HOUSTON — The Red Sox were down by five runs after two innings Tuesday night and in danger of dropping consecutive games against the Astros, the worst team in baseball.
The Sox escaped that ignominy with their offense, piling up enough runs to beat the Astros, 15-10, before a crowd of 21,620 at Minute Maid Park.
“We realize we have a good offensive team. Just get some quick innings, play defense, and give us a chance to get some runners on base,” said Jonny Gomes, who helped the comeback with a pinch-hit three-run home run in the sixth inning. “We chipped away.”
The 69-46 Red Sox have won as many games as they did all last season and have 47 to play.
“I hope we pass last year,” manager John Farrell said after the Sox won for the eighth time in their last 11 games.
The top four hitters in the Red Sox lineup — Jacoby Ellsbury, Shane Victorino, Dustin Pedroia, and David Ortiz — were 11 for 18 with seven RBIs and 11 runs.
“We needed every bit of that, too,” Farrell said.
Ellsbury had two home runs, walked twice, and scored four runs. Since 1920, the only Red Sox center fielders to hit two home runs and score four runs in a game were Fred Lynn (1975) and Ellis Burks (1987).
The Sox are 5-1 against Houston this season, outscoring the Astros, 43-22. They will try to take the three-game series Wednesday night with Ryan Dempster facing Jarred Cosart.
A 5-0 deficit after the second inning wasn’t an issue for the Sox as they scored 15 runs in the five innings that followed.
Ellsbury had a two-run homer in the third inning and Ortiz an RBI single to get it started.
The Sox sent 26 batters to the plate in the fourth, fifth, and sixth innings and 12 scored. Houston manager Bo Porter stuck with starter Jordan Lyles far too long as he allowed eight of the runs.
Ellsbury walked to start the fifth inning. When Victorino doubled, an error on the relay throw allowed Ellsbury to score. Pedroia followed with an RBI double.
A run scored when Mike Carp grounded out. Ryan Lavarnway’s two-run double to left gave the Sox an 8-7 lead.
Pedroia and Ortiz had an RBI singles in the sixth inning. Gomes then pinch hit for Carp against lefty Dallas Keuchel with one out.
Porter went to a righthander, Jose Cisnero, to face Gomes. Gomes drilled his second pitch deep over the fence in left field for his ninth home run of the season.
Gomes is 6 for 16 as a pinch hitter with four home runs, a double, and seven RBIs. Hall of Famer Joe Cronin set the Sox record of five pinch-hit homers in 1943. The only other Sox player with four was Del Wilber in 1953.
“That’s pretty cool,” Gomes said. “But the season’s not over. Probably get another one.”
The Sox have six pinch-hit home runs as a team, one off the team record set in 1953.
Gomes and Atlanta’s Evan Gattis have the most pinch-hit home runs in the majors this season.
Ellsbury led off the seventh inning with a home run into the second deck in right field. Ellsbury had one home run in his first 342 at-bats this season then six in the 104 at-bats after that.
Three walks and an RBI single by Gomes gave the Sox a 15-9 lead. By that point, most of the fans remaining were rooting for the Sox or were enjoying the air conditioning on a hot summer night.
In an effort to give their other starters an extra day of rest this week, the Red Sox inserted rookie knuckleballer Steven Wright into the rotation to make the start.
It was a decision with some reasoning behind it. Wright had pitched well in relief last Thursday and the Sox thought the free-swinging Astros would have trouble with the knuckleball.
To improve the odds, Farrell had Lavarnway, the backup catcher, in the lineup. He caught eight of Wright’s starts for Triple A Pawtucket.
So much for good ideas. Wright lasted one inning, throwing 38 pitches and giving up three runs. It was the shortest start for the Red Sox since last Sept. 28 when Aaron Cook went an inning against Baltimore and allowed six runs.
Wright allowed only one hit but walked two, hit a batter, and threw a wild pitch.
Wright was pitching inside for the first time in his career and seemed to have no control of his knuckleball.
“I had no feel for how the ball was moving,” he said. “It was all over the place, even when I was warming up. I have to learn from the experience.”
Lavarnway was charged with four passed balls, tying a major league record for the most in one inning.
“I’ve never seen his ball move like that before,” Lavarnway said.
Rookie Brandon Workman replaced Wright and was hit hard, giving up six runs on nine hits over 4⅔ innings. Still, he was the winner as the Sox moved 1½ games ahead of the Rays.
Rookie Drake Britton, a native of nearby Tomball, allowed one run over 2⅓ innings. He had a large group of family and friends at the game.
Rubby De La Rosa made his Red Sox debut in the ninth and retired the side in order with two strikeouts. His fastball hit 98 miles per hour.