HEADLINE

Dallas in wonderland as Astros seek sweep of Red Sox

The Sports Xchange

September 08, 2018 at 9:52 pm.

BOSTON — Back on June 10, after allowing 13 hits and five earned runs in a start against the Texas Rangers, Dallas Keuchel was 3-8 with a 4.45 ERA in his final season before potential free agency.

The left-hander is 8-2 with a 2.62 ERA since as he tries to pitch the Houston Astros to a sweep of their three-game series with the Boston Red Sox in Sunday night’s series finale at Fenway Park.

Rick Porcello, a 16-game winner who has had his second-half struggles, goes for the Red Sox, who have lost their first home series in the last 11 thanks to losses Friday and Saturday.

The Astros, maintaining their 3 1/2-game lead over the winning Oakland A’s in the American League West, rallied for a 6-3 victory Friday night and got homers from Alex Bregman and Martin Maldonado in Saturday’s 5-3 win — their seventh straight and 14th in their last 17 games.

Jake Marisnick made an outstanding running catch of an Andrew Benintendi drive with the bases loaded and two outs in the fourth inning. He also had a sacrifice fly.

Bregman’s homer was his career-high 30th of the season, something he called “a nice little accomplishment.” He joins Morgan Ensberg as the only Astros third basemen to reach 30 — and his torrid streak has vaulted him into the MVP conversation.

Boston’s Mookie Betts ripped his 40th double of the year Saturday, making him the first player in MLB history with four straight seasons of 40 doubles and 20 stolen bases.

The Red Sox scored in the ninth inning and had first and third with one out against Roberto Osuna, but J.D. Martinez grounded into a double play to end it.

“Any time he comes up, regardless of the score, we feel that he’s gonna barrel something,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora, the bench coach for last year’s Houston champions, said. “Just a good pitch by Osuna, and he got him to roll over and that was it.

“I don’t know what the numbers are with men in scoring position (3-for-13), but it felt like we had traffic in both games and we haven’t been able to cash in. They made some pitches too — you’ve got to give them credit.”

Keuchel has won his last two starts to climb above .500, yielding three earned runs in 12 innings.

He is 0-1 with a whopping 9.88 ERA in three games (two starts) in the regular season against Boston. But he went 5 2/3 innings, allowing one run, in winning Game 2 of last season’s American League Division Series.

Porcello is 16-7 with a 4.20 ERA. He has won his last two starts, but gave up five runs in 10 innings in those games and is 2-3 with a 5.73 ERA in his last six outings.

He beat the Astros on June 3 in Houston, going 6 1/3 innings and allowing two earned runs — and is 2-1 lifetime against them.

The current Red Sox are hitting a combined .219 lifetime with four home runs against Keuchel. Ian Kinsler is 10-for-33, but Mitch Moreland (likely to sit) is 1-for-13, Steve Pearce 2-for-19 with a home run, Martinez 1-for-9 and Xander Bogaerts 1-for-7 with a homer.

The Astros on the roster have hit a combined .268 with four home runs against Porcello. Marwin Gonzalez, who returned as a pinch runner in the ninth inning Saturday, is 3-for-7 and Josh Reddick 3-for-10, and Maldonado is 2-for-9 with a home run.

Lance McCullers Jr., out since Aug. 4 with a right forearm strain, threw his second bullpen of the week Saturday — 30 pitches, all fastballs.

“Honestly I couldn’t have hoped for a better pen today,” McCullers said. “It’s a good step forward. I still have a couple more boxes to check before we start getting into games, but this was a big step for me.”

Cora indicated before the game that Brandon Phillips will get his second start with the Red Sox in Sunday night’s game. He hit a two-run, ninth-inning homer to win Wednesday’s game in Atlanta.