Game 144: Houston Astros at Red Sox (September 9, 2018)

A few hours after the Patriots beat a Houston team, it was time for the Red Sox to attempt the same. The Sox were also trying to stave off a sweep which wouldn't have been the best way to start their nine game home stand. With Rick Porcello going up against Dallas Keuchel it was a good match up of starters and the whole game had a postseason-type feeling. From a personal perspective, I was looking for Porcello to pitch better than he has over the last month. I was also hoping that he could go deep into the game so we could be spared any extended pitching from the bullpen. In both of the first two games of his series, the Red Sox had the early lead only to squander it and I think I speak for pretty much every Sox fan when I say that the less we see of the bullpen, the better. As the old saying goes, though, "the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry."

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Mookie Betts led off the bottom of the first with a double and was driven in by Xander Bogaerts (who drove in the first Boston run in each game of this series) to quickly make it 1-0. The Sox were hitting Keuchel and it looked like they should be able to do some damage as the game went on, but as he's done far too often in his career Porcello fell victim to the long ball. In the second inning he hung a change-up over the plate that Marwin Gonzalez absolutely crushed into the right field stands to tie the game. The Sox took the lead again when JD Martinez hit a sacrifice fly to left field to drive Mookie in (who had doubled again to lead off the inning). JD followed that up by blasting a three run homer (his 40th of the season) over the Green Monster in the fifth to push the Sox lead to 5-1. It seemed like they were finally breaking through and scoring some runs in this series after being held to three in each of the first two games. Then, of course, the bullpen happened. Again. They gave up four runs to Houston in the top of the sixth in a nightmarish sequence that allowed the Astros to tie the game. First, it was a solo home run from Jose Altuve off of Porcello, but I wasn't too worried because it was still 5-2.  He got into a jam, though, and  for some unknown reason my personal bugbear Heath Hembree was put into the game. As usual he fell flat on his face (does he ever do anything else?). He served up a fat pitch that Tyler White smacked into left field for a double that drove in two and prompted Red Sox fans far and wide to ponder why this bum was still on the team, let alone getting into high leverage game situations. If Hembree is on the team next season, I think I'll lose my mind. Brian Johnson wasn't any better, coming in for Hembree and allowing former Sox player Josh Reddick to hit a double which drove in White and tied the game. It just seemed like the bullpen couldn't do anything right, squandering leads in every game of this series; the sixth inning on Sunday was a microcosm of how ineffective and inept they are. The Sox had a golden opportunity in the eighth inning to score some runs when they loaded the bases with one out, but Houston reliever Tony Sipp was the beneficiary of some truly atrocious called strikes by the home plate ump and got out of the jam unscathed. Also, Alex Cora's pinch hitter choices beggared belief. Blake Swihart was put in to hit off of right handed reliever Collin McHugh but Houston manager AJ Hinch promptly switched to the left handed Sipp to nullify that advantage (Swihart is a switch hitter but much stronger from the left side). Then, after Swihart whiffed Cora put in Christian Vazquez, a guy who isn't even hitting his own weight this season. He also struck out although like Swihart, he was behind in the count early on some horrifically bad called strikes. Still, it was maddening to come away with nothing in that inning. This one seemed destined to go into extras before Mitch Moreland won it in the bottom of the ninth with a single to left field which Gonzalez muffled, allowing Tzu-Wei Lin to score the winning run. In conjunction with the Yankees losing earlier in Seattle, the Sox avoided the sweep and went back up to 8.5 games ahead in the division.

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Rick Porcello was not great in this game. While he struck out six and only walked one in his 5.2 innings of work, he was hit hard to the tune of seven hits, four earned runs, and two homers given up. Hembree was even worse, only pitching to one batter and coughing up two inherited runners. Ryan Brasier and Steven Wright were better in holding down the fort and Craig Kimbrel pitched a clean ninth inning to keep it tied. But Porcello has got to start pitching better from here on out. He has to. Ditto the bullpen, although unlike Porcello I'm convinced they're just not capable of it. The team can't keep getting bailed out by late game hitting heroics because in a short postseason series, time will run out on them more often than not. This season (and really the last few) are also a pretty damning indictment of Dave Dombrowski's inability or inaction in putting together a quality bullpen. It's going to cost the team a long postseason run and if that sounds fatalistic or pessimistic then I'm sorry, but that's just facing facts. They haven't been good all season and they've gotten worse the longer it's gone on. Thank goodness for the hitters is all I can say. The Sox finally outhit the Astros in a game to the tune of 14-11 and they got some big games from their stars. Mookie had a 2-4 night and scored three runs, Xander went 4-4 with an RBI, and Andrew Benintendi, Eduardo Nunez, and Mitch Moreland each picked up two hits. However, it was JD's sole hit that changed the tenor of this game. If it weren't for his home run, the team wouldn't have been anywhere close to winning the game in the final inning. While the win was nice, there are still a lot of concerns around the team's play as of late. For now, they get an off day Monday to rest and prepare for the Blue Jays on Tuesday. Chris Sale will be making his first start since going on the DL and all eyes will be on him to see if he'll be the one to finally bring some stability to the rotation. The Sox will need him to be at his best over this next month if they want to do anything in October.