Through 62 games, the Red Sox have faced 16 different teams. They’ve either flattened or been closely matched with 15 clubs. And then there are the Astros.
For the second straight night, the visitors endured a hail of hostility at Fenway. They offered the most powerful possible response, steamrolling the Red Sox, 8-3. Houston has won five of six games between the two teams, outscoring the Sox by a lopsided 34-13 while showing superior execution in both phases of the game.
“They’ve been doing everything right for now,” conceded Wednesday night’s Red Sox starter, Nate Eovaldi.
For the second straight night, Houston’s lineup quickly put the Red Sox on their heels. Only a laser of a throw from right fielder Hunter Renfroe to cut down Alex Bregman at the plate prevented the Astros from taking a lead in the top of the first.
“Average,” Renfroe joked of his seventh outfield assist, which clocked at 98 mph. “I’ve got more in the tank.”
So, too, did the Astros lineup. Though the Sox managed to take a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first on a Xander Bogaerts sac fly and Renfroe’s two-out RBI single against Astros starter Jake Odorizzi, the advantage quickly disintegrated.
Time and again, the Astros lineup ambushed Eovaldi, blanketing Fenway with hits by jumping on first or second pitches that caught too much of the plate. That approach led to one run in the second, when a miscommunication between center fielder Kiké Hernández and Renfroe on a Bregman fly to right-center produced a double, followed by Myles Straw’s first-pitch flare for a ground-rule double inside the right field line.
Down 2-1, Houston needed no help in plating four more runs in the third, an inning in which Eovaldi needed 31 pitches. Jose Altuve jumpstarted the offense with a solo homer, his 10th roundtripper, on a cookie of a cutter to tie the score leading off the inning.
After a walk and groundout, the Astros delivered three straight run-scoring hits — doubles by Alvarez and Gurriel, then a single by Michael Brantley — to take a 5-2 lead. Eovaldi’s efforts to cycle through his diverse, five-pitch arsenal in hopes of unbalancing the Astros proved ineffective, as Houston’s hitters were seemingly on everything he threw.
“That inning, they put on a clinic in how to attack guys,” said manager Alex Cora.
Though Eovaldi (7-3, 4.11) recovered by attacking the inside corner early in at-bats, he ended up allowing five runs on 11 hits — tied for the second most in any outing of his career — in 5⅔ innings.
“It was too late of an adjustment,” said Eovaldi. “They’ve got guys who don’t really swing and miss that much, they put the ball in play, they make things happen, they have power up and down the lineup as well.”
Eovaldi’s struggle continued the most dramatic rotation wobble of the season. Through most of the first 60 games, Sox starters had been a steadying force.
“Everyone has been carrying the torch,” lefthander Chris Sale said this week. “I made a joke not too long ago, I’m not going to have a spot when I get back.”
That punchline no longer lands quite as hard as it might have just a few days ago. Eovaldi’s struggle came one day after Martín Pérez allowed six runs in two innings, marking the first time this year that Sox starters have allowed five or more runs in back-to-back games.
Their last five games, Eduardo Rodriguez, Garrett Richards, Nick Pivetta, Pérez, and Eovaldi have allowed a combined 19 earned runs in 22⅔ innings — a 7.54 ERA that is the worst by the rotation in any five-game stretch this season.
“We’re in the middle of a grind,” said Cora, pointing to the team’s run of 17 consecutive days with games. “We’re a little bit short against a great team. . . . This is going to happen at one point, right? They were so good for so long.”
Perhaps it’s nothing. After all, the Red Sox are 3-2 across those gamhttps://www.bostonglobe.com/2021/06/09/sports/with-mlb-cracking-down-pitchers-substances-alex-cora-other-managers-are-tricky-spot/es. Perhaps it was just a coincidence, or maybe the dip was a reflection of the matchup difficulties the Astros present for the Red Sox.
Nonetheless, the spell has resurrected some of the uncertainty that hovered over the rotation entering the year — a sentiment suppressed the first third of the season. Now 62 games in, Sox starters have surpassed their 2020 workloads in both innings and starts. And so, their recent, brief performance dip comes with questions, even as the prospect of an eventual return by Sale moves slightly closer.
The Red Sox did come within 5-3 when Xander Bogaerts launched a solo homer, his 11th, against Odorizzi (1-3). But once again, Houston’s pitchers proved capable of exploiting the Sox’ league-worst tendency to chase pitches.
The Sox managed just four hits on Wednesday — one the final five innings, following the Bogaerts homer — and are hitting just .179/.238/.282 with 65 strikeouts and 13 walks in the season series.
The Astros, meanwhile, scored three times against the Red Sox bullpen, with two of those tallies coming on a Bregman homer off of Phillips Valdez in the eighth. Bregman (3-for-4, homer, 2 doubles, walk) was one of seven Astros with multiple hits as Houston amassed 17 knocks, tied for the second-most allowed by the Sox this year.
“It’s frustrating of course with it being the Astros,” said Eovaldi. “Hopefully we’ll be seeing them a little further down the road.”