HOUSTON — It would be unfair to term a 4-3 loss on the road against a first-place team an embarrassment. But the way the Red Sox played against the Houston Astros on Friday night certainly qualified.
A series of defensive mistakes contributed to three of the runs Houston scored as the Sox were charged with three errors. Manager Alex Cora felt compelled to go to the mound at one point and settle down his infielders.
The Sox would have been charged with four errors if not for a scoring change.
For Cora, who was bench coach of the Astros before going to the Sox, it was a night he’d just as soon forget. The Sox, who pride themselves on being prepared, played in a haze.
“It was a weird one,” Cora said. “If we played better defense we had a chance.”
The flubs started early. With Aledmys Diaz on first and two outs in the second inning, Chris Sale appeared in command of the game when Josh Reddick grounded to the right side.
Sale was on time covering first base but Steve Pearce’s frantic throw was behind him and bounced all the way to catcher Sandy Leon.
Diaz, running hard with two outs, raced for the plate. Leon beat him there but missed the tag as Diaz executed a perfect — and rarely seen these days — hook slide.
Sale worked around an error by shortstop Xander Bogaerts in the third inning. But he could not in the fourth.
With runners on the corners and one out, Jake Marisnick grounded to the shortstop hole. Bogaerts tried an unbalanced throw to the plate that sailed wide of Leon.
“That’s a tough one because you’re not turning a double play,” Cora said.
A run scored and Reddick went from first to third. The Sox got Marisnick caught in a rundown between first and second, but Pearce and Michael Chavis weren’t able to get an out as Chavis held onto the ball too long.
That’s when Cora went to the mound. His message was to relax and get out of the inning.
“No screaming, no cursing,” Cora said.
A botched rundown doesn’t count as an error, but it should have been the second out. Instead George Springer’s fly ball to left field scored Reddick.
Andrew Benintendi was breaking in as he caught the ball but didn’t try a throw to the plate. Maybe it was just as well.
Chavis, who has played better defense than expected at second base, doesn’t have much experience in rundowns. It showed.
“It’s a work in progress,” Cora said. “For how good he’s been playing, there’s going to be certain situations that happen. It’s not a regular rundown; you have a man at third so you’re thinking about the runner. That’s a new one for him.
“The next time it happens, I guarantee you we’ll get an out and nobody advances.”
Sale allowed four runs, two unearned, over six innings to fall to an unfathomable 1-6. The Sox are 3-8 when he starts.
“I want to win games. I don’t really care if I’m 6-1 [or] 1-6. I just want to win the games that I pitch in,” Sale said. “It sucks, obviously. I want to be on the other end of it. I’m not the biggest fan of coming in here to a quiet clubhouse.”
At least Sale has a 2.23 earned run average in five starts this month. He’s doing his part.
But even Sale had an inglorious moment, leaving a slider over the plate in the third inning that Marisnick drove over the scoreboard in left field for a home run.
Marisnick had been 1 for 12 against Sale in his career before that swing, striking out five times.
Sale blamed himself, not the defense. But he did acknowledge one truth: you can’t give a team like the Astros that many extra outs and expect to win.
“They’re in the position they’re in for a reason. They’re a tough team, they’ve had a good team for a few years now,” he said. “We know what we’ve got when we face them.”
The Sox were unimpressive at the plate, too. Astros starter Wade Miley, a pitch-to-contact lefthander, retired the first 10 batters in order, six by strikeout. He finished with eight strikeouts, his most in a game since 2017.
The Sox struck out 14 times in all and were 0 for 4 with runners in scoring position.
After their poor start to the season, the Sox got within three games of first place May 12. They’re 5-5 since with three of the losses coming against Houston and now they’re six games out.
Friday was the start of a stretch that has the Sox scheduled to play 14 of 17 games against contending teams. It will be a test for a team that has yet to achieve much consistency this season.
The first quiz graded out as an E. Three of them.