Boston has a big test on their plate coming up over these next few weeks, and it starts this week with a four-game set in Houston. They did not get off on the right foot, to say the least. This Memorial Day series opener was a straight-up blowout, with the Astros dominating on all fronts. Their propensity to make contact at the plate came back to bite Eduardo Rodriguez, who continues to struggle with balls in play. They continued to get it done against the lower tier of Boston’s bullpen, too. On the other side, the offense was totally shut down by José Urquidy early in the game. Things got a bit better as the day went on, but not nearly to the extent they needed to make this a game.
The Red Sox are starting a massive stretch of baseball right now, facing some of the most talented rosters in the league over the next couple of weeks. That stretch starts with the Astros, a team that makes you think of their offense when they come up on the schedule. That portion of their roster certainly showed off some of what makes them so dangerous, but really it was the pitching, and José Urquidy in particular, who stole the show in the early portion of the game.
To put it simply, the Red Sox had no answer for the Astros righty. Urquidy is not really a pitcher who racks up strikeouts at a high rate, especially relative to the current league environment. He had Boston’s bats off-balance throughout this game, however, missing bats with all of his pitches and hitting all of his spots with everything he offers. The result was, well, total domination.
And when I say total domination, that’s exactly what I mean. The Astros starter, who was making his return from the injured list in this game, was perfect the first time through the order. Boston didn’t manage a single baserunner over those first three innings, and they struck out four times to boot.
It didn’t really appear things were going to get any better the second time through, as both Kiké Hernández and Alex Verdugo struck out to start the fourth, making it 11 in a row set down to start this game. Fortunately, J.D. Martinez ensured they would not be on the wrong side of a perfect game on this day, drawing a two-out walk to keep the inning alive. Unfortunately, they would continue to be no-hit through that inning, as Xander Bogaerts couldn’t keep the momentum alive.
Once again in the fifth, they went down with a couple of quick outs as the no-hitter continued. Just like the perfect game, the no-hitter would go down with two outs in the inning. Christian Vázquez finally gave the Red Sox their first hit of the day, and he was also their first runner beyond first base on the afternoon as he poked a double out to the corner in right field. The similarities to the fourth would continue, however, as Marwin Gonzalez hit a routine ground ball over to third base and the inning was over with the Red Sox still sitting at zero runs.
Over on the other side, Eduardo Rodriguez was looking for a bounce-back start. He was supposed to get that opportunity against a pedestrian lineup from the Marlins, but weather pushed his start against a tough offense in Houston. They were a bit banged up with a few of their regulars on the shelf, but this is still a lineup that puts nearly everything into play. And Rodriguez has had some problem with balls in play falling in for hits. At a certain point, you have to own it and we can’t keep chalking it up to luck. It was hard to get all the way there in this game, though the issues were awfully familiar.
Things went fine in the first inning, as he did issue a walk but worked around it with an inning-ending double play to keep it to just three batters in the inning. But the second started to show some of those balls fall in for hits. Houston started that inning with three straight singles, and seemingly in the blink of an eye they had the bases full with nobody out. It was a real chance for them to take a massive lead, but it didn’t work out that way.
They did take a 1-0 lead on a sacrifice fly, and then Myles Straw hit a ground ball over to Gonzalez at second base. They ended up getting the second out of the inning at first base before getting the runner going to second in a rundown. The result was the end of the inning, but the rundown did allow the runner from third to come in and make it a 2-0 game. It seemed to me at first Gonzalez made a mistake not going for the force out at second base to make it a normal double play for the out not to score, but Straw can fly so that may not have been an easy play to convert two outs.
In the third, it was another single to start things off, and then José Altuve stepped to the plate. This was the most frustrating moment of the game, even more frustrating than all the singles. Rodriguez left a changeup a little bit up and not quite close enough to the outside corner. Altuve was caught a bit off-balance, but he was able to somehow get the barrel on the ball and flick it down the left-field line. The good news for him is that the left-field line does not extend very far in Houston, and he somehow got it out of the park for a two-run homer. It had an expected batting average of .080, but it counts the same as a 500-foot bomb.
To the credit of Rodriguez, he didn’t let the fluky homer snowball into a blow up of an outing. Instead, he struck out the next three batters he faced to end that inning, and then worked around a two-out single for a scoreless fourth as well. He’d get into a bit more trouble in the fifth, though, and giving up yet another single and then issuing a walk. That would mark the end of his day, making it his second straight start in which he failed to go at least five full innings.
Instead, it was Colten Brewer trying to finish the inning off with two men on and two out. He didn’t get the start he wanted, issuing another walk to load the bases for Kyle Tucker, who had a chance to really break this game open. He came through when the Astros needed him to, sneaking a ground ball by a diving Gonzalez to bring two more home, and suddenly the Red Sox were trailing by six.
As we rolled into the sixth, the Red Sox offense finally started to show at least a few signs of life against Urquidy. Hunter Renfroe, who has had a monster month for this lineup, got things started with a double right down the left-field line. Hernández followed that up with a well-hit ball that was caught, and then Verdugo had one that was not caught. His clanked off the wall in left field, and it gave Boston their first run of the game. It was the only one they’d get in the inning, though, and it was a 6-1 ballgame.
That would bring Brewer back out for the bottom of the sixth, and again he had some troubles. The inning started with another walk, and then it was followed up with a single. Boston caught a break with some over-aggressive baserunning, however, and Houston made their first out of the inning at third base. Brewer would then get a fly out, but then allowed a stolen base, issued yet another walk, and then gave up a slow roller that went for an infield single to load the bases up. That brought Alex Bregman to the plate, and he went against the shift for a two-run single, and that was pretty much the game, giving Houston a seven-run lead.
That ended the day for Brewer as well, with Phillips Valdez getting the call next. Things didn’t get any better here either, as he allowed three more to come home before finally ending the inning with an 11-1 game.
And, well, that was pretty much that. The Red Sox did get another run on a home run from Renfroe. After Valdez, the game was finished out from Boston’s pitching perspective with Matt Andriese tossing a scoreless eighth. Oh, and Christian Vázquez played third base in the final inning as the regulars got some time off their feet. Not a great game, and the 11-2 loss dropped Boston’s record to 32-21.
The Red Sox and Astros will continue this four-game set on Tuesday, with Garrett Richards taking on Luis Garcia. First pitch is set for 8:10 PM ET.