Game 143: Houston Astros at Red Sox (September 8, 2018)

Because it's the oldest American sport, baseball has more axioms, adages, and sayings than can be counted. (And yes, I'm aware that all three of those words mean the same thing). Some of them are universal across all sports while some are specific to baseball. Falling in the former class is the saying "never let the other team off the hook" and that was exactly my thinking after the painful way in which the Red Sox lost the series opener against Houston. It was a win there for the taking that they couldn't hold on to against a team that is too good to make any mistakes against. The reason for that  saying became all too evident in the second game on Saturday afternoon. I was hoping that the Red Sox would respond by storming back to make a statement and even up the series, but instead they planted small but growing seeds of doubt in the back of my mind and, I suspect, in many minds across Red Sox Nation.

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Coming off his first start since getting injured before the All Star break, all eyes were on Eduardo Rodriguez to pick up where he left off.  He was masterful in his previous outing, shutting down the White Sox and fanning twelve batters. He'd been the Red Sox best pitcher before the All Star break and that start last week in Chicago seemed to be the much-needed shot in the arm the rotation needed for the stretch run. However, the Houston Astros are a different beast than the White Sox and that was borne out early in this game. Boston actually got on the scoreboard first when the red hot Xander Bogaerts drove in the game's first run in the first inning with an RBI single. Houston got that run back in the second when Tyler White's triple drove in Carlos Correa. Rodriguez dind't look sharp and the Astros were hitting him hard no matter what he threw. Jake Marisnick drove in White with a sacrifice fly and after two it was 2-1 Houston. In the third, Alex Bregman absolutely crushed a ball over the Green Monster and in the fourth Martin Maldonado did the same. Yuli Gurriel drove in another run with a sac fly in the fourth to make it 5-1 and Houston took complete control of the game. Boston seemed absolutely lifeless and couldn't get anything going against Houston's Charlie Morton. Bogaerts continued to be the only Sox hitter doing anything when he smacked his 21st home run of the season in the fifth, but that was all they'd do until the end of the game. Andrew Benintendi drove in a run in the bottom of the ninth with a single, but it was far too little, far too late as the Sox went down meekly in this one to the final score of 5-3. Rodriguez was not good, only lasting 3.1 innings and giving up five runs on six hits. He struck out four and walked three and did not look sharp at all; there were far too many pitcher's counts where he ended up losing the hitter and his stuff didn't have good movement on it. He was hit hard from the get-go and just seemed out of sorts through his entire outing. Ironically, the bullpen held Houston scoreless the rest of the way, but that crystallizes the problem this collection of pitchers has had all season: they can hold a deficit, but not a lead. At the plate, Boston was once again outhit by only one hit to the tune of 11-10, but it never felt like the Sox were threatening (with a couple of exceptions). Mookie Betts went 2-3 and Xander was 3-4 with two RBI, but otherwise there wasn't much to get excited about.

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What's been a real concern in this series is just how badly Boston has been outclassed by the Astros. The knock on the Red Sox all season has been that they had a middling barely-above-.500 record against the other American League contenders. This series has done nothing to quell that concern and as of right now, the only AL contender the Sox have a winning record against is the Yankees (8-5 with six more to play). They're 2-2 against Cleveland (with three more to play), 2-4 against Houston (with one more to play), and 2-4 against Oakland. Having let Houston off the hook in the most winnable game of the series (the opener), the Red Sox are in real danger of getting swept Sunday night when they send the up-and-down Rick Porcello against Dallas Keuchel. While getting swept at home against the defending World Series champions isn't the worst thing, for a team as good as the Red Sox have been all season it doesn't inspire confidence (especially with how up and down their play has been over the last month). With the Yankees having won their last two games, the division lead is now 6.5 games so every game has huge importance from here on out. Right now, it's time to stop looking ahead and echo the mantra of the Patriots (who open their 2018 season on Sunday afternoon) by only focusing on the next game: the finale against Houston. Every game counts and the Sox had better get their act together or it could be a short stay in October for the third straight year.