Only three batters had come to the plate in the top of the first inning at Fenway Park on Saturday night when the Red Sox rushed into action to get their bullpen working.
It wasn’t fast enough to save Hector Velazquez from the Houston Astros.
For what he said was the first time in his career, Velazquez couldn’t get out of the first inning. He allowed five runs and the Astros went on to beat the Sox, 7-3, before a sellout crowd of 36,887.
The Sox have lost three of their last four games and need a victory on Sunday afternoon to avoid a three-game sweep. They will have Chris Sale on the mound against Wade Miley.
Houston (31-15), running away with the American League West, has won 10 in a row.
“Listen, man. That team can put up runs,” shortstop Xander Bogaerts said. “They’re the hottest team right now in baseball. Sometimes we do the same to other teams. Hopefully we can calm them down.”
The Astros had 13 hits in all, five for extra bases, against a parade of five Red Sox pitchers.
The Sox, down 5-0 and 6-1 early in the game, loaded the bases with one out in the fifth and had the tying run at the plate. But hard-throwing Astros reliever Josh James (1-0) ended that inning, getting the first two of 14 consecutive outs by Houston pitchers to end the game.
The Sox were held to five hits. They are 1 for 16 with runners in scoring position in the first two games of the series.
Velazquez, 30, has been pitching professionally for a decade, first in Mexico and since 2017 for the Sox. He has started 235 games at ballparks large and small.
He could not recall being taken out of a start so quickly, but Sox manager Alex Cora had little choice but to act.
“It looked from the get-go that he didn’t have it,” Cora said. “It didn’t seem like he had good stuff.”
Velazquez faced six hitters and put five of them on base. His one out was a sacrifice fly. It was the shortest start by a Red Sox pitcher since Sept. 24, 2003, when 38-year-old John Burkett allowed seven runs in one-third of an inning against Baltimore.
It was the last regular-season start of Burkett’s career. That probably won’t be the case for Velazquez, but the Sox need to examine if he should stay in the rotation and face Toronto on Thursday.
“We’ll wait and see,” Cora said. “We’ll talk about it in the next few days.”
Velazquez has a 6.41 earned run average in seven starts and has given the Sox only 19⅔ innings in those games.
Velazquez’s first pitch was a 91-m.p.h. fastball down the middle. George Springer, the best hitter in the American League this month, lined it off the wall in center for a triple.
After Alex Bregman walked, Michael Brantley doubled over the head of Mookie Betts in right. Carlos Correa then walked to load the bases.
Bregman scored on Josh Reddick’s fly ball to left. Yuli Gurriel followed with a single to center on which Jackie Bradley Jr. made a perfect throw to the plate that would have gotten Brantley, but Christian Vazquez dropped the ball.
That was it for Velazquez. Colten Brewer came in and Tyler White lined his first pitch to right field for a two-run double.
Saturday was the two-year anniversary of Velazquez’s major league debut. He gave up three runs in the first inning of that game.
“That wasn’t a good outing, either,” he said via a translator.
Houston’s Corbin Martin, a 23-year-old rookie making his second start, got two quick outs in the bottom of the inning before walking J.D. Martinez, Mitch Moreland, and Bogaerts.
A passed ball scored Martinez, but Rafael Devers flied out to left field. The inning lasted 43 minutes.
A defensive mistake by the Red Sox gave the Astros a run in the second inning. With Bregman on second, Brantley singled to shallow left field. Bregman strayed off the base, trying to bait Andrew Benintendi to throw behind him so he could advance to third.
Benintendi correctly threw to third and the Sox had Bregman in a rundown, but when Devers threw back to second, Bogaerts dropped the ball and Bregman advanced.
He then scored on a sacrifice when Correa lined to center and Bradley made a diving catch.
Moreland had an RBI double in the third inning and Vazquez a Pesky Pole home run in the fourth to make it 6-3.
Reddick homered off Ryan Weber in the fifth inning, but the Sox got the tying run to the plate with one out in their half when they loaded the bases.
“We had a shot,” Cora said.
But Bogaerts, a .365 career hitter with the bases loaded, took three called strikes from James. The first two were well off the plate, but called strikes by Jeff Nelson.
“I know I’m a good hitter with the bases loaded. I try not to expand,” Bogaerts said. “This guy is throwing 100. He’s the one in trouble. Did he throw one strike? The umpire, I think, had a rough night tonight.
“There was no reason for him to be calling those two pitches. Even if he gives him one, fine. But two? It’s ridiculous.”
Devers then grounded to third and the Astros weren’t challenged again.