The ground ball to Xander Bogaerts had routine written all over it.
With two outs and runners on first and second, Matt Dominguez’s bouncer to short seemed like it would get the Red Sox out of the eighth inning with their 3-2 lead intact.
“A little bit of a humpback liner that Xander’s got to lay back on,” said Sox manager John Farrell.
The way the ball was sinking, Bogaerts didn’t think he could grab it on the fly, so he shuffled to his left to field it on one hop at the back lip of the infield.
“I knew [Dexter] Fowler was on the bases running and you try to get it out quick,” Bogaerts said.
If he had gone to first, he would’ve thrown out Dominguez by a mile.
But the moment he decided to go for the force out at second, everything went haywire and the momentum that had been fickle all night settled in the Astros’ favor in an eventual 5-3, 10-inning win.
“Whether or not he’s familiar with the running speed of Fowler, you could say sitting here in hindsight, yeah, take the play across the infield for the putout at first base, but his instincts were to go the short way with the feed to [Dustin Pedroia],” Farrell said.
Pedroia, presumably thinking Bogaerts would go to first, had to scramble to the bag to get the underhand toss and beat the speedy Fowler.
Fowler got his foot to the bag just before Pedroia did.
When Pedroia looked up, Sox pitcher Burke Badenhop was screaming and pointing at the plate. Astros pinch runner Gregorio Petit had rounded third, trying to score the tying run, so Pedroia fired home to Christian Vazquez.
The Sox catcher had to step forward to get the throw, pulling him off the plate and into the infield grass.
Vazquez turned to chase down Petit, who faked back up the third base line then made a break for home.
“It’s a tough play,” Vazquez said.
Petit evaded Vazquez’s tag. Vazquez flipped the ball to Badenhop at the plate, but Badenhop couldn’t grab the toss cleanly.
Petit slapped the plate with his right hand while the ball was laying in the dirt under Badenhop.
The sequence was too chaotic — and critical for a team that came into the night 43-0 this season when leading after eight innings — for Farrell not to challenge the ruling.
“I thought initially, I didn’t know that Petit got the plate from our vantage point in the dugout,” Farrell said. “Then with the ability to challenge the entire play, that’s where the look at second base is included in that.”
But replays only confirmed that the Sox managed to turn an inning-ending ground ball into a disaster.
It was the 24th time Farrell had challenged a play this season.
“It’s a lot of things that could’ve gone different ways right there,” Bogaerts said.
The game lasted into the 10th, where the Astros got a two-run, ground-rule double from Jake Marisnick that was the difference.
“You can’t defend a bloop double on the line,” Farrell said.
Just prior to their defense going on the fritz, the Sox had seized control on a heady play by Brock Holt, who laced a line drive to right field with the game tied at 2 in the seventh and purposely got himself caught in a rundown to allow Vazquez to score from second.
The run put Clay Buchholz in line for his first win since July 18, after he gave up a tying homer in the top of the inning to Robbie Grossman.
The last time Buchholz faced the Astros, he shredded them, striking out a season-high 12 in a three-hit shutout on July 13.
He was strong again on Friday, striking out nine and giving up seven hits in seven innings.
When Buchholz found himself in a jam in the second inning, with runners on first and third after giving up a leadoff walk to Fowler and then a single to Jason Castro, he grooved a 1-and-2 cutter past Jon Singleton for a strikeout, and went to his cutter again to get Dominguez to bounce into an inning-ending double play.
Buchholz got some help in the fourth inning when Yoenis Cespedes belted a two-run homer to put the Sox on the board.
With no outs and a runner on first, Astros starter Dallas Keuchel tested Cespedes down and in with three of the four pitches in the at-bat.
Cespedes made him pay for the last one, launching it toward the Wall.
They way the line drive was howling, fans sitting in the first row of the Monster seats weren’t sure whether to try to catch it or take cover.
There was no question whether Cespedes put enough of a charge into the 0-and-2 slider.
The question was whether Cespedes’s liner would clear the Wall.
It ended up bouncing off the lip of the Monster and ping-ponging off two fans.
It was Cespedes’s third home run with the Sox (and No. 20 on the season) and his first at Fenway with his new team.
The Astros were able to string together three two-out singles off Buchholz in the fifth — by Marisnick to left, Gonzalez to right, and finally Grossman with a run-scoring single to right.
The Astros snapped the Sox’ four-game winning streak and picked up their first victory in nine all-time games at Fenway Park.
At the end of the night, Bogaerts was still trying to wrap his head around all the oddities that cost the Red Sox the game.
“We were playing great baseball,” Bogaerts said. “For us to lose that way . . . that was pretty frustrating.”Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.