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Red Sox stall after J.D.'s MLB-best 19th HR

Back-to-back jacks in 4th inning not enough to pick up Sale
MLB.com @IanMBrowne

HOUSTON -- The Red Sox were feeling pretty good about their chances of climbing out of an early deficit when Mitch Moreland and J.D. Martinez belted back-to-back homers in the fourth inning on Friday against tough Astros righty Gerrit Cole.

But the offense didn't score for the rest of the night, and Boston again fell short at Minute Maid Park, this time taking a 7-3 loss to the defending World Series champions. Dating back to last October's American League Division Series, it was the fourth straight time the Red Sox have lost in Houston.

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HOUSTON -- The Red Sox were feeling pretty good about their chances of climbing out of an early deficit when Mitch Moreland and J.D. Martinez belted back-to-back homers in the fourth inning on Friday against tough Astros righty Gerrit Cole.

But the offense didn't score for the rest of the night, and Boston again fell short at Minute Maid Park, this time taking a 7-3 loss to the defending World Series champions. Dating back to last October's American League Division Series, it was the fourth straight time the Red Sox have lost in Houston.

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In a matchup pitting two of the top teams in the AL, the Astros have taken the first two games of the four-game series. Considering these two clubs could meet again this October, is it important for the Red Sox to make a statement before the weekend is through?

"No, no, no," Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. "Honestly, I know how good they are. I know what they do, but you guys know where we're at right now. And then for us, obviously, that last inning got out of hand. But for a moment there, like last night, I feel like we're one hit away, one infield hit or one wild pitch away to get back in the game. I feel we can compete with these guys."

Martinez's MLB-leading 19th homer got Boston within one after ace Chris Sale fell behind, 4-1, after three innings.

Video: BOS@HOU: Martinez goes back-to-back for 19th home run

The score stayed 4-3 until the eighth, when Carlos Correa belted a solo shot and Evan Gattis hammered a two-run blast against Joe Kelly.

Sale (6 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 6 K's) had a tough first inning from an efficiency standpoint, throwing 33 pitches. He also had some misfortune. As Correa struck out swinging on a slider in the dirt, the ball got away for a wild pitch and George Springer scored all the way from second. And when Yuli Gurriel tapped a 57.9-mph roller toward third, Rafael Devers had no play and a run scored on the RBI single to make it 2-0.

Video: BOS@HOU: Springer scores from second on a strikeout

"That's part of it though. Obviously kind of a strange inning there but you've got to deal with it," Sale said. "Got to find a way to get through it. I've got to grind. Got to find a way.

"Tough to put the boys in that situation. Two out of the gate to a team like that is not where you want to be. It's frustrating. You just have two bad innings overall and it costs you the game. I've just got to be better."

Video: BOS@HOU: Gurriel plates Bregman on an infield single

For the first time this season, Sale (5-3, 3.00 ERA) has lost back-to-back games. Over the two starts, he's given up 10 runs over 10 1/3 innings.

"I've had two bad outings and they just happen to be back to back and the most recent ones," Sale said. "I'll talk to [pitching coach] Dana [LeVangie] little bit after the game tonight, and I'll go see what we've got tomorrow and get back on the drawing board and see where we're at and go from there."

After the Red Sox fought back in the second on an RBI double by Brock Holt, Sale got into some more trouble in the third. Springer led off with a mammoth solo shot to center, roping it a projected distance of 436 feet, according to Statcast™. The Astros engineered a two-out rally later in the inning, with Correa getting a single, moving to second on a wild pitch and scoring on Gurriel's RBI single.

"[Sale] struggled early, but after that, he made a few adjustments and gave us six," Cora said.

And there was hope in the fourth. Moreland's blast to center was projected at 434 feet. Impressively, Martinez's shot to the opposite field in right came on a 99.1-mph heater by Cole, the third-fastest pitch to be hit out this season.

Video: BOS@HOU: Moreland drills a solo homer to center

"That was the life that put us back in the game," Sale said. "That shows you the team is fighting and not giving up. That's why we are where we are and who we are, too. It picks me up, too. I went up there and obviously scuffled early, but to see those guys swing the stick and stay in it and having my back, it picks me up. I appreciate that."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Kelly's hot streak ends: Since his tough outing on Opening Day, Kelly had been almost unhittable in the 24 outings that preceded Friday, posting a 0.35 ERA. But Correa and Gattis got the best of him in a three-run eighth inning.

"Hanging changeup [to Correa], and actually a good pitch for Gattis, but right now he's swinging the bat well," Cora said.

Video: BOS@HOU: Gattis crushes a 2-run home run to left

SOUND SMART
Moreland is pounding the baseball. Of his past 12 hits, 10 have gone for extra bases.

HE SAID IT
"A poor fastball to Moreland that he was able to handle and take it to dead center, and then J.D., I mean, you throw him a two-seam there at 96, and switch it to a four-seam and try to add height and velo, and he gets on top of it and deposits it. That's kind of a tip your cap." -- Cole, on the back-to-back homers to Moreland and Martinez

Video: BOS@HOU: Cole strikes out 7 over 7 solid innings

UP NEXT
The Red Sox will send lefty David Price (5-4, 4.04 ERA) to the mound on Saturday for what could be a thrilling duel against Astros ace Justin Verlander (7-2, 1.11). Price has allowed two earned runs or fewer in his past four starts. Verlander has done that in all but one of his 12 starts this season. First pitch is scheduled for 7:15 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, J.D. Martinez, Mitch Moreland, Chris Sale