A very frustrating loss that didn’t feel as close as it was.
The series opener in Houston was an extremely frustrating one for the Red Sox, who were thoroughly outplayed and never really felt quite as close as they actually were on the scoreboard. They didn’t look all that good at anything in this game, particularly very early on. Chris Sale was fine and finished strong, but he wasn’t as sharp as he could have been against a very good Astros lineup. Considering the amount of hard contact he allowed he probably could have allowed more than the four runs he did give up. The offense was shut down early by Wade Miley but did get some chances with runners on base. Instead, their three runs came on a trio of solo homers as they continue to struggle with sequencing. The real story here, however, was the defense. The Red Sox infield played embarrassingly unsound defense with three errors and really more misplays than that. You can’t do that against a team like the Astros, as we saw in this game.
Where do I start with this one? The Red Sox were bad in pretty much every facet of the game to start this series in Houston, but I suppose we’ll start with the halves of the innings in which the Astros were at the plate. With Chris Sale on the mound, there was some reason for optimism even if he generally doesn’t pitch as well against the Astros as he does most everyone else. Of course, that’s the case for pretty much every pitcher in baseball. Still, Sale didn’t look quite like his peak self in this game. The stuff wasn’t terrible and neither was the command, but neither of them were really great either. He was mostly mediocre in both areas, and that’s not a great combination against this lineup. Of course, it didn’t help that the defense was playing like it was gearing up for the Little League World Series.
The first inning actually went fairly well for the Red Sox ace, at least by the results. He got a relatively quick 1-2-3 inning, although all three balls were hit fairly well with the first two coming in at triple digits in terms of exit velocity. In the second, though, things didn’t go quite as well. With one out, Aledmys Díaz poked a single against the shift and then moved to second on a wild pitch. It was in the dirt, which makes it an automatic wild pitch, but it was really on Sandy León. The catcher tried to backhand the breaking ball instead of getting his body in front of it, and that allowed Díaz to get to second. The radio crew seemed to think León got crossed up, for whatever that’s worth, though I didn’t see it that way.
Whatever the case, there was now a runner in scoring position with one out when Sale got his first strikeout of the game. It appeared he had escaped the inning when Josh Reddick hit a ground ball to Steve Pearce at first base, and that’s when all hell broke loose. Pearce’s throw to Sale covering the bag was way behind him and got over by the on deck circle. León had to go and grab that, leaving home plate open. Díaz made a run for it and León tried to race him to the dish. Originally, the runner was ruled out but replay showed the tag was never made, and it was an entirely avoidable lead for the Astros. Many wondered why León didn’t dive directly in front of the plate to make the tag — he kind of took the scenic route — and while I don’t think it’s an unfair criticism I also think it’s the kind of thing that’s easier said after the play than in the heat of the moment.
Sale came back out for the third and immediately allowed Houston to double their lead. He got to a 1-2 count on Jake Marisnick and tried to get a slider by the Astros outfielder. He left it a bit too high up and it caught too much of the inner half of the plate, and Marisnick hit a fly ball just over the short wall in front of the Crawford Boxes to give Houston two runs.
The fourth brought on more of that terrible Red Sox defense, though. After Sale walked the leadoff man, he allowed a base hit before recording the first out. There were now runners on the corners for Marisnick, but he hit a ground ball out to Xander Bogaerts at short. It wasn’t hit well enough for a double play, so Bogaerts made the aggressive play to throw home. He was off-balance making the throw, though, and it got away and allowed the run to score. Marisnick then got caught in a rundown between first and second, and Chavis ran him all the way back to first base. He probably should have made the throw to first earlier, but right before he was going to Pearce inexplicably ran towards the runner without the ball, giving up first base for free. It was bizarre, and it made sure the play resulted in zero outs. Houston would add a fourth run before the inning ended.
Sale did come back strong after that, to his credit. He got 1-2-3 innings in both the fifth and the sixth to give his team chances to chip away.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox were going up against Wade Miley, an old friend who looks nothing like the guy he was in Boston. With Milwaukee last year, the southpaw started leaning very heavily on his cutter, and he’s been great since the start of 2018. He showed off his best stuff in this one, retiring the first nine Red Sox batters he saw to get through three quick innings. He did make a few mistakes early on which Boston’s lineup failed to capitalize, but overall he was extremely impressive and more than earned the great results.
The second time through the order, however, the Sox started getting some chances. In the fourth, Mookie Betts gave Boston their first baserunner on a wall ball double before Bogaerts drew a walk to put two on with one out for J.D. Martinez. It was a big spot in what was at the time a 2-0 game, but Martinez squandered it with a routine double play ball out to second base to end the inning. The fifth would go similarly when they loaded the bases with one out on base hits from Pearce and Eduardo Núñez plus a walk from León. Bradley struck out for the second out before Chavis lined out to center for yet another squander.
Finally, in the sixth they did get on the board. It wasn’t as much damage as one would have liked, but Bogaerts did continue what has been a quietly strong season at the plate. With one out he got a 2-1 fastball right down the heart of the plate and the Reed Sox shortstop blasted it for his ninth homer of the year, cutting the deficit down to three.
In the seventh, the Red Sox had to start facing what is an outstanding Astros bullpen. Will Harris was the first to get the call for Houston, and he got a 1-2-3 inning.
After Marcus Walden came on for a scoreless seventh, Ryan Pressly came on for the eighth. Jackie Bradley Jr. led off that inning and got a first-pitch fastball up and a way which he blasted out to center field for another home run as he continues to heat up. The Red Sox would then get a one-out single from Betts and a two-out walk from Martinez to put two on with two outs for pinch hitter Mitch Moreland. Pressly would get a strikeout, though, and the Red Sox stayed down by two.
Heath Hembree loaded the bases in the bottom of the eighth but came out unscathed, giving Boston one more chance to score two more runs. Benintendi led this one off and put a charge into one out in center field. Marisnick is outstanding with the glove, though, and made an incredible over the shoulder, snowcone grab to rob Benintendi of a hit for the second time in the game. That brought Núñez to the plate — for some reason Rafael Devers did not pinch hit — and he struck out, leaving it up to Christian Vázquez to keep the game going. He did just that with a big swing, sending one out over the wall in left field to bring Boston to within one. Bradley couldn’t repeat his swing from earlier, though, striking out to end the game and hand the Red Sox their third loss in four games this year against Houston.
The Red Sox and Astros will play the second game of this three-game set on Saturday with David Price taking the mound for the Red Sox and Brad Peacock going for Houston. First pitch is scheduled for 7:15 PM ET.