The Red Sox were within striking distance of the Astros heading into the bottom of the seventh inning at Minute Maid Park on Tuesday night.
Trailing by a run at 2-1, Hirokazu Sawamura came on for Garrett Richards and yielded a leadoff single to Kyle Tucker. A Rafael Devers fielding error on a Chas McCormick groundball put runners at first and second with no outs.
Sawamura proceeded by inducing another grounder off the bat of Myles Straw, one that was hit directly to Xander Bogaerts for what looked to be the start of a huge 6-4-3 double play.
Bogaerts fielded the ball cleanly and made a routine toss to Marwin Gonzalez, who misfired on his throw to first base that got past a sprawling Danny Santana and allowed Tucker to score easily.
A five-pitch walk of Martin Maldonado, a wild pitch, and an intentional walk of Jose Altuve loaded the bases as Red Sox manager Alex Cora made the switch from Sawamura to Garrett Whitlock.
Making his first appearance out of the bullpen in a week, Whitlock issued a free pass to the first man he faced to bring in another run before Yordan Alvarez tapped an infield single off him to plate an additional run and make it a 5-1 game.
What transpired in the seventh inning on Tuesday was what ultimately did the Red Sox in. By falling to Houston by a final score of 5-1, Boston drops back down to 32-22 (16-9) on the season. They remain two games back of the Rays for first place in the American League East.
Richards provides six solid innings
Garrett Richards made his 11th start of the season for the Red Sox and put together yet another strong showing.
Despite dealing with his fair share of traffic on the base paths, the right-hander surrendered just two earned runs on four hits, four walks, and five strikeouts over six innings of work.
The first of the two Astros runs Richards gave up came on a towering solo home run from Jose Altuve right away in the first inning. The second came on a sacrifice fly from Chas McCormick after Richards served up a leadoff double and followed with a four-pitch walk later in the bottom half of the fourth.
Besides that, the 33-year-old hurler was able to retire six of the final seven Astros he faced to get through six full innings.
Despite lowering his ERA on the season down to 3.75, Richards was charged with his fourth loss and is now 4-4. His next start should come against the Yankees in the Bronx on Sunday night.
Red Sox’ offensive woes continue
For the second straight day, the Red Sox lineup was held in check at Minute Maid Park. Boston was once again limited to five hits while managing to push across just one run against Astros rookie starter Luis Garcia.
Hunter Renfroe sparked the lone offensive output of the night with a leadoff double in the fifth, marking his fifth consecutive game with an extra-base hit. Danny Santana advanced Renfroe to third on a single moments later, and it appeared as though the Sox were ready to pounce.
Christian Vazquez failed to advance either runner by popping out to the infield, Marwin Gonzalez plated Renfroe on an RBI groundout, and Enrique Hernandez also popped out to extinguish the threat.
From there, an Alex Verdugo leadoff single and Vazquez two-out single in the seventh went for naught as Garcia made it through seven complete innings for the first time in his young career.
The Astros bullpen took over in relief of Garcia and preserved the one-run effort by tossing a pair of scoreless frames in the eighth and ninth.
Next up: Pivetta vs. Valdez
Wednesday’s starting pitching matchup between the Red Sox and Astros will feature a pair of right-hander and a left-hander, with righty Nick Pivetta getting the ball for Boston and southpaw Framber Valdez doing the same for Houston.
Pivetta will look to play the role as the stopper with the Sox looking to halt a two-game skid and get back in the win column.
First pitch Wednesday is scheduled for 8:10 p.m. eastern time on NESN and ESPN.
(Picture of Garrett Richards: Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)