Red Sox look to even series with Astros

HOUSTON — First-year Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora and bullpen coach Craig Bjornson received their World Series rings in advance of the series opener with the Astros on Thursday at Minute Maid Park, an occasion Cora relished and used to close the chapter on his time with Houston.

Cora spent the 2017 season as the bench coach under Astros manager A.J. Hinch. Although their time together was relatively brief, Cora acknowledged that what he learned working for Hinch and the reigning champions provided some tenets that he is applying with the Red Sox.

“There’s a lot of things that we do here that are very similar to them,” Cora said. “Using the information (from the analytics department); (vice president/baseball research and development) Zack (Scott) being part of the equation on a daily basis. What we’re doing with the medical staff is very similar to over there. I saw a lot of good things that happened on a daily basis with the Houston Astros and, obviously, it’s like football — a copycat league. We’re trying to do the same thing and we’re trying to accomplish the same goal.”

After falling 4-2 in the opener, Boston (39-18) will look to square the series behind left-hander Chris Sale (5-2, 2.76 ERA) on Friday. Sale allowed a season-high six runs over 4 1/3 innings in his previous start against the Atlanta Braves on Sunday, snapping a string of four consecutive wins. He is 5-1 with a 1.31 ERA over six career starts against the Astros, owning a .168 opponent batting average. His 13.0 strikeout-to-walk ratio is the highest ever against Houston. However, Sale was the pitcher of record in Games 1 and 4 of the American League Division Series last season, allowing nine runs on 13 hits and one walk over 9 2/3 innings in a pair of defeats.

The Astros will turn to right-hander Gerrit Cole (5-1, 2.05 ERA) on Friday. Cole, who leads the AL in strikeouts (109) and ranks second in WHIP (0.83) and opponent batting average (.169), did not factor in the decision in his previous outing at Cleveland last Sunday after allowing three runs on four hits and two walks with eight strikeouts over seven innings. He is 1-1 with a 5.25 ERA over two career starts against the Red Sox while pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Houston (36-22) is in the midst of a grueling stretch, coming off a seven-game road trip through Cleveland and New York against two of the final four teams in the 2017 AL postseason. The Astros and Red Sox were the other two combatants. The Astros pulled to within 3 1/2 games of Boston for the best record in the AL with their win in the opener, and while there is plenty of jostling left to come, it’s never too early to establish an upper hand in the season series.

“It’s important for us to play ahead in this series,” Hinch said. “We expect them to be aggressive, we expect them to hit off the fastball very early in the count. We’ll match our pitching against their hitting, so I think it will be a really good series.

“We’ve had a nice little run here of playing really good teams.”