After an off day on Thursday, the Red Sox opened up a three-game weekend series against the Houston Astros in disappointing fashion on Friday, as they dropped the first of three against the team they eliminated from last year’s American League Championship Series by a final score of 3-1.
Making his ninth start of the season for Boston was Rick Porcello, who entered the weekend unbeaten in his last five outings dating back to April 20th.
Pitching into the eighth inning of this one, the right-hander thoroughly impressed yet again, surrendering just two earned runs on six hits and one walk to go along with three strikeouts on the night.
The only real trouble for Porcello came in that eighth inning, an inning that he should not have been left out for. That much was admitted by Sox manager Alex Cora during his postgame press conference.
With his pitch count inching towards the 100 mark and the Astros lineup about to turn back over entering the eighth, a Jake Marisnick leadoff double would ultimately spell the end for Porcello, because on the very next pitch he threw, an 82 MPH changeup to George Springer, the Houston slugger ripped a 395 foot home run into the Red Sox bullpen for his league-leading 17th dinger of the season.
That put the Astros up 2-1, which would turn out to be the only lead they would need.
Other than those two mistakes though, the New Jersey native really had himself a fine night through the first seven frames of this one, working his way around a handful of tight spots to keep the Astros off the board up until the eighth.
He induced four swings and misses, kept away from any hard contact off the Astros potent lineup, and then it all fell apart in that dreaded eighth inning.
Finishing with a final pitch count of 95 (61 strikes) after serving up that two-run homer, Porcello turned to his slider 29% of the time he was on the mound Friday, inducing all four of those swinging strikes with the pitch. He also topped out at 92.8 MPH with his four-seam fastball, a pitch he threw 25 times with Christian Vazquez catching him for the third time this year.
Falling to 3-4 on the season now, the 30-year-old hurler will look to start a new personal winning streak in his next time out, which should come against the Toronto Blue Jays sometime next week.
In relief of Porcello, the Red Sox bullpen would wind up being responsible for the final two innings Friday, with Ryan Brasier getting the call for the remainder of the eighth.
Coming into this one with an ERA of 11.75 so far this month, Brasier’s high-leverage struggles continued Friday, as he yielded two walks in consecutive order to Michael Brantley and Carlos Correa.
Brantley, in his first year with Houston, managed to advance all the way to third thanks to a passed ball on the part of Vazquez and a wild pitch on the part of Brasier.
With one out and runners on the corners now. a sacrifice fly off the bat of ex-Red Sox outfielder Josh Reddick allowed Brantley to come in to score from third for what would turn out to be a very important insurance run.
Brasier escaped the inning without giving up anything else, and that made way for Heath Hembree in the ninth, who needed just 15 pitches to strike out the side in a scoreless frame of work to at least give his team a legitimate chance to make a comeback attempt.
On the other side of things, the Red Sox lineup was matched up against a fairly familiar opponent in Astros right-hander Gerrit Cole, who came into Friday with a lifetime 5.73 ERA when pitching at Fenway Park.
Despite not being able to score off him, the Boston bats made Cole work over the first five innings of this one.
They had a few chances to push across a run or two, but the Astros starter did need 99 pitches just to get through those five scoreless frames.
As soon as the Red Sox forced Cole out and the Houston bullpen in, the club plated their first run of the evening off Hector Rondon, with a Xander Bogaerts leadoff single resulting in a short-lived 1-0 lead on a two-out RBI single off the bat of a seemingly red-hot Christian Vazquez.
Like I just mentioned, that put Boston on the board first, and they actually kept the lead for a little while, but as most teams have come to find out, a one-run advantage against a lineup as potent as Houston’s isn’t going to hold up for long.
Add that to how exceptional the Astros bullpen is, and it’s pretty easy to see why this team came into this series winners of eight straight.
Back to the game at hand, Will Harris held the Sox down order in the seventh before Ryan Pressly did the same in the eighth.
Pressly, a former Red Sox draftee back in 2007, made history with his 39th straight scoreless relief appearance dating back to last season, breaking old friend Craig Kimbrel’s record for most consecutive scoreless outings.
And in the ninth, down to their final three outs, a one out double from Vazquez and a two out walk drawn by Andrew Benintendi against Astros closer Roberto Osuna gave Boston a chance in a two-run game with Mookie Betts coming to the plate.
Facing off against Osuna for the 11th time in his career, the reigning American League MVP made solid contact with the fifth pitch he saw from the Houston closer, a 2-2 knee-high 85 MPH slider, but could only watch as Michael Brantley was in perfect position to field the ball in left field for the third and final out. A lineout that registered at 107 MPH off the bat and had 74% chance of being a hit goes for naught, and the Red Sox drop their second game of the homestand by a final score of 3-1.
Some notes from this loss:
More from Alex Cora on leaving in Porcello:
Through 34 games this season, Christian Vazquez is slashing .311/.362/.519 with five home runs and 15 RBI.
In their last 31 meetings including the postseason, the Red Sox are 16-15 against the Astros.
Speaking of the Astros, they are baseball’s hottest team with nine straight wins.
Next up for the Red Sox, it’s the middle game of this three-game set on Saturday night.
For Houston, it will be rookie right-hander Corbin Martin making the second start of his young career.
Ranked as the Astros’ second-best pitching prospect on MLB.com, Martin, 23, picked up the win over the Texas Rangers in his big league debut last Sunday.
For Boston, it will be right-hander Hector Velazquez making his seventh start and 13th overall appearance of the season.
In his last time out, Velazquez also picked up the win with five innings of two-run ball against the Seattle Mariners.
First pitch Saturday is scheduled for 7:15 PM EDT on FOX. Red Sox looking to get back on track.