HOUSTON — On paper, this should have been the toughest of the three games in Houston, with Eduardo Rodriguez matched up on the mound against Astros ace Justin Verlander.
These Red Sox don’t always seem to check the easy boxes, but they are sometimes up to the bigger tasks. That was the case Sunday in a 4-1 win at Minute Maid Park, where Boston avoided a series sweep thanks to an excellent outing from Rodriguez.
“He did an outstanding job,” said manager Alex Cora. “We needed him to go deep in the game and he gave us six, with good stuff. His four-seamer was good, his changeup was good. Very happy that he went out there and competed that way against the best pitcher in the big leagues right now.”
Rodriguez (5-3, 5.04 ERA) gave up one run on four hits with one walk and five strikeouts in his six innings of work. The one run allowed came on an RBI single by Carlos Correa in the first. After that, the lefthander retired 12 of the last 14 batters he faced.
“After I see that run scored I just tried to go up there and kept thinking get zeros, get zeros, and it worked pretty good,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said he wasn’t thinking about matching up with Verlander. Even without that added pressure, this was a big start of him.
Rodriguez’s last start, Tuesday in Toronto, went badly. He spent the rest of the week working and having conversations with Cora and the coaching staff to make adjustments and come up with a game plan for Houston that would help him against lefthanded hitters.
There were tough lefty outs in the Astros’ lineup, too, but Rodriguez was up to the task. Lefthanded Michael Brantley and Josh Reddick were a combined 0 for 8 against Rodriguez and the Boston bullpen.
“It feels really good, man,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve been working these past four days about the way I’m going to pitch in the game, the game plan and everything and it worked pretty good today.”
Verlander (8-2, 2.38 ERA) might not have been peak Verlander Sunday, but the Red Sox did a good job of attacking him and putting pressure on him on the base paths. With three stolen bases, they matched their season high.
Verlander went seven innings and gave up three runs on six hits with no walks and six strikeouts, throwing 75 of his 103 pitches for strikes. Michael Chavis was the victim of his 2,800th career strikeout, which came in the fourth inning. Still, the Red Sox made him work and capitalized when they could.
Boston hit a pair of infield singles and got a sacrifice fly by Andrew Benintendi to scratch its first run in the third inning. They scored again on Rafael Devers’s solo home run in the fourth, that shot coming a day after Devers had a homer stolen by the roof at Minute Maid Park.
The Red Sox’ third run came in the fifth when Eduardo Nunez doubled with one out and scored on an error by second baseman Yuli Gurriel on Benintendi’s grounder.
The fourth run came in the ninth when Jackie Bradley Jr. scored on a Nunez groundout. Bradley had walked, moved to second on a balk, and advanced to third on a passed ball.
This was the sixth time the Red Sox had faced the Astros in 10 days. With the teams knowing each other as well as they do, it seemed in this three-game series that whichever side played a cleaner game was the winner.
“We match up well with them, they match up well with us,” Cora said. “There’s no secrets, as you guys know. It’s about execution. There were certain days that we didn’t execute. Today, Yuli makes the error at second, we take advantage of that. We’re pretty even, we know that.”
The Red Sox also received a better outing from reliever Matt Barnes, who recovered from a tough ninth inning Saturday that ended in a walkoff win for Houston.
After Brandon Workman handled the seventh inning, Barnes pitched the eighth and got himself out of a difficult spot.
Houston had the tying run at the plate in Brantley with two outs, but Barnes struck him out looking with a curveball.
Marcus Walden closed out the game in the ninth for the Red Sox and got his first save of the season and second of his career.
“He needs to face some guys that they’re not the three, four, five all the time,” Cora said, speaking about Barnes. “It’s a grind for him. We’ve got to make sure that the other guys do the same thing. You saw Waldy today, he goes up there against three pretty good hitters, he got the save. But we’ve got to take care of him too. Facing three, four, five every day, it’s not going to help him out.”
The Red Sox now return to Boston for a three-game series against Cleveland before heading back on the road to face the Yankees in New York.