Back home, Astros brace for surging Red Sox

HOUSTON — What had the makings of a terrific road trip turned sour for the Houston Astros when their bullpen blew a pair of ninth-inning leads that resulted in two extra-inning losses and a sudden reversal of the positive momentum the club built heading out to play the Indians and Yankees.

With their 5-3 loss at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, the Astros (35-22) closed their seven-game road trip with four losses in five games. Previously, Houston had won 13 of 16 with the losses coming by one run each.

The Astros could have maintained that streak had the bullpen not coughed up a five-run, ninth-inning lead in the series finale at Cleveland on Sunday, and a two-run, ninth-inning lead in the middle game of their three-game set against New York on Tuesday.

“We had some tough games and these are really good teams,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “Obviously, we fell short of the number of wins we wanted to have on the trip but we’ll be excited to go home and continue the schedule. We saw some really good things; we saw some things that we need to address, some close losses that we feel like we should have won, but that’s going to happen during the year.”

The schedule won’t ease up for the Astros, who will host the Boston Red Sox for a four-game set at Minute Maid Park beginning on Thursday. The Seattle Mariners, in hot pursuit of the Astros and first place in the American League West, will follow Boston for a brief two-game set.

Right-hander Lance McCullers (6-3, 3.98 ERA) will start the opener for the Astros. He is 0-1 with a 6.16 ERA over four career starts against the Red Sox. McCullers worked out of the bullpen in Game 3 of the AL Division Series last season, allowing two runs on three hits and two walks with four strikeouts over three innings in a 10-3 loss at Fenway Park.

Boston will counter with left-hander Drew Pomeranz (1-2, 6.75 ERA) on Thursday. Pomeranz is 2-2 with a 3.69 ERA over 12 career appearances (seven starts) against the Astros, and in his previous start at Minute Maid Park, he allowed four runs on five hits (including two home runs) and one walk with one strikeout over two innings in an 8-2 loss in Game 2 of the 2017 ALDS.

The torrid Red Sox (39-17) will enter the series with the best record in baseball, coming off their first series sweep of the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park since 2009 following their 6-4 win on Wednesday. The Red Sox have won nine of 11 games, and their record after 56 games matches those of the 2017 Astros and ’16 Chicago Cubs, both of which won the World Series.

Boston slugger J.D. Martinez, who spent his first three seasons with the Astros, bashed his 18th home run on Wednesday to lead the charge for the Mookie Betts-less Red Sox. Martinez has belted 13 homers this month, the most by a Red Sox hitter in May since Hall of Famer Jim Rice produced that same total in 1978 en route to claiming AL Most Valuable Player honors.

Betts, second in the majors in fWAR (4.1), missed the entire series against Toronto with tightness in his left side but is expected to return against the Astros.