HOUSTON — Jake Peavy glanced at the scoreboard in left field at Minute Maid Park from time to time on Saturday afternoon as he pitched against the Houston Astros.
It was his hope the first-place Baltimore Orioles would lose so the Red Sox could pick up a game in the American League East standings. All evidence suggests the Sox have no hope, but Peavy hasn’t given up on the idea of the postseason.
“There’s still time,” he said.
That passion will serve Peavy well at his next stop. In what could have been his last start for the Red Sox, the righthander pitched effectively into the eighth inning in a 3-2 loss to the Houston Astros.
Peavy pitched one of his best games of the season, allowing three runs on six hits over seven-plus innings. He walked one and struck out a season-high nine. It was the kind of outing that should raise his trade value.
“He was outstanding,” manager John Farrell said.
But even that was not good enough, part of a season-long trend for Peavy. The Red Sox had 13 hits against four Houston pitchers but left nine runners on base, five in scoring position. That snapped their modest three-game win streak.
Peavy is 1-8 despite having allowed three or fewer earned runs in 12 of his 19 starts. The Red Sox are 4-8 in those games and Peavy has one win. The team has lost the last eight games he has started.
Saturday was the 11th time the Red Sox scored three or fewer runs in games Peavy has pitched. He has averaged 2.83 runs of support this season, the lowest in the American League among qualifying pitchers.
The Sox have lost 20 games by one run, six that Peavy started.
“It’s tough, just weird,” first baseman Mike Napoli said. “He pitches well and we just don’t give him enough support.”
Peavy declined the excuse.
“It’s not even the run support. It’s just finding a way to win on my day,” he said. “I’ve pitched in tight games my whole career and found a way.”
The run that cost Peavy the game added to the frustration.
Peavy was at 102 pitches after the seventh inning but came back out for the eighth. Farrell’s plan was for Peavy to get Jose Altuve, a righthanded hitter, before bringing in lefthander Andrew Miller.
Peavy’s first pitch was a high fastball that Altuve lined to left field for a double.
“I put the team in a tough situation there,” Peavy said. “I’ve got to make a better pitch.”
Miller came in and Jason Castro grounded to second, moving Altuve to third base. The Red Sox intentionally walked George Springer to get to lefthanded-hitting Jon Singleton.
Miller struck out the overmatched rookie on three pitches. Lefthanded hitters are 9 of 53 (.170) against Miller this season with 28 strikeouts.
Chris Carter, facing righthander Junichi Tazawa, grounded a ball up the middle. Brock Holt, who was playing shortstop for the second time in the majors, was positioned to the left side and fielded the ball on the run on the outfield grass.
Holt flipped the ball to Dustin Pedroia but the throw pulled him off second base as the run scored.
The only other mistake by Peavy came in the third inning. After Altuve doubled with two outs, Castro dropped a home run just over the wall in right field.
Castro fouled off two two-strike pitches before hitting a full-count fastball that was right over the plate. Mookie Betts, playing his fifth career game in right field, tried to make a leaping catch but just missed the ball.
“It tipped off my glove,” Betts said. “I don’t know how I didn’t catch it. That was the first time I ever tried to do that.”
Peavy skillfully worked out of jams in the fifth and sixth innings.
Robbie Grossman led off the fifth inning with a single to right and took second when Betts misplayed the ball.
With Grossman on third and one out, Peavy struck out Marwin Gonzalez then got Altuve to ground to shortstop.
Castro led off the sixth inning with a triple to right-center. With the infield in, Springer grounded to shortstop. Peavy then struck out Singleton and Carter to end the inning.
As Peavy gave the Red Sox every chance to win, they failed to take them against Brett Oberholtzer, who was recalled from Triple A to make the start.
The Sox had three hits in the first two innings and failed to score. Down, 2-0, David Ortiz homered in the fourth inning.
The Sox did not score again until the seventh, when they tied it.
Jackie Bradley Jr. led off with a single and took third when Betts singled. Holt popped up before Pedroia delivered a sacrifice fly.
The Astros intentionally walked Ortiz to get to Napoli, and he struck out swinging.
Betts reached on an infield single with one out in the ninth inning against lefthander Tony Sipp. Holt followed with a single and the Astros turned to righthander Chad Qualls, their closer.
Pedroia grounded into a double play to end the game. Farrell asked for a video review and there was an awkward wait before the umpires confirmed the call and the fans celebrated again.
Josh Fields (2-4) pitched 1⅔ innings for the win and it was the 10th save for Qualls.