg worked around a couple baserunners for a scoreless ninth, the top of Boston’s lineup was looking for some magic in their last chance. There was no magic on this night as they went down in order and ended a disappointing night.
The Red Sox will look to recover quickly from this disappointing loss and leave open the possibility of taking this series with a win on Saturday. They’ll send Eduardo Rodriguez to the mound to take on Charlie Morton. First pitch is at 4:05 PM ET.
As for the division, the Red Sox see their lead shrink to nine games with the loss and their magic number stays at 13. Those numbers will change based on the result of tonights Yankees-Mariners game, which began at 10:00 PM ET. New York currently leads 4-0 in the third inning.