BOSTON -- Unable to get the big hit in the late innings, the Red Sox remained stuck in their quest to win the American League East, taking a 3-2 loss to the red-hot Astros on Friday night at Fenway Park.
After returning home with a five-game lead on Monday, Boston has lost four of the last five and leads the Yankees by two games in the division. Both teams have two games left. Over the next two days, a Boston win over the Astros or a New York loss to the Blue Jays would give the Red Sox their second consecutive AL East title. This is the first time Boston has led by as few as two games since Aug. 3.
If the Yankees come back and catch the Red Sox, the longtime rivals would play a one-game tiebreaker for the AL East title on Monday at Yankee Stadium. The winner of that game would play in the American League Division Series presented by Doosan against either the Astros or the Indians. The loser would host the Twins in the AL Wild Card Game on Tuesday.
The 100-60 Astros, who have won 13 of 15 and five in a row, trail the Indians by one game in the chase for the No. 1 seed in the AL, but Cleveland owns the tiebreaker and has a magic number of one to clinch home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs. It marks the second time in club history that Houston has reached the 100-win plateau.
"It's a big number," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "It takes six months to get there. I'm proud of our guys, obviously. We've got a couple of games left. We'd like 102, plus 11 in October. But yeah, any chance to get to come out and play and win some games, win the way we're winning, it's a nice feeling."
Alex Bregman staked the Astros to a 3-0 lead by driving in all three of Houston's runs, including a two-run homer against Doug Fister in the top of the fifth. Bregman has driven in 11 runs during a six-game RBI streak.
"It was a fun game to be a part of and we know we can swing it and put up a lot of runs, but we also know we have the bullpen and the defense and offense to win close games, win one-run games," Bregman said. "It's another great example of how huge our bullpen's been this year. They did a great job tonight."
Charlie Morton, pitching for the first time at Fenway Park, dazzled early for Houston, retiring the first 13 batters he faced, and he wound up earning the win, allowing four hits and two runs over 5 1/3 innings. The righty walked none and struck out four, finishing the regular season 14-7.
"I think I can look back and be proud of it, which is a nice feeling," Morton said. "Last year I made four starts after a 2015 season where I didn't feel very good about what I did. I felt I came in here and contributed."
Ken Giles continued his strong second half by earning his 34th save with a scoreless ninth.
Mitch Moreland broke up Morton's perfect game with a line-drive double to left field in the fifth, and Rafael Devers lofted a double off the scoreboard in left to plate Moreland.
Fister made a nice last audition for a spot in the postseason rotation, holding the high-powered Astros to five hits and three runs over 5 1/3 innings. He left with the Red Sox trailing, 3-1. David Price replaced him and recorded his fourth straight scoreless outing since being activated from the disabled list and moving to the bullpen.
Dustin Pedroia brought Boston within one on an RBI groundout in the sixth.
But the Red Sox couldn't tie it up or take the lead, though they seemed on the verge of doing so several times.
"It's just one of those games," said Pedroia. "We couldn't find a way to get the big hit and do something offensively. It was a good ballgame. We just came out a couple of runs short. We'll get after it [Saturday]."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Holt's aggressiveness backfires: When a pitch by Astros reliever Will Harris went in the dirt with two outs in the eighth, pinch-runner Brock Holt thought he'd have time to take second. But catcher Juan Centeno made a strong recovery and fired a bullet to second. Holt was called out, but it was close enough that Red Sox manager John Farrell issued a challenge. However, the call was confirmed and the potential tying run was thrown out to end the inning with Betts at the plate.
"I knew Harris was quick to the plate and Centeno had a good arm. I wasn't trying to steal. I was looking for a curveball in the dirt and he did exactly what I was looking for," said Holt. "As soon as I found out I was pinch-running for Pedroia, I was looking for him to bounce one and he did. I'm not going to stay on first base and hope Mookie hits a home run. I just wanted to advance 90 feet and get into scoring position so we could get a better chance to tie the game."
"I was trying to throw a curveball down, and Juan knows it's going to bounce and he did an amazing job blocking it," Harris said. "He got up and fired it. It was great. … Juan is a talented catcher and he showed it right there."
Hanley leaves 'em loaded: In the sixth, it looked like the Red Sox might tie things up or pull ahead. With a run already in to pull to within 3-2, the Red Sox had Hanley Ramirez up with the bases loaded and two outs. But reliever Chris Devenski got Ramirez to hit into a 6-4 groundout to end the inning. More >
"Hanley's got a big opportunity when we cut into the lead a little bit more, and then with the bases loaded, Devenski makes a pitch that induces a ground-ball out," said Farrell.
"We may never do this again or have the opportunity to win 100 games. We're very proud of it, no doubt about it." -- Harris
"We still control our own fate. There are still two games left in the season. We have to take care of business starting tomorrow." -- Fister
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The Red Sox slipped to 4-36 this season when they score three or fewer runs.
A half-inning after Holt was called out on a close play at second, the Astros challenged when Sandy Leon threw out Cameron Maybin on a stolen-base attempt in the ninth. After a replay review, it was determined the call would stand.
WHAT'S NEXT Astros: Right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. makes his final start of the regular season in the Astros' 12:05 p.m. CT game Saturday against the Red Sox at Fenway Park. McCullers will grab a spot in Houston's postseason rotation if he can prove he's healthy. He's made just two starts since July 30 because of injury.
Red Sox: Left-hander Drew Pomeranz is on tap to make his final start of the best regular season of his career when he tries to pitch the Red Sox to the AL East title. However, Pomeranz is coming off his shortest start of the season, as he gave up seven hits and five runs over two-plus innings in a loss to the Blue Jays on Monday. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. ET.