Astros get revenge in Boston series opener

June 9th, 2021

The Astros taught Martín Pérez a lesson on Tuesday night: Revenge is a dish best served early, and often.

Five days after Pérez had his way with Houston, tossing 7 2/3 efficient, scoreless innings en route to a win, the Astros roared back with six early runs in a 7-1 victory over the Red Sox at Fenway Park.

“Pérez can pitch, but you know, we can hit,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said.

The Astros own baseball’s highest team OPS (.771), and yet Pérez had shut them down with ease in his three prior starts entering Tuesday. Combined over those three outings, he’d allowed just two runs -- and zero home runs -- over 22 2/3 innings.

Without an overwhelming fastball (his 92.5 mph sinker is a half-tick below league average) or outstanding spin rates, Pérez typically relies on his control to carry him through. Baker believed that was a difference maker this time out for the opposing lefty.

“Last time he had pinpoint control,” Baker said. “I think it was more him than us, but we capitalized on his ineffectiveness today.”

They capitalized two batters into the game, when Carlos Correa skied a middle-middle changeup high and down the line. It went for a peculiar solo shot, which had the shortest projected distance (310 feet) and highest launch angle (49 degrees) of any homer in the Majors this season. Alex Bregman followed with another notable at-bat, seeing 11 pitches -- with seven consecutive foul balls -- before eventually striking out.

Amazingly, that one at-bat lasted longer than an average inning for Pérez when he last faced the Astros (his 82 pitches over 7 2/3 innings worked out to 10.7 pitches per inning). And even though Bregman lost the battle, his efforts helped Houston win the war.

“We were saying that in the dugout,” Baker said. “That at-bat by Bregman, even though he struck out, that took a whole inning out of [Pérez]. … That did take a lot out of him. Big time.”

The dam broke in the second, as the Astros sent 11 batters to the plate against Pérez and brought five of them home. Michael Brantley, in his return from the injured list, doubled to left. Correa and Kyle Tucker added doubles of their own. All told, Pérez needed 33 pitches to get three outs in the frame, and that was the end of his night.

Part of why the Astros dominated Pérez this time around was their personnel. None of Brantley, Correa, Tucker and Martín Maldonado played in last week’s meeting. On Tuesday, they combined to go 5-for-7 with three doubles, a home run and four RBIs against Pérez.

Correa finished the game a triple shy of the cycle and is now slashing .400/.547/.875 over his last 11 games with 12 RBIs. He attributes the hot stretch to his altered approach at the plate, which now features a “gather step” instead of a high leg kick.

“They sat me down and they said, ‘Hey, we gave you two months already with that leg kick. We don’t like it,’” Correa recalled. “‘We don’t think you hit for power like that. We think you should do this instead.’ I said, ‘All right, I’m in.’”

Astros starter Framber Valdez, who started against the Red Sox last Wednesday, didn’t share Pérez’s misfortune in round two. Thanks in large part to a curveball that yielded nine whiffs, Valdez tossed 7 1/3 innings of one-run ball for the win. He matched his career high in whiffs (18), which he set last week against Boston.

“It can be tough to face the same team twice in a row, but if you think of it as a difficult situation, it’ll be difficult for you,” Valdez said through a translator. “So I just thought about not focusing on that and just trying to pitch with intensity with every single one of my pitches.”

What he’s doing is working, clearly. Valdez now has a 1.47 ERA through three starts this season, and he helped the Astros clinch the season series over the Red Sox with win No. 4 in 2021.