Behind dominant Oberholtzer, Astros blank Red Sox
Lefty scatters four hits over seven scoreless frames to net second win
HOUSTON -- Forget a spot in the starting rotation. Rookie Brett Oberholtzer might be angling for the title of Astros ace.
Five days removed from shutting down the Orioles and making his first start at home, Oberholtzer was again brilliant against an American League East powerhouse, this time setting down the Red Sox over seven spectacular innings as the Astros posted a 2-0 win Monday night at Minute Maid Park.
"Obie was tremendous," said beaming manager Bo Porter. "Back to the start against Baltimore, he did a great job of mixing his pitches and getting early contact.
"Today, against a really good lineup, he did a tremendous job of pitching to the inner third of the plate and really attacking from a standpoint where he didn't put himself too deep into counts where he was forced to throw fastballs."
With the performance, Oberholtzer became the first player since Phillies pitcher Marty Bystrom in 1980 to open his career with two straight starts of seven or more shutout innings. He's the first Astros player to accomplish the feat.
The lefty outdueled Sox starter John Lackey, who nearly matched Oberholtzer with six-plus innings of two-run ball while striking out 10.
"John had very good stuff, got some key strikeouts when he needed to," said Boston manager John Farrell.
Houston got to Lackey first in the fifth, as L.J. Hoes -- making his Minute Maid Park debut -- scored on Robbie Grossman's one-out single.
Hoes had swiped second moments earlier, part of a season-high six stolen bases for the Astros. It was the most steals for Houston since April 25, 2010, when it stole six against the Pirates.
"We have some guys who can create problems," Porter said. "You add Hoes to the lineup, Grossman's back up, [Jonathan] Villar's at short and Jose Altuve's up near 30 stolen bases. We have some guys that can push the envelope in certain situations."
Those four players accounted for all six free bases, with Villar tallying three alone.
In the seventh, Hoes doubled and Villar moved him to third with a bunt single, driving Lackey from the game. Brandon Barnes perfectly executed a squeeze bunt to plate Hoes and give Houston an insurance run.
Hoes was acquired last week when Bud Norris was shipped to Baltimore -- which also opened up a rotation spot for Oberholtzer -- and the outfielder wasted no time settling in to his new park. He went 2-for-3 with a double and scored both of Houston's runs.
"It was exciting, playing in a great ballpark with this city and these fans," Hoes said. "Not a bad way to start, either."
It all began with Oberholtzer, who was a last-minute replacement for the traded Norris last week and scattered three hits in an 11-0 win at Baltimore.
Surely he couldn't be better than that? He might have been Monday, considering the Red Sox entered the game having plated 568 runs, the most in the Majors.
Oberholtzer settled in immediately, needing only 68 pitches through five innings and allowing just one runner past second base.
"My mindset is to attack and throw strikes," said Oberholtzer, who threw 64 of his 101 pitches for strikes. "I told myself today, 'They're either going to get me early or not at all.' So I just came out, made sure I hit the plate, mixed it up and had faith in our catcher [Jason] Castro. He called a great game and kept me going."
Whether it was Barnes running down a ball deep in the gap, Altuve diving for a catch behind second base or Matt Dominguez snagging a sharp liner, the Astros' defense made sure Oberholtzer's outing wasn't wasted.
"They played hard for me and bodied up some balls," Oberholtzer said. "We were feeling good vibes and on point everywhere."
Though he only struck out two batters, he saved those punchouts for a crucial moment.
With one out and a runner on second in the seventh and the game still perilously in the balance at 1-0, Oberholtzer fired an outside fastball past Stephen Drew for the second out.
With righty Brandon Snyder stepping up, it looked like his night may have been finished. Porter visited the mound, and Oberholtzer vigorously shook his head.
"I didn't want to come out of the game," he said. "He didn't reach for the ball right away, so I got a second wind. Bo told me, 'This is your game, but I got the righty ready. What do you want to do?' Jason and I looked at each other and said, 'No, we're going to get through this.'"
Moments later, Snyder was down on strikes, wrapping up Oberholtzer's night and turning the game over to Houston's Achilles' heel of late: the bullpen.
Josh Fields made sure that wasn't the case Monday night, earning his first career save by fanning all four batters he faced.
"I knew I had a one-run cushion being up two, so I was pitching and letting them get themselves out, just not backing down," Fields said.
The Red Sox certainly didn't make it easy, putting runners on first and third in the eighth before Fields -- on to clean up after Wesley Wright -- struck out Mike Napoli with a high heater to escape the threat.
That elicited an animated fist pump from Porter, who has been openly frustrated with the bullpen's mishaps lately.
"It's one of those things where we've played a lot of close games, and we've had our heartache," he said. "Our bullpen has given up some leads. A lot of that emotion was more so about those guys coming in the crucial situation they were put in today and being successful.
"You want to show them, 'Look, we believe in you.' For them to come through on that stage, with a great crowd out there, in our home ballpark, it's one of those things where you want to capitalize on that kind of energy."
The win snapped the Astros' four-game losing skid and gave them a win to open a series for the first time since beating Tampa Bay on July 12.