Mitch Moreland was due for a big hit. It came at just the right time for Red Sox
Red Sox first baseman Mitch Moreland had been hitting the ball hard for several weeks with little to show for it beyond a steadily decreasing on-base percentage and rising levels of frustration.
After getting two hits in the All-Star Game, Moreland hit .179 for the Sox over the next seven weeks with only occasional power.
“He’s so hard on himself that sometimes it works against him,” manager Alex Cora said. “It’s been tough going; he knows it.”
With two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning on Sunday night, Moreland got the results he had been searching for with an opposite-field single. It was enough to give the Sox a 6-5 victory against the Houston Astros.
Tzu-Wei Lin scored from second base as the Red Sox averted a three-game sweep at the hands of the defending World Series champions. For a first-place team with a healthy lead, the seventh walkoff victory of the season brought some relief.
“I’ll take those every time if I could. Right time to do it, I guess,” Moreland said.
The 98-44 Red Sox increased their lead on the Yankees to 8½ games in the American League East and dropped the magic number to win the division to 11.
The Sox finished 3-4 in the season series against the Astros, the teams divided by three runs. If the Sox face Houston again, it will probably be in the American League Championship Series.
The Astros had a seven-game win streak snapped.
Craig Kimbrel (5-1) worked a perfect ninth inning and got the win. He hit 100.1 miles per hour twice with his fastball and was going back to the mound had the game gone to extra innings.
But the Sox were able to hang a run on Hector Rondon (2-3).
Andrew Benintendi singled with one out then was forced at second base when J.D. Martinez grounded out. When Xander Bogaerts (4 for 4) singled to extend the inning, Lin ran for Martinez at second.
Moreland was jammed on a 2-and-1 pitch but muscled it into left field for his first RBI since Aug. 22. The ball landed at the feet of Marwin Gonzalez, who was playing Moreland to pull and arrived late.
When the ball left his bat, Moreland felt it would catch some grass. He had fouled off a pitch off to the left side earlier in the at-bat.
“I knew I didn’t hit it as hard so it was going to be going away from him and kind of fading,” Moreland said.
That saved the Sox from what would have been a bad loss. They built a 5-1 lead through five innings against Houston starter Dallas Keuchel then gave it away.
Mookie Betts doubled to right field leading off the first inning and scored on a two-out single to center by Bogaerts.
Betts doubled to left field leading off the third inning, moved up on a groundout, and scored on a fly ball to left field by Martinez.
Betts walked, Benintendi singled, and Martinez homered to left field in the fifth.
It was the 40th home run for Martinez. No Red Sox player had reached that mark since David Ortiz had 54 in 2006.
“Honestly I don’t look at all that stuff. I’m just worried about the little things, the process more than the results,” Martinez said.
The Sox appeared to have the game under control. But Porcello and the increasingly worrisome Red Sox bullpen could not hold the lead.
Jose Altuve led off the sixth inning with a home run to left field. With one out, Yuli Gurriel and Carlos Correa had singles. Porcello then got the second out and had a chance to limit the damage.
Tyler White, who Porcello had struck out twice earlier in the game, was up next but Cora went to Heath Hembree.
White doubled to left field and two runs scored.
Brian Johnson was next out of the bullpen and he walked Brian McCann before Josh Reddick doubled to left field and drove in White.
Ryan Brasier, the fourth pitcher of the inning, struck out George Springer to finally end the inning.
On Saturday, Cora mentioned it was likely that Blake Swihart would catch Porcello. But when the lineup was posted in the clubhouse four hours before the game, it was Sandy Leon.
Leon had caught every game Porcello pitched this season and Cora did not want to disrupt what has been good chemistry between the two.
That did not work out well. Porcello allowed four runs on seven hits over 5⅔ innings. He walked one and struck out six.
“Got us into a bit of a jam there,” Porcello said. “It is what it is. Felt really good overall. Felt good attacking that lineup.”
Red Sox starters have a 5.44 earned run average in the last 20 games and two quality starts, both by David Price.
Steven Wright and his knuckleball settled things down. He worked two scoreless innings, getting help from his defense in the seventh inning when Bogaerts threw Altuve out at the plate when he tried to score on a contact play.
After a review of nearly four minutes, the call stood.
Leon made the play possible, pulling down a high throw from Bogaerts and getting a tag on Altuve’s shoulder.
“That’s one of those that might go the other way,” Cora said. “The longer it took [to review], it was probably one of those the angles were tough and we got the call.”
Said Houston manager A.J. Hinch: “Replays is set up for precisely that type of play. We felt like we had clear evidence there was a gap between the tag and his hand on the plate. It continually gets harder, and harder and harder to get a call overturned if they can just simply say it stands.”
Wright has pitched three times in relief since coming off the disabled list and thrown four scoreless innings.
In a 5-5 game, the Sox loaded the bases with one out in the eighth inning, but lefthander Tony Sipp struck out righthanded hitting pinch hitters Swihart and Christian Vazquez.
The Sox were 7 of 31 with runners in scoring position in the series and left 25 men on base.