If you like being incredibly frustrated during a baseball game, then Friday was the night for you. The Red Sox got a great pitching performance from Rick Porcello against a red-hot and immensely talented Astros lineup. He cruised through seven innings, getting into a couple bits of trouble but not allowing any runs over that time. The Red Sox couldn’t get him any support in five innings against Gerrit Cole, however, despite having runners in scoring position in four of those frames. They did finally get on the board in the sixth, but then the eighth inning happened. Porcello started the inning, which was defensible if not inarguable. He gave up a leadoff double, though, and that was ahead of the potent top of Houston’s order. It was the exact situation in which Matt Barnes has been used all day, but Porcello was left in to give up a go-ahead homer to George Springer. Then Ryan Brasier was inexplicably brought in and his lack of control combined with poor play behind the plate from Christian Vázquez led to another run. That was pretty much the game right there. Poor managing in that eighth, poor execution from the pitchers who were used and poor situational hitting from the Red Sox offense were all to blame for dropping a winnable series opener against the league’s best team.
Friday night was always going to be a huge test for the Red Sox. They had been rolling coming into this game, though the schedule of late had certainly been on the lighter side. This first game against the Astros was going to be a test for Rick Porcello in particular, who had been looking much better since a terrible start to 2019. The Astros are a different beast, though, with a deep and talented lineup that is absolutely and absurdly loaded at the top and has legitimate depth as well. To make matters even worse, all of the talent was red-hot coming into this game. If there was going to be a test for whether or not Porcello’s recent success was for real, it was going to be against this Houston team.
He was to be tested right away, too, because as I said the Astros are loaded at the top. They start off games with George Springer, Alex Bregman, Michael Brantley and Carlos Correa as their top four, and that’s a group missing former MVP José Altuve. Not fair. Porcello, however, more than held his own and looked good right from the get-go. He got through a good first inning in which he allowed just a single to Bregman. He even struck out Springer and Brantley, the latter of whom is among the hardest batters to set down in the game.
In the second, though, the righty found himself in a bit of trouble. This wasn’t exactly Porcello’s fault, though, as the contact here wasn’t strong. Weak contact or not, though, it all counts the same and Houston got two consecutive singles with one out. Both runners would advance a base later in the inning, too, on a wild pitch that was more on Christian Vázquez than Porcello, in this writer’s opinion. Still, the Astros had a pair in scoring position, but Jake Marisnick couldn’t come through and Porcello still had his shutout in hand.
The Red Sox righty came back with his first 1-2-3 inning in the third, and it came against Houston’s top three hitters. He repeated that effort in the fourth before getting into more trouble in the fifth. There, Robinson Chirinos started things off with an infield single that was knocked down by Rafael Devers. A ground ball to the pitcher would move Chirinos to second, and after a walk to Springer there were two on with two outs for Bregman. It was a dangerous situation, but Porcello got a routine ground ball and the inning was over. He then came back with another easy 1-2-3 inning in the sixth.
Unfortunately, for as well as Porcello was pitching his offense wasn’t getting him any help. They were going up against a talented pitcher themselves, with Gerrit Cole on the mound for the Astros. The big Houston righty has been the best strikeout pitcher in the game to start this season. Boston had some good swings against him, though, and they gave themselves chances in just about every inning. They just couldn’t get the swing they needed to actually give their pitcher some support.
They had their first chance early on in the first when J.D. Martinez doubled with two outs. He’d be stranded at second, though. In the second they got a leadoff single from Xander Bogaerts and two-out Christian Vázquez double put a pair in scoring position. Eduardo Núñez swung at a ball four, though, and a ground ball stranded both runners. After only getting a batter to first in the third, the Red Sox got a leadoff double from Bogaerts in the fourth but, you guessed it, he was stranded.
In the fifth they had perhaps their strongest chance with the top of the lineup getting going. Andrew Benintendi drove a base hit with one out in that inning, and then Betts followed that up with a single of his own. Benintendi was off on the pitch there, so Boston had runners on the corners with Martinez and Mitch Moreland coming up to the dish. They both struck out, though, and hey guess what the runners were stranded.
Through all of that frustration, however, the one bit of good news is that Cole had to work extra hard through all of it and he was up to 99 pitches. His night was over after five, and the Red Sox had a chance at Houston’s bullpen starting in the sixth. Héctor Rondón got the call for that inning, and Bogaerts started it off with a single. It was his third at bat in which he got on base to lead off an inning. He stole second on a strikeout pitch to get Rafael Devers, giving the Red Sox yet another chance with a runner in scoring position. Michael Chavis then struck out for his third time of the night, but strike three got away and allowed Bogaerts to get to third with two outs. Finally, they actually came through. Vázquez inside-out’d a pitch out to right field for a base hit, and the Red Sox had a 1-0 lead.
So, with a lead in hand Porcello came back out for the seventh. He picked up right where he left off when the game was still scoreless, getting his third 1-2-3 inning in the last four. The righty was back out for the eighth, too, with the same score on the board.
This inning got off to a tough start. Marisnick led off, and he ripped a double into the left field corner. With the top of the order coming back up, it was surprising that Matt Barnes wasn’t ready to come in. In fact, Ryan Brasier was the one warming in the ‘pen. Porcello stayed in, though, and he left a changeup up over the plate to Springer. The Astros outfielder does not miss those pitches, and he blasted one into the bullpen for a two-run shot. Just like that it was a 2-1 lead for Houston and Porcello’s night was over.
Ryan Brasier then came on in another weird move given how poorly he’s been pitching of late. After getting a first out, he issued a walk to Brantley, who then moved to second on a passed ball and to third on a wild pitch. Brasier then issued another walk before giving up a sacrifice fly to give Houston a two-run lead.
So, now the Red Sox had some work to do against a great back-end of Houston’s bullpen. That challenge started with Ryan Pressly coming to the mound for the bottom half of the eighth. They went down in order against the righty. That left the ninth for Roberto Osuna with the bottom of the order coming up. They did get a double from Vázquez and then a two-out walk from Benintendi to bring Betts up to the plate representing the winning run. He hit one well, but it was lined right to Brantley in left field to end the game.
So, the Red Sox will look to bounce back from this one on Saturday night for the second game of this three-game set. Boston will send Hector Velázquez and friends to the mound for that one to take on rookie Corbin Martin. First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 PM ET.