After coming through with a sweep over the weekend of the Orioles, the Red Sox finally had some momentum on their side in the first time in about three weeks. But it was unclear if they’d actually turned things around or if they just got to play a terrible team. They had a big test this week going down to Yankee Stadium, and things did start off very well. Tanner Houck was shaky to start, but settled down later to give the Red Sox time to both tie the game and then take the lead in the fifth on a Christian Vázquez homer. But Alex Cora decided to take out Houck after just four innings, and while I thought it was the right call at the time, the bullpen imploded. They walked four and allowed three runs in the fifth to allow New York to take a two-run lead. To make the loss extra devastating, Boston had the bases loaded with nobody out in the seventh and final inning, but failed to score.
As the Red Sox come into this doubleheader looking to keep their momentum, all eyes are on the starting pitching. As we talked about on this very website earlier in the week, Chris Sale’s return does a lot to shift the perception of this rotation. But it’s not just Sale. Houck is now back on a full-time basis as well, and he was on the mound taking on the Yankees. He’s had success against this team twice this season, but the feel around the Yankees is different right now, and he was going to be tested.
It looked like he was passing the test early on, as he had no trouble at all in the first inning. The righty induced three ground balls in the innings, all of which were hit at Rafael Devers and all of which were turned into outs. But the second inning was different. Here, Houck didn’t seem to have much feel for anything besides his fastball — and even that pitch was more fine than good — and the Yankees put together a rally.
He did start off the inning with an out, though it was of the hard-hit variety. That brought Luke Voit to the plate, and Houck had a slider that just didn’t break. Instead, it went right towards the batter, and while it wasn’t entirely clear whether or not it hit him, Voit was awarded first base and Boston decided not to challenge. (For whatever it’s worth, I thought that was the right call as the play was close enough that it’d be tough to overturn no matter the original call.) Rougned Odor then followed that up with a soft liner that fell into left field for a single.
With two runners on, Houck now had to buckle in to try and escape the jam. He got Gary Sánchez to hit a line drive right at Devers for the second out, bringing up the soft bottom of this Yankees lineup. Or at least it should be soft. Tyler Wade put a base hit through the right side to load the bases before Andrew Velazquez lined a single of his own into center field. This one drove in two runs. Houck did escape the inning from there, but the damage was done.
Over on the other side, the Red Sox were facing a southpaw in Jordan Montgomery who can give hitters trouble from the left side, but who was also making his first start in over two weeks after being placed on the COVID list. But he looked good early. Boston did get a couple of hits in the first, but the second was an infield single from Devers. Hunter Renfroe, who was on first, realized upon reaching second base that the Yankees had no one on the left side of the infield and tried to get over to third. But Velazquez quickly ran over towards the bag and Voit made a good throw to cut down the aggressive Renfroe and finish the inning.
After Boston went down in order in the second, they came back up in the third now trailing by two. Bobby Dalbec stayed hot to start the rally, ripping a one-out single through the middle before moving up to second on a Kiké Hernández walk. After a tapper back to the mound moved both runners up, Xander Bogaerts came through with a clutch at bat, working his way back from 0-2 before finally ripping a two-run single into left field. That did tie the game, but Bogaerts was caught off guard when, instead of trying to tag the trailing runner, Gary Sánchez threw back down to first. Bogaerts was cut down to end the inning.
After Houck put two men on in the fourth before working out of the jam, the Red Sox were looking to take a lead in the fifth. It didn’t take long. Christian Vázquez has been struggling mightily at the plate, but he got a 3-2 fastball that stayed middle-in. That’s exactly what he wanted, and it sent it out to left field for a solo shot to put Boston up by a run.
That was all Boston got in that inning, and with the Yankees lineup coming back around for a third time, Alex Cora wasn’t messing around. He turned to Garrett Whitlock with Houck’s day over after just four innings. It proved to be a highly second-guessed decision. The rookie got a quick strikeout, but then lost the zone with two straight walks in front of Joey Gallo. Cora again was being aggressive, turning to Josh Taylor to face the lefty.
Fresh off the COVID list, he also had some control issues, walking the first batter he faced. That brought Voit back to the plate, and he just popped one up, but it found no-man’s land in center field. That brought two runs home, and the Yankees were back out in front 4-3. Taylor gave up one more run before being relieved by Hansel Robles, who did issue another walk to load the bases but escaped without any more runs.
But now it was on the Red Sox offense to make up the two-run deficit. They got nothing in the sixth with the heart of their order up, instead going down in order, and quickly. After Robles and Austin Davis combined to load the bases but escape without a run, the Red Sox had just one more chance in this seven-inning game.
They got off to the kind of start they were looking for, with Kyle Schwarber and Vázquez kicking off the inning with back-to-back singles. Alex Verdugo came through with another to load the bases, bringing up Travis Shaw for his first at bat back with the Red Sox. But he lined out to left field, and then Kiké Hernández struck out. That left it up to Hunter Renfroe not to blow this major opportunity, but he failed, striking out to end the game.
With the 5-3 loss, the Red Sox record drops to 69-52. The Yankees are now within one of a wildcard spot.
The Red Sox and Yankees play the second half of their doubleheader tonight, with Nathan Eovaldi taking on Luis Gil. First pitch is set for 7:05 PM ET.