HOUSTON — The final score — Astros 5, Red Sox 1 — didn’t look all that awful, particularly for a road game against a contending team. But this was one of the worst games of the season for the Red Sox.
Starting pitcher Garrett Richards gave them a chance to win, but the Sox managed only five hits, four of them singles. Astros pitchers retired the last seven Sox in order and 12 of the final 13.
Alex Verdugo was 2 for 4. The other hitters in the top five spots of the order were 0 for 15 with seven strikeouts against rookie Luis Garcia (4-3) and two relievers.
“They’re human,” manager Alex Cora said. “It’s part of it. It’s going to be part of 162 games.”
Kiké Hernández, who increasingly appears miscast as a leadoff hitter, was 0 for 3 with a walk. He is hitless in his last 20 at-bats and has a .291 on-base percentage.
Hernández will bat leadoff again Wednesday, Cora said.
The Sox also committed two errors that led to two unearned runs in the seventh inning as the Astros scored three times to open up a close game.
Sox pitchers also issued eight walks, matching a season worst. One came on four pitches with the bases loaded by rookie Garrett Whitlock in that ugly seventh inning.
After losing the first two games of the series and scoring only three runs, the Sox send Nick Pivetta to the mound on Wednesday night against Framber Valdez.
“So far in this series we haven’t done much,” Cora said. “They’ve been doing a good job using their fastballs in certain spots and expanding with their breaking balls and we haven’t made adjustments.”
As was the case Monday, the Sox made only one player available to the media after the game. It was Richards, who bore little responsibility for the loss.
“Every night you’re going to be dealt a different hand and you’ve got to kind of make it work,” he said.
Garcia, a 24-year-old righthander with a delivery that looks like the beginning of a dance step, retired 12 of the first 14 Red Sox he faced.
The exceptions were an infield hit by Verdugo in the first inning and a two-out walk by Hernández in the third.
The Sox didn’t challenge him until the fifth inning when resurgent Hunter Renfroe doubled to left field and went to third on an infield single by Danny Santana.
Christian Vázquez popped to shortstop after getting ahead 3 and 1. Marwin Gonzalez then managed a slow grounder to the right side for his first run batted in since May 7.
With Santana on second, Hernández fouled out.
Verdugo led off the sixth inning with a single. But J.D. Martinez and Xander Bogaerts were retired on well-struck fly balls to right field and Rafael Devers struck out swinging at a fastball, a pitch that has become his kryptonite.
For the first time in his major league career, Garcia came out for the seventh inning. He got two quick outs before Vázquez singled to left field.
With his bullpen ready, Astros manager Dusty Baker stayed with Garcia and was rewarded when Gonzalez grounded into the shift on the right side.
Garcia dropped his earned run average to 2.72 through 11 games, nine of them starts.
Richards pitched well again, allowing two runs on four hits over six innings. He walked four for the third consecutive start but that didn’t hurt him beyond running up his pitch count.
Jose Altuve, who on Monday hit a 330-foot home run to left field, cracked a 435-foot shot to left-center leading off the bottom of the first as he jumped on a fastball he preferred after Vazquez called for a slider.
Richards allowed his other run in the fourth inning when Yordan Alvarez led off with a double to right center, moved up to third on a groundout and scored on a sacrifice fly to right by Chas McCormick.
Tuesday was the sixth time in 11 starts that Richards went at least five innings and allowed two or fewer earned runs. His earned run average, which stood at 6.48 after four starts, is down to 3.75.
“He made some good pitches when it counted,” Cora said. “He battled. He didn’t have his best stuff but against a tough lineup they only scored two.”
Hirokazu Sawamura and Whitlock faced nine batters in the seventh inning as the game got away from the Sox.