Alex Cora put the Red Sox’ bullpen to the test, and it failed
The Red Sox have several weeks to go before naming their playoff rotation. But it’s fair to believe Chris Sale will pitch the first game followed in some order by Rick Porcello, David Price, and Eduardo Rodriguez.
That leaves 15 other pitchers on the roster from which to compose a reliable bullpen. There is surely a combination that will work; it’s just a matter of making the right choices.
In many ways, the final weeks of the regular season are about finding that combination.
Friday night’s game against the Houston Astros offered manager Alex Cora the opportunity to test some candidates against the defending World Series champions.
The results were not reassuring. The bullpen allowed two inherited runners to score then gave up four more runs as the Astros rallied for a 6-3 victory.
On a night Price was precise and powerful, the Red Sox could not hold a 2-0 lead in the seventh inning.
The Astros had eight hits over 2⅔ innings against Ryan Brasier, Joe Kelly, and Tyler Thornburg as a compelling game got away from the Sox.
Many in the sellout crowd of 36,930 booed Kelly off the mound in the eighth inning, except for the large contingent of orange-clad Astros fans at Fenway Park.
The Sox did not have Matt Barnes, who has not pitched since Monday because of inflammation in his left hip. An MRI showed the issue is not serious but he will remain shut down for at least a few more days.
That complicated the decision-making for Cora and raised more questions about whether the Sox are deep enough in the bullpen.
Whether it’s Nathan Eovaldi, Steven Wright, or Brian Johnson, the Sox need somebody who can stabilize that group.
“Tonight we didn’t execute certain pitches,” Cora said. “We’ll talk about it.”
Astros starter Gerrit Cole pitched at Fenway for the first time since the 2017 home opener for the Sox when he was with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The righthander allowed two runs on five hits over six innings and struck out eight.
Mookie Betts led off with a single to center field. When Andrew Benintendi singled to left, Betts never paused and went to third. Going to first to third on a single to left field at Fenway is difficult, but Betts beat a strong throw by Josh Reddick.
It paid off when he scored on a sacrifice fly to right field by J.D. Martinez.
Xander Bogaerts led off the fourth inning with a towering home run to center field. The ball struck the wall to the right of the flagpole, a 432-foot shot. It gave Bogaerts 20 home runs and a career-best 90 RBIs on the season.
Cole pitched well but Price was better. He took a shutout into the seventh inning and had thrown 86 pitches to that point.
Alex Bregman, who came into the series 24 of 52 with 14 extra-base hits over 14 games, led off with a double down the third-base line. Eduardo Nunez was positioned to make the play but the hard-hit ball got by him.
Price struck out Carlos Correa then walked Tyler White, missing high with a full-count fastball.
“I really needed to make pitches and wasn’t able to do that,” Price said.
With Price at 101 pitches, the Red Sox went to Brasier, a 31-year-old rookie who has impressed in recent weeks.
His first pitch to Yuli Gurriel was lined off the wall in left center for a double. Bregman scored and White went to third.
Reddick fouled out to catcher Sandy Leon for the second out. On a 3-and-2 pitch, pinch hitter Tony Kemp doubled down the third-base line, going the other way with a fastball that was down and in.
“He was in defensive mode but he put it in play,” Cora said.
It was a tough no-decision for Price, who allowed two runs on two hits with two walks and 10 strikeouts, seven called.
Pitching for the first time since Aug. 29, when he was hit on the left wrist by a line drive, Price controlled the game.
“In September whenever you’re playing a team like [the Astros] you can call it a good measuring stick,” Price said.
Collin McHugh replaced Cole to start the seventh inning and walked Jackie Bradley Jr. with one out. Ryan Pressly entered the game and threw a wild pitch that advanced Bradley to second. Betts then walked.
When Benintendi grounded to first base, the Astros took the out at second base. Martinez then grounded a single into left field to tie the game. He has 117 RBIs.
With runners on the corners, Bogaerts had a chance to give the Sox the lead back but he flied out to center field.
The game was not tied for long as Kelly’s uneven season continued.
George Springer, Jose Altuve, and Bregman had singles to load the bases. Correa’s fly ball to right field was deep enough to score Springer.
Altuve and Bregman moved up on the throw to the plate, aggressive base-running that was soon rewarded. Altuve scored on a wild pitch and Bregman on a single by White.
“I felt good, just two groundball singles, then the other single,” Kelly said. “Let some guys on base and got in a little bit of a jam.”
Said Cora: “Obviously we have to be better.”
More photos from Friday night’s game: