After dropping three of their last four at home, the Red Sox salvaged their three-game series against the Astros with a tight 4-3 win on Sunday to put an end to Houston’s 10-game winning streak.
Making his 10th start of the season for Boston in this one was Chris Sale, fresh off a career-high 17 strikeouts over seven innings in his last time out against the Colorado Rockies.
Pitching into just the sixth inning Sunday, the left-hander had to grind his way through a tough lineup, as he surrendered three runs on four hits, a season-high five walks, and one HBP to go along with 10 strikeouts the afternoon.
For the fifth time in his last six starts, Sale did reach the double-digit mark for punchouts. That much was encouraging to see. The five walks, tied for the most the southpaw has yielded in a single game, were not. Entering Sunday, Sale had given out only two free passes since the beginning of May.
Two of those walks directly led to Astros runs, with the first coming on a leadoff walk drawn by Yuli Gurriel in the second, who would eventually come around to score from third on a two-out wild pitch with George Springer at the plate.
Judging by where that slider was located, it would appear as though Christian Vazquez, who doesn’t usually catch Sale, was looking for something different and thus got crossed up, which in turn allowed the run to cross the plate.
Able to escape the second without any further damage, walks hurt the Florida native yet again an inning later, with Carlos Correa mashing a one-out, two-run homer to deep center after Alex Bregman, like Gurriel, led the frame off by drawing a seven-pitch free pass.
From that point, Sale settled in a bit by retiring eight of the next nine Houston hitters he faced before running into some more trouble in the sixth.
There, a Gurriel leadoff double, followed by back-to-back one-out walks of Robinson Chirinos and Josh Reddick loaded the bases for the Astros yet again, consequently putting an end to Sale’s outing thanks to a pitch count north of the century mark.
Finishing with a final pitch count of 106 (63 strikes), the 30-year-old hurler relied heavily on his slider, as he turned to the pitch more than 47% of the time he was on the mound Sunday and induced a game-high 10 swings and misses with it. He also topped out at 96.4 MPH with his four-seam fastball, a pitch he threw 36 times.
Hit with the no-decision, Sale will look for his second win of the season in his next time out, which will come against these same Astros at Minute Maid Park on Friday.
In relief of Sale, Marcus Walden was thrown into the fire, as he came on for his 16th appearance of the year with two outs to get and the bases full.
Having never faced the Astros before in his career, the right-hander managed to get the only batter he faced in the inning, Jake Marisnick, to ground into an inning-ending 6-3 double play before tossing another scoreless frame with the help of another inning-ending twin killing in the seventh.
After the Red Sox jumped ahead by one run in their half of the seventh, that set up Matt Barnes with the chance to preserve that lead in the eighth, and the versatile righty did just that by sitting down the only three Astros he faced in order to make way for Brandon Workman in the ninth.
In what was the first save opportunity of his career, the 30-year-old worked his way around walking the potential tying run with one out by getting Tony Kemp to line out to Jackie Bradley Jr. to secure the 4-3 win for his team, thus securing career save number one as well.
On the other side of things, the Red Sox lineup was matched up against an old friend in Astros left-hander Wade Miley, who spent the 2015 season with Boston.
Pitching in a venue with some familiarity, the Sox bats jumped early on Miley, with Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts both reaching base and advancing 90 feet to second and third with one out thanks to a wild pitch from the Houston starter.
With runners in scoring position and two outs to work with, JD Martinez drove in Boston’s first run of the afternoon on a simple RBI groundout to short that gave Betts enough time to score from third. 1-0.
Fast forward to the fifth, after the Astros went ahead with a 3-1 lead of their own, the Red Sox erased that deficit very quickly thanks to the top of their lineup, headlined by rookie Michael Chavis making his big league debut in the leadoff spot.
On the very first pitch he saw from Miley with two outs in the inning, Chavis demolished a 88 MPH cutter and sent it 420 feet over the Monster for his eighth big fly of the season to make it a one-run game.
Just a few moments later, Betts put the tying run in scoring position with a line-drive double, and Bogaerts came through with his first of two clutch hits on the day, this time plating Betts from second on a fly ball RBI single that honestly should have been caught. Instead, the ball evaded Yuli Gurriel, Jake Marisnick, and Josh Reddick, and found a nice place to land in shallow right field. 3-3 ballgame.
And in the seventh, it was the Xander Bogaerts show once more with Betts representing the go-ahead run at first and two outs in the inning.
Facing off against Astros reliever Frambler Valdez for the first time ever, the 26-year-old shortstop laced a 1-1 RBI double off the center field wall, scoring Betts all the way from first to make it a 4-3 contest, which would go on to be Sunday’s final score.
Some notes from this win:
Since April 23rd, Chris Sale has recorded a nice 69 strikeouts over his last 38.1 innings pitched. That’s good for a K/9 of 16.3.
Speaking of nice, Marcus Walden owns an ERA of 0.69 in his last six appearances out of the Red Sox bullpen.
Matt Barnes has not given up a run in his last nine relief outings.
Through 13 games this month, Christian Vazquez is slashing .476/.511/.714 with two home runs and three RBI.
Next up for the Red Sox, they head north of the border for the first time this season to take on Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and the 19-27 Toronto Blue Jays.
Following Sunday’s win, the club optioned right-handed pitcher Josh Smith and catcher Oscar Hernandez to Triple-A Pawtucket, meaning David Price and Sandy Leon are likely to be activated from the injured list and paternity leave list respectively on Monday.
Price is already slated to get the ball in the first of four against his former team, while right-hander Edwin Jackson, now with his 14th big league club, will start for Toronto.
First pitch Monday is scheduled for 1:07 PM EDT on NESN. Red Sox looking to start another winning streak.