HOUSTON -- Facing an opponent that demanded they be at their best, the Red Sox instead were at their sloppiest in Friday night’s 4-3 loss at Minute Maid Park.
The Astros are a well-oiled machine when they don’t get help.
Yet the Red Sox made life far too easy for them by equaling a season-high of three errors in the opener of the second consecutive weekend showdown between MLB’s past two World Series champions.
• Box score
Ace Chris Sale (1-6, 4.19 ERA) was on the hook for the loss on a night he gave up just three hits and two earned runs over six innings.
“They’re in the position they’re in for a reason. They’re a tough team, and they’ve had a good team for a few years now,” said Sale of the Astros. “They won the World Series two years ago. We know what they got, facing them, they gave us a run for our money. You want to capitalize on everything you can, don’t want to give them anything for free. At the end of the day you have two more games, show up, try to win those.”
For whatever reason, the Red Sox haven’t played well behind Sale this season. They are 3-8 in his starts, and have generated a paltry-run support average of 3.17 for the lanky lefty, which is by far their lowest output for anyone in the starting rotation.
“Oh wow, that is weird, knowing the pitcher he is and the stuff that he has,” said shortstop Xander Bogaerts. “I think we’ll go on a nice run and if we’re that bad [now], we’ll probably go on a five-game winning streak with him on the mound at some point. Looking forward to that.”
At 27-24, Boston fell to six games behind the Yankees -- who were rained out in Kansas City -- in the American League East.
After losing two out of three to the Astros at Fenway last weekend, the Red Sox badly wanted to open this one on a good note. Instead, it went sour early.
The defensive miscues started in the bottom of the second when Josh Reddick rolled one to the right side and Steve Pearce could have ended the inning with an accurate flip to Sale. Instead, Pearce missed Sale badly, and the ball rolled down the first-base line. Aledmys Diaz scored all the way from second, making a terrific slide to elude the tag by Sandy Leon.
But the play that truly seemed to unravel Boston’s chances of winning came in the fourth. With one out, Jake Marisnick -- who was in the middle of everything in this game -- hit one toward the hole at short that Bogaerts fielded on the backhand. Though he was off-balance, Bogaerts tried to hurry a throw home to cut down a run. Instead, his throw got by Leon.
“I kind of drew that play up in my head right before it happened,” said Bogaerts. “I don’t think I had any second thoughts about going to first or going to second. Before that ball came, I already had it in my mind that if it was a ball similar to that, I was going home. I just didn’t throw it where the catcher was. Once it came out of my hand, I thought it was going good, but it just kind of two-seamed away from Sandy.”
It looked like Leon would at least get the second out of the inning at the end of the play when Marisnick got hung up between first and second. Things again fell apart as Pearce and second baseman Michael Chavis didn’t execute. Pearce came off the bag and Chavis -- once he finally committed to throwing -- had nowhere to throw as Marisnick retreated back to first safely.
“I mean, I was telling [coaches] Carlos [Febles] and Ramon [Vazquez] and Ron [Roenicke], those are the situations that he hasn’t seen as a second baseman,” Cora said of Chavis. “It’s a work in progress and for how good he’s been playing, there’s going to be situations that happen and it’s not a regular rundown, there’s a man at third so you’re thinking about the runner, so that’s a new one for him. So next time it happens, I guarantee you we’ll get an out and nobody advances. It’s different for him, especially for him. That’s a tough one.”
By the time the play ended, things felt topsy-turvy enough that Cora went to the mound to settle down the entire infield.
“Actually, [pitching coach] Dana [LeVangie] wanted to tell Sale something with mechanics and I made sure I told him that,” Cora said. “And the other guys, I was like, ‘Hey, relax, we’re one pitch away from getting out of this. It doesn’t look great, but we have a chance to get it back so let’s go get ‘em.’ No screaming, no cursing.”
Maybe Cora’s words did have a soothing effect. The Red Sox -- down 4-0 at the time -- didn’t give up a run for the rest of the night.
Sale wasn’t his sharpest, generating just seven swings and misses in his 88 pitches. But he kept his team in it.
All that said, the 2019 season continues to feel like a grind for Sale, though he has turned in some dominant performances.
“I want to win games,” said Sale. “My record, I don’t really care whether I’m 6-1, 0-6, 0-0 for the whole year. I just want [the team] to win the games I pitch in. It sucks, obviously. You want to be on the other end of it. I’m not the biggest fan of coming in here to a quiet clubhouse, but it’s on me. It’s on my shoulders. I have to find a way to win. Doesn’t matter who we’re facing, who we’re pitching against, hitting against, whatever, I have to find a way to get out there and win a game.”
JBJ heating up
The Red Sox did storm back with three solo homers to trim the deficit to one. The most significant among them was a rocket by Jackie Bradley Jr. in the eighth inning that left his bat at an exit velocity of 107 mph and traveled a projected distance of 433 feet, according to Statcast. The homer ended the record-setting streak of 40 consecutive scoreless appearances by Houston righty Ryan Pressly.
Bradley, who slumped mightily for most of the season, has three homers this week after not having any before that.
What’s led to the recent surge?
“That’s tough to explain, actually,” said Cora. “Everybody knows when he starts driving the ball to left-center and staying on pitches the other way, good things happen. That was a great swing.”
Bogaerts (sixth inning) and pinch-hitter Christian Vázquez (ninth inning) provided the other blasts.
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.