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Pomeranz makes strides, but Sox fall to Astros

After three straight rough starts, lefty goes 5 innings, allows 4 runs
MLB.com @IanMBrowne

HOUSTON -- Drew Pomeranz took a slight step forward from his previous three outings by lasting five innings on Thursday night at Minute Maid Park.

But the sharpness that the lefty displayed throughout a 17-win season last year continues to be elusive, and Pomeranz and the Red Sox took a 4-2 loss to the Astros in the opener of a four-game series between two of the top teams in the American League.

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HOUSTON -- Drew Pomeranz took a slight step forward from his previous three outings by lasting five innings on Thursday night at Minute Maid Park.

But the sharpness that the lefty displayed throughout a 17-win season last year continues to be elusive, and Pomeranz and the Red Sox took a 4-2 loss to the Astros in the opener of a four-game series between two of the top teams in the American League.

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"Actually, he was a lot better," said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. "The fastball to Carlos [Correa], in the spot it was, he can get to that pitch. But overall, he battled. There were some good fastballs to finish off guys, that fastball to Marwin [Gonzalez], one to [Jose] Altuve. He finished on a good note, and now he moves on to his next one."

Prior to the game, Cora -- who was the bench coach for the Astros last season -- got his World Series ring, along with bullpen coach Craig Bjornson. But there weren't many highlights after that for Boston.

Video: Astros present Cora, Bjornson with World Series rings

"It was a weird feeling the whole game," said Cora. "I don't know if it's because the last time I was here it was so loud, but it felt like today was very quiet."

Correa belted a two-run homer off Pomeranz in the first on a pitch that was out of the strike zone, providing shades of the early-inning damage the Astros did against the Red Sox in the Game 1 and Game 2 blowouts during last October's AL Division Series.

Video: BOS@HOU: Correa clobbers a 2-run homer to left

In fact, even Pomeranz admitted that homer by Correa felt eerily familiar.

"I made a bad pitch -- it was a ball that Correa hit out, but it was the wrong pitch choice," Pomeranz said. "Did the same thing in the playoffs, basically the same spot."

Unlike October, however, the Red Sox didn't let things get out of hand.

Once Pomeranz (5 innings, 6 hits, 4 R, 2 BB's, 5 K's) was done, knuckleballer Steven Wright preserved the rest of the bullpen by pitching three scoreless innings.

Video: BOS@HOU: Wright fans Gonzalez to leave bases full

Unlike his previous three outings, when Pomeranz went four innings, four innings and then 3 1/3 frames, he felt like there were things from this one he can build on when he pitches again next week, which will likely be at Fenway Park against the Tigers.

"Curveball felt good, I felt like I was locating the ball a lot better, especially right there at the end, kind of throwing things where I wanted to," Pomeranz said. "That's the small positive I take out of today. Obviously, it sucks to lose the game and give up those runs, but I'll take some positive moving forward and take it into the next one."

Playing without Mookie Betts (sore left side) and Dustin Pedroia (left knee soreness), Boston got a game-tying two-run double from Xander Bogaerts in the third inning, but didn't generate much more offense the rest of the night.

The Red Sox did get the tying runs on base in the ninth when Sandy Leon singled and Jackie Bradley Jr. drew a walk. But Astros closer Ken Giles got Blake Swihart on a slicing liner to left-center to end the game.

Video: BOS@HOU: Giles strands a pair to lock down 10th save

Lance McCullers Jr. was strong for the Astros, allowing just the two runs over six innings. The bullpen took it from there.

"He throws breaking ball after breaking ball after breaking ball," said Cora. "He wasn't on today, and he pitched six innings. Talent-wise, he's up there. I think we did an outstanding job laying off his changeup, getting the breaking ball up. We hit a few balls hard. At the same time, he induced us to weak contact early in the game."

MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Right guys up, wrong results: In the top of the eighth, the Red Sox liked their chances of tying the game when leadoff man Andrew Benintendi singled, bringing the tying run to the plate three times. After Bogaerts popped to first, Mitch Moreland hit a bullet to deep center with an exit velocity of 105.8 mph. According to Statcast™, the drive had a 79 percent hit probability. But Jake Marisnick flagged it down in center. The dangerous J.D. Martinez came up next, but reliever Hector Rondon induced him into a grounder to short, ending the threat.

Video: BOS@HOU: Rondon retires Martinez to end the frame

SOUND SMART
Benintendi started May with a .242 batting average and finished it at .299. To make the dramatic jump, the outfielder hit .349 in the month (38-for-109) with seven doubles, three triples and six homers.

HE SAID IT
"I mean, it was good to see the guys. They're looking at me and laughing. ... We know every secret [about each other]. They know what I look for and what we're trying to accomplish and what we do to be better, and I know what they do. Give them credit. They got here at 4 in the morning, I think, and they went out there and played hard. I knew that coming in. But it was a cool day. It was a cool day having my daughter here, being a part of it. I mean, that was a special year, but now I got [the ring] here. It's beautiful. They did an outstanding job, by the way. And we can move on, I guess." -- Cora, on his return to Houston

MITEL REPLAYS OF THE DAY
Bogaerts rifled a double into the gap in left-center in the third that was sure to get at least one run home. But Benintendi ran right through the stop sign from third-base coach Carlos Febles and dived in headfirst to tie the game on a close play. The Astros challenged, but there wasn't enough evidence to overturn, and it was determined the safe call would stand.

Video: BOS@HOU: Bogaerts rips a 2-run double in the 3rd

An inning later, the Astros scored a run on Tony Kemp's infield single. The Red Sox challenged that Leon tagged J.D. Davis before he touched home, but that call would stand also.

Video: BOS@HOU: Davis beats the throw home as call stands

UP NEXT
In a battle of two of the best pitchers in the American League so far this season, the Red Sox will send ace Chris Sale (5-2, 2.76 ERA) to the mound for a duel against Astros righty Gerrit Cole (5-1, 2.05 ERA) on Friday at Minute Maid Park. Sale is coming off his worst start of the season vs. the Braves on Sunday, when he gave up five hits and six runs while walking three and striking out eight over 4 1/3 innings. First pitch is scheduled for 8:10 p.m. ET.

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.

Boston Red Sox, Drew Pomeranz