The Red Sox desperately wanted to avoid a sweep on Sunday night. Sure, getting closer to locking up the division was a part of that, and with the Yankees losing earlier in the day they had a chance for a big blow on that road with a win. But even more than that, they really didn’t want to get swept by a potential playoff opponent in their last meeting before said potential playoff matchup. They avoided it, even if it wasn’t always pretty. On the plus side, the offense had some good swings against Dallas Keuchel and Rick Porcello was what you want from your fourth postseason starter. The bad part was, again, the bullpen. Specifically, it was Heath Hembree and Brian Johnson, who tried their hardest to blow this game. To be fair, Steven Wright pitched two key scoreless innings and Craig Kimbrel had a dominant frame to get the win and keep the score tied long enough for a Mitch Moreland walkoff. We’ll take it.
The Red Sox came into this game needing a strong all-around performance, as had been proven in the previous two games against the Astros. In the first game, they got great starting pitching but the bullpen couldn’t pull its weight. In the second game, the bullpen was outstanding after Eduardo Rodriguez struggled at the start. And in both, the offense did some but not enough. For the finale of this series, well, Rick Porcello did what he could to do his part. The righty wasn’t perfect, as he missed some spots and gave up some hard contact here and there, but for the most part he looked good against one of the best lineups in all of baseball. The Red Sox need him trending in the right direction over the rest of this month, and this was a nice step in that direction.
The first inning is always going to be a big one against Houston given the firepower they have at the top of their lineup, and Porcello worked around a little bit of trouble in that frame. George Springer kicked things off with a single, and Alex Bregman would reach on a four-pitch walk to put two on with just one out. Porcello came back strong, though, getting back-to-back strikeouts against Yuli Gurriel and Carlos Correa to end the inning and the threat in impressive fashion.
In the second inning, after his team handed him a 1-0 lead, Porcello made a big mistake. Marwin Gonzalez was the first batter here and he worked a tough at bat, eventually getting up to an eighth pitch. Porcello tried to sneak a changeup by the Astros super utility man, but it stayed right over the heart of the plate and Gonzalez destroyed it for a 421-foot homer over Pesky’s Pole. It was a no-doubter off the bat, with the only question being whether or not it would stay fair. It did, and the game was tied.
After that, Porcello got into a bit of a groove for a bit. His command looked markedly better and he was getting through Houston’s order. The righty retired the next three batters he saw to end the second, and then in the third the only baserunner he allowed was a double from Bregman, but it wasn’t really a double. The Astros star infield hit a weak pop up to shallow right field, and miscommunication between Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez allowed it to fall. Porcello worked around that in the third before coming back for a 1-2-3 fourth. In the fifth, he allowed a leadoff single but only had to face three batters when Brian McCann was inexplicably caught stealing.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox offense was trying to get something going against a left-handed groundball specialist in Dallas Keuchel. He can be a frustrating opponent because his stuff is not overpowering but he is tough to square up. If the Red Sox were getting balls in the air, it was going to be a good sign. Sure enough, they got some balls in the air in the first. Betts led it off with a double out to right field, and he’d move to third with two outs for Xander Bogaerts. The Red Sox shortstop has been money with runners in scoring position all year, and he came through once again with a line drive to center field for an RBI single.
We know that lead would be wiped out in the very next half-inning, and the Red Sox would wait until the third to get it back. Once again it was the top of the lineup doing work, and once again it was a rally started by a Betts double. He’d move on over to third on a ground out, and then Martinez drove him home with a fly out to the wall in left field. You’d like to get more than one run each on a pair of leadoff doubles, but it was a 2-1 lead at least.
After the Red Sox failed to score in the fourth, they were once again looking for the top of the lineup to lead the way in the fifth. They did just that, and they got more than just the one run this time around, too. Betts didn’t get a double this time around, but he did reach on a leadoff walk. After Andrew Benintendi contributed an infield single, there were two on for Martinez. He did what he does, smashing his 40th homer of the year on a no-doubt shot into the Monster Seats. Suddenly, it was a 5-1 lead and the Red Sox had Keuchel against the ropes with still nobody out. Bogaerts would follow that up with a single to keep it going, but the Red Sox wouldn’t get any more after that.
So, Porcello had a four-run cushion from which to work and had a big test coming up against the middle of the order seeing him for a third time. Jose Altuve got to the righty in the first at bat of the inning, putting one into the Monster Seats down the line for a solo shot, cutting Boston’s lead to three. After getting the first out of the inning, Porcello gave up back-to-back singles and it seemed the wheels were ready to fall off.
After the righty got a line out from Gonzalez, Alex Cora came out and pulled his starter for Heath Hembree, who was trying to clean up a two-on with two-out mess. He did not succeed, allowing a two-run double to Tyler White and cut Boston’s lead back down to one. That was the only batter he’d face as Brian Johnson was called in to face McCann. He walked the catcher, bringing up old friend Josh Reddick. He’d come through with a double to right field, and in the blink of an eye this game was all tied up and Ryan Brasier was entering the game. He finally, mercifully, ended the inning and kept the tie score intact.
The Red Sox had no answer in the bottom half of the sixth, and Steven Wright got the call in the seventh to face the middle of Houston’s lineup. Things got off to a rough start when Altuve dropped a bunt down to third base and Brandon Phillips’ throw got by Steve Pearce, putting Altuve on second base. The Astros star would then move over to third on a wild pitch with one out, but he was thrown out on a ground ball to shortstop. Bogaerts made a bad throw that was too high, but León was able to get the tag down just in time. At least, that’s according to the umps, because it sure looked like he was safe on replay. That turned out to be a huge break because Wright got out of the inning after that and the score was still tied.
From here, we fast-forward to the bottom of the eighth with the Red Sox getting a chance against Collin McHugh. Bogaerts and Mitch Moreland started the inning with a pair of singles, leading to a potential bunt situation for Ian Kinsler. Instead, Cora unsurprisingly had his players swinging away, and Kinsler struck out. Brock Holt followed that up with a walk to load the bases for Blake Swihart, pinch hitting for Eduardo Núñez against left-handed Tony Sipp. He’d strike out, leaving it all up to Christian Vazquez in another pinch hitting spot. He’d also strike out, leaving the bases loaded and keeping the score tied.
Craig Kimbrel came out in a tie game and tossed a 1-2-3 top of the ninth, giving the Red Sox one more chance to end this one in regulation. They were able to do just that, and once again it was the top of the lineup. This time it was Benintendi starting the rally with a base hit, and a fielder’s choice would swap him out for Martinez with two outs. After Bogaerts got a base hit of his own, Tzu-Wei Lin came in to run for Martinez, and Moreland had a chance to win it. He didn’t crush one, but he hit a little looper into left field that got down and scored Lin. It wasn’t always pretty, but the Red Sox avoided the sweep.
The Red Sox will get a little break after this tough series with a day off on Monday before resuming action on Tuesday against the Blue Jays. That game will feature the return of Chris Sale, who will come back for two innings. Toronto counters with Ryan Borucki, and first pitch will be at 7:10 PM ET.
As for the division, as mentioned at the top the Yankees dropped one in Seattle this afternoon. As a result, the Red Sox lead the American League East by 8.5 games now, and their magic number to clinch the division is down to 11.