Squandered opportunities curse Astros in loss to Red Sox

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A ground ball bounced to shortstop, another wasted opportunity on an evening rife with them. Xander Bogaerts collected it, sensed Alex Bregman bearing down upon second base and lunged for the bag. His glove and Bregman’s foot reached simultaneously.

Second-base umpire Phil Cuzzi ruled Bregman out and the seventh inning over, stranding the sixth and seventh Astros runners on base during Sunday’s 9-3 loss.

Bregman pointed to his dugout and commanded a replay review. Brock Holt, the Fort Worth native who struck this game’s fatal blow, wagged his finger toward it — a prescient show of gamesmanship to effectively conclude this four-game series.

The advent of challenges necessitates such visceral reactions. Manager A.J. Hinch obliged Bregman’s pleas. The game was still within three runs, though only two innings away from becoming a farce at the hands of Collin McHugh and Ken Giles.

Two minutes and 15 seconds found insufficient evidence to overturn Cuzzi’s call. The inning ended, allowing the Astros to again let a pristine opportunity pass.

Bregman’s broken-bat, bases-loaded single in the seventh inning was his club’s first hit in 11 at-bats with a man in scoring position. The Red Sox built a five-run lead while the 10 others came and went, battering Astros starter Charlie Morton during his worst start of the season.

Morton’s domination of lefthanded hitters halted against a Red Sox lineup which played for four games without Mookie Betts or Dustin Pedroia and, still, collected 15 hits on Sunday.

Lefthanded hitters produced a .164/.255/.262 slash line against him in 137 prior plate appearances. He yielded six home runs to them all last season.

Sunday, they struck five hits against him. Four were for extra bases. Andrew Benintendi and Mitch Moreland hit home runs. Holt massacred an RBI triple in the sixth inning to afford his team a five-run lead and end Morton’s evening.

Morton permitted six earned runs, the most of his Astros career. Not since April 7, 2016 had he allowed as many in a regular-season start.

Benintendi led off the game with a double. Moreland annihilated a two-out, 0-1 hanging curveball to the Budweiser bar in right-center field to chase him home. The missile exited Moreland’s bat at 107.1 mph, a foreboding sign of what was to come.

Morton recorded one clean inning, striking out the side in the second. A man reached scoring position in every other one.

The loss snapped Morton’s 10-game winning streak. It was tied for the longest active streak in the Major Leagues. In the 14 starts during that span, he’d permitted opponents just a .195 batting average.

Morton’s offense afforded him little leeway.

It placed the leadoff man in scoring position during five of the first six innings and produced one run — George Springer’s leadoff home run against Red Sox starter Rick Porcello that pared a two-run deficit to one.

Porcello lived perilously. The home run to Springer was his first against a righthanded hitter all season. His earned-run average hovered around four when the game began. The Astros struck early but failed in all efforts to inflate it.

In their first 10 at-bats with runners in scoring position, they did not produce a hit. Bregman, Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa — hitting second, third and fourth in the order — struck out five times in their first six plate appearances against Porcello.

Yuli Gurriel curled a double inside the left-field foul line to start the second inning. Two flyouts and a grounder did not move him. Moreland could not field Tony Kemp’s ground ball and Springer coaxed a walk to begin the third.

Bregman watched a two-seamer paint the outer half, lingering in the batter’s box as silent protest of umpire Ben May’s inconsistent strike zone. Altuve swung through the two-seamer he saw. Correa exited after swinging at a slider in the dirt.

It was Correa who arrived in the seventh inning and two men aboard, the tying run in a game the 33,431 who gathered sensed could be changed.

His ground ball found Bogaerts, only to prolong the inevitable.

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