First, the disclaimer: When your starting pitcher retires just one batter and the visiting team has a five-run head start before anyone in the home lineup even sees a pitch, there are more relevant frustrations when it’s over than the opportunities your offense missed on the road to defeat.
Starting pitcher Hector Velazquez, who was gone before he could record a second out, left the Red Sox in a ditch in the first inning of their 7-3 loss to the Astros Saturday night. He didn’t give the Red Sox a chance against a potent Houston team that won its 10th straight game, and second in a row over the Sox at Fenway.
Yet afterward, the Red Sox couldn’t help but lament what chances they did have to crawl back into the game and their frustrations with how they slipped away.
Their biggest opportunity came trailing 7-3 in the bottom of the fifth inning. Andrew Benintendi singled to center, and Mookie Betts followed with a sharp line drive to left on a 2-0 pitch, ending the night for Astros rookie starter Corbin Martin, who was making his second Major League start.
Righthander Josh James, whose fastball flirts with 100 miles per hour, relieved Martin and retired J.D. Martinez on a fly ball to center, with Benintendi tagging up and moving to third. With Mitch Moreland at the plate, Betts stole second. Moreland worked a walk after falling behind 1-2, bringing the tying run to the plate in Xander Bogaerts.
What followed has to be on the short list of his most frustrating at-bats of the season.
Bogaerts took three called strikes in a four-pitch at-bat. Two, if not three, of the pitches did not appear to be in the strike zone, and the key pitch that pushed the count to 1-2 was clearly wide of the plate. The third strike was a 99.3 mile-per-hour fastball that may or may not have caught the corner.
Rafael Devers — who with Bogaerts was a combined 6 for 15 with 18 RBIs with the bases-loaded this season — ended the threat with a grounder to third on a 3-2 pitch.
Afterward, Bogaerts did not try to hide his frustration with how the at-bat played out. He said home plate umpire Jeff Nelson had “a rough night.”
“I know I’m a good hitter with the bases loaded, I try not to expand,’’ said Bogaerts. “This guy’s throwing 100. He’s the one in trouble. He didn’t throw one strike.”
Bogaerts later acknowledged that the third pitch was closer to a strike than the first two that were called.
“I think the third one was better. I’m going to be honest,’’ he said. “[But] there was no reason to call those [first] two [strikes]. Even if you get the one, fine. It’s just frustrating to have them called that way against a guy throwing 100.”
The Red Sox had other chances to chip away, even during their long-awaited first turn at-bat against Martin in the first.
Martin made an auspicious big-league debut on Mother’s Day, striking out nine and walking just one batter in five innings while earning the win over the Texas Rangers. But after retiring the first two hitters Friday, the 23-year-old righthander suddenly lost the GPS on his fastball, walking Martinez, Moreland and Bogaerts in succession.
With Devers — who entered the game with 14 RBIs in May, tied for the third-most in the American League — at the plate, Martinez came in to score on a Max Stassi passed ball. But Devers could not put another dent in the Astros’ lead, flying out to Michael Brantley to end the 44-minute slog of an opening inning.
There were smaller potential opportunities that slipped away along the way.
With two outs in the third inning, Moreland doubled to left to score Betts, who had walked, cutting the Astros lead to 6-2. Bogaerts followed with a grounder to first baseman Tyler White. Bogaerts hustled down the line and was called safe on a bang-bang play as Martin took the flip. But foreshadowing more frustrations to come for him during the game, the call was overturned on replay.
An inning later, Red Sox manager Alex Cora chose not to challenge a close play at second base when, with one out and Houston still up 6-2, Michael Chavis was thrown out by Brantley trying to stretch a liner to left field into a double. While Brantley’s throw beat Chavis in plenty of time, the replay shown in the ballpark was inconclusive on whether second baseman Yuli Gurriel had tagged Chavis’s hand before he touched the bag.
The baserunner would have come in handy when Christian Vazquez tucked his sixth home run of the season inside Pesky’s Pole to cut the margin to 6-3.
Josh Reddick’s home run in the top of the fifth made it 7-3. That score would stand up, in part due to the baserunners and chances the Red Sox left stranded in the fifth.
“We had a shot there, but some of those pitches to Xander were borderline pitches,’’ said Cora, who was well aware that his lineup, which had been scorching in May, is now 1 for 16 with runners in scoring position in this series.
“It was a weird game,’’ he said. “We didn’t get a big hit.”
Cora did notice that the Astros, even with the Red Sox’ struggles with runners on, didn’t mess around late in the game.
“They brought [closer Roberto] Osuna out, up four [runs],’’ said Cora, “so that’s how much they respect our lineup.”