BOSTON -- If there was ever a day when one out would make a difference in a ballgame, Sunday was that day.
Struggling with his command from the start, starting Red Sox pitcher Joe Kelly fell victim to a second inning in which everything went wrong -- an inning that accounted for the majority of the damage in Boston’s 8-1 loss to the Houston Astros.
“You’ve got to be able to command the fastball against any team in the league to be successful," Kelly said. “Today was one of those days where I wasn’t able to command my fastball, and they made me pay for it.”
Kelly’s line tells the story: 7 runs allowed on a career-high 6 walks and 7 hits in four innings pitched. Kelly threw 91 pitches, 49 for strikes.
“Just found myself nibbling in the beginning when I shouldn't have, instead of pounding the zone,” Kelly said. “When I made a good pitch it was hard for the umpire to call a strike because I was throwing so many balls. I had six walks today, which is absolutely horrible, but it’s just one of those games. I wasn’t very good today.”
The brunt of the damage against Kelly came early, as the 26-year-old, pitching in his first career game at Fenway Park, loaded the bases with no outs in the second inning. Facing Houston’s Marc Krauss, Kelly induced a fly ball to left field that Yoenis Cespedes lost in the glare of the sunlight, resulting in an RBI single for Krauss. After a sacrifice fly netted Kelly his first out, Astros No. 9 hitter Marwin Gonzalez hit a ground ball that looked as if it would end the inning. However, shortstop Xander Bogaerts failed to step on second before firing to first to get both outs.
The play led to a controversial umpire review -- the end result being only an out at first and the inning being extended.
“It’s one of those things where you have to stay on the field and sit there and just try to figure out what happened,” Kelly said.
It wasn’t long until Kelly was left scratching his head again, walking Robbie Grossman on nine pitches to load the bases once more and paving the way for Jose Altuve to hit his first career grand slam and open Houston’s lead to six runs.
“It was a pitch that I probably could’ve hit a homer on. It was a terrible slider,” Kelly said. “Going in, the game plan was not throwing get-me-over sliders. It was one of those get-me-over sliders, and he put a good swing on it and hit a grand slam.”
“We forced a couple of extra outs in the inning. Anytime you do that, you’re asking for trouble,” manager John Farrell said. “On a day where Joe scuffled with his command, the walks contributed. Fastball that leaks back to the inside half to Altuve, who had a great day [4-for-5].”
A Dexter Fowler home run to lead off the third accounted for the Astros' seventh run, and the right-hander made it through only two more innings before giving way to the bullpen. Recently called-up knuckleballer Steven Wright threw four one-run innings for the Red Sox in relief to save the rest of the bullpen from being taxed once again (extra innings Friday, only four innings from Saturday’s starter Rubby De La Rosa).
“He came in, gave us innings. Kept the game in check despite the run allowed," Farrell said of Wright. “He provides such a contrast to some of the power arms that he might follow, so it is a good fit. He threw strikes, and yet, when we created opportunities offensively, we’re in a hole where we can’t dig out of it.”
Was it Fenway nerves for Kelly?
He assured that wasn’t the problem. “I wasn’t nervous,” Kelly said. “Just a terrible game.”