For a moment, it appeared as if Joe Kelly was going to be able to minimize the damage in the tumultuous second inning of the Red Sox’ 8-1 loss to the Astros at Fenway Park Sunday.
The Astros were ahead, 2-0, when the Red Sox starter delivered a 95-mile-per-hour heater away from Marwin Gonzalez with one out and runners on first and second.
Gonzalez returned it up the middle and it deflected off Kelly’s leg to shortstop Xander Bogaerts, who appeared to complete an inning-ending double play by stepping on second and firing to first.
The only hitch was that Bogaerts released the ball a split second before he reached second base, prompting Astros manager Bo Porter to challenge the call. Upon the review, the call was overturned and runners placed on second and third base with two outs.
When Kelly worked a 1-and-2 count against Robbie Grossman in the ensuing at-bat, Bogaerts’s miscue was nearly rendered fruitless, until the Red Sox pitcher started to slip.
“You always want to get the next out,” Kelly said. “The defense, those guys make great plays all the time and when something like that happens, you try your best to pick somebody up and sometimes you might try too hard as a pitcher.”
Grossman didn’t chase Kelly’s curveball, or the 2-and-2 changeup in the dirt to work a full count. He fouled off the next three pitches — a curveball and two fastballs — before drawing a walk.
“It was tough, that whole at-bat,” Kelly said. “It was a good at-bat by him, and the whole time I was fighting myself on the mound trying to make better pitches and I just wasn’t making the pitches I wanted.”
Two pitches later, Jose Altuve sent a Kelly slider howling into the Green Monster seats for his first career grand slam.
“It was a pitch I probably could’ve hit a home run,’’ Kelly said. “It was a terrible slider. He put a good swing on it.”
By then, Kelly’s Fenway Park debut had spiraled out of control. He lasted just four innings and surrendered seven runs, the last being Dexter Fowler’s leadoff homer in the third inning that landed in the Houston bullpen.
Kelly walked six batters and threw 91 pitches, only 49 for strikes. The former Cardinal, acquired at the non-waiver trade deadline, was terrific in his first two starts with the Sox.
He allowed just three runs in 13 innings in those two starts (both no-decisions), and entered Sunday’s game with a 2.08 earned run average. By the time Craig Breslow replaced him to start the fifth inning, Kelly’s ERA ballooned to 5.29 with the Red Sox.
Kelly said he had the most trouble locating his fastball early on.
“I just found myself nibbling in the beginning when I shouldn’t have, instead of pounding the zone,” Kelly said. “Just started missing. When I made a good pitch, it was hard for the umpire to call it a strike because I was throwing so many balls. I had six walks, which is actually horrible.”
The Astros scored their first two runs of the second inning with an RBI single from Marc Krauss and a sacrifice fly from Matt Dominguez.
The inning began when Kelly allowed a single to Fowler, and then issued a four-pitch walk — all fastballs — to Jon Singleton.
Kelly gave up another single to Carlos Corporan that loaded the bases.
Kelly went on to allow back-to-back walks in both the third and fourth innings.
“A lot of fastballs that either he yanked to his glove side or below the zone, so it was just inconsistent command overall,” manager John Farrell said. “Plenty of stuff. Plenty of power. Plenty of action to his secondary pitches. Just the command was not as it’s been in the first two outings for him.”