The Astros are, after all, the team Alex Cora helped win a World Series last season when he was the team’s bench coach. The excitement he showed ahead of this series showed that it was one he looked forward to, maybe for bragging rights, maybe just so his team could make a statement.
But it’s not going to turn out that way.
The Astros, who eliminated the Red Sox from the playoffs last season, could very well be a team they have to face in the playoffs again. The Astros have won 10 out of the last 14 meetings against the Red Sox, including the playoffs last season. Is that an indicator of something, or pertinent to this October? I guess we’ll find out.
Cora was asked whether it was especially tough to lose to the Astros because of his personal relationship to that team.
“No, not really,” Cora answered. “Hopefully we can fix it later on in the year, that’s when it’s either going to be very gratifying or very tough. We know where we are and what we have to do. Obviously, they’re battling in that division [with Oakland]. They’re getting healthy and that’s a good team and they’re an elite team. Today, like I said, I thought we had a chance to win. It’s OK.”
Cora always tries to exude confidence about his team publicly because no team wants to see their manager seethe about losses. But Cora is human. Of course he’d love to pump his chest after beating his old team. Of course he’d love nothing more than to beat the Astros on his new home turf. That’s just human nature.
His answer was actually quite good. OK, maybe the losses don’t matter right now in the bigger scheme of things, but they will matter in October if these two teams meet in the playoffs. And that’s what Cora was trying to project.
And so on Saturday, having been through everything with this Astros team last season, he was not surprised that Alex Bregman, perhaps the hottest hitter in baseball and one of his personal projects last season, raised havoc on the Red Sox with a solo homer in the third inning — his 30th. Or that Charlie Morton, the pitcher he once talked about as having some of the best stuff in the Astros’ rotation, was able to throw five solid innings, limiting Cora’s Red Sox to only two runs.
After a stellar first game back from the disabled list, Eduardo Rodriguez gave up six hits and five runs in 3⅓ innings. This is not what Cora was looking for. This was disappointing. After David Price impressed with 6⅓ innings on Friday night, Rodriguez fumbled his chance. E-Rod is likely to be the fourth starter in Boston’s playoff rotation. How well he pitches is vital to the success of this Red Sox team. Rodriguez was having a very good season (12-3, 3.34 ERA entering the game) until the Astros tagged him Saturday.
The Sox bullpen, which threw 5⅔ scoreless innings at the Astros on Saturday (two by Bobby Poyner and two by Tyler Thornburg) was finally a bright spot. And it was welcome as Matt Barnes sits out with a hip problem and Joe Kelly got the night off after allowing three runs on Friday night.
But when a starting rotation can’t get deep into games, it puts pressure on the bullpen. As much as Cora would love to rest his starting pitchers, he also has to do the same for key members of the bullpen. It gets tricky even with a big lead like Boston has in the AL East.
The loss snapped a streak of 10 straight series wins at Fenway. It had been 40 years since the Red Sox went unbeaten in as many as 10 consecutive home series. They were 13-0-2 in 1978 and we know what happened that year. They are now 12-32 when they score three or fewer runs and 85-14 when they score four or more runs. They are 2-4 overall against Houston this season.
Video: George Springer robs Mitch Moreland of a hit in the first inning
What’s interesting is the fact that the Astros’ 89-53 record matches their best record through 142 games in franchise history, tying the 1998 team. The Astros have won seven straight and 14 of their last 17 games. They are 49-21 on the road, the highest winning percentage (.700) in the majors.
Suffice to say, count the Astros as one very tough team here in September and likely in October.
The Red Sox have missed an opportunity for a statement, a chance for momentum if there is such a thing in baseball, against the defending World Series champions.
This series loss had to hurt the human side of Cora. But like he said, there’s one more chance to for redemption. And that would be worth all of these losses in September.