HOUSTON — Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora was asked after a 4-1 win over the Astros if he uses the two recent series against Houston as a measuring stick for how good his team is.
"No, I don't," Cora said with a grin. "If I say that, then they've got bragging rights."
Rafael Devers homered off Justin Verlander, and the Red Sox capitalized on two Houston errors to avoid a three-game sweep Sunday.
The banged-up Astros lost for just the fifth time in 22 games and finished the regular season 4-2 against the Red Sox, who beat them 4-1 in the ALCS last season on the way to a World Series championship.
"You see the scores," said Cora, the Astros' bench coach for their 2017 title before heading to Boston. "I know it's early and I know where they're at and I know where we're at. We just both match up well. There are no secrets. It's all execution. There were certain days where we didn't execute, and today, they made some errors and we took advantage of that."
Eduardo Rodriguez (5-3) held Houston to one run and four hits in six innings, improving to 5-1 in his last eight starts.
It was exactly the bounce-back outing he was hoping for after allowing six runs over five innings in a loss to Toronto last time out.
"It feels really good," Rodriguez said. "I've been working these past four days on how I'm going to pitch, the game plan and everything, and it worked pretty good."
Devers' solo shot to centre field in the fourth gave the Red Sox a 2-1 lead. It was Devers' seventh homer of the season and fourth in six games.
Boston extended its lead to 3-1 during a sloppy fifth inning for the AL West leaders. A one-out double by Eduardo Núñez was followed by errors from second baseman Yuli Gurriel and third baseman Alex Bregman on back-to-back plays, allowing Núñez to score.
"We didn't play well, and we missed an opportunity to sweep those guys and really just misfired on a day where (Verlander) pitched well enough to keep us in the game and win," Houston manager AJ Hinch said. "I think we allowed ourselves to play a little mentally tired, a little physically tired. We're beat up a little bit, so it wasn't our day."
Verlander (8-2) permitted three runs and six hits in seven innings, striking out six and walking none. He got his 2,800th career strikeout in the fourth against Michael Chavis and finished his day five strikeouts shy of Cy Young's 2,806 for 21st all-time.
Verlander also threw two wild pitches, both in the third inning, after entering with none in 72 1/3 innings this season.
"Against a lineup like that, you've got to limit baserunners, so when they get a couple guys on with infield hits, that makes it really tough," Verlander said. "I was pleased to be able to keep the damage to a minimum but not happy with the results, obviously. We play this game to win, and we weren't able to do that."
Houston went up 1-0 in the first when Aledmys Díaz scored from second on a single by Carlos Correa that deflected off Devers' glove at third base into shallow left field. Christian Vázquez couldn't handle Núñez's bouncing throw to the plate.
After the play, Díaz left the game with left hamstring discomfort. Gurriel moved to second base and Tyler White entered at first.
Hinch said after the game Díaz is likely headed to the injured list.
The Red Sox tied it in the second on a sacrifice fly from Andrew Benintendi that scored Steve Pearce.
Boston added an insurance run to make it 4-1 in the ninth. A walk to Jackie Bradley Jr. was followed by a balk from Framber Valdez, a passed ball and a groundout from Núñez that scored Bradley.
Marcus Walden pitched a scoreless inning for his second major league save and first this season.
Boston recalled top pitching prospect Darwinzon Hernandez from Double-A Portland and optioned RHP Colten Brewer to Triple-A Pawtucket. Hernandez, a 22-year-old left-hander, made his major league debut April 23 against Detroit, throwing 2 1/3 innings with one walk, four strikeouts and four hits allowed.
Walden's save made him the fifth Red Sox pitcher to earn one this season. Cora said the diversity in the approach to relief pitching without a traditional closer is a testament to the leverage reliever Matt Barnes gives him in often facing the meat of the opposing lineup regardless of the inning.
"It's all because of Barnes," Cora said. "He can do cool stuff, pitching in the eighth and the ninth and the heart of the order. We've got some guys stepping up to help take care of him."
Red Sox: LHP David Price (illness) could start Tuesday or Wednesday against Cleveland after lasting just three batters and 15 pitches before leaving Saturday's start against Houston. ... INF Brock Holt (shoulder) went through a full workout and will likely be activated and available on Monday against Cleveland.
Astros: C Max Stassi (left knee soreness) was placed on the 10-day injured list. Garrett Stubbs was recalled from Triple-A Round Rock to back up Robinson Chirinos and could make his first major league start Tuesday, Hinch said. ... 2B Jose Altuve (hamstring) was set to start a rehab assignment with Triple-A Round Rock on Sunday night.
Red Sox: RHP Rick Porcello (3-4, 4.45 ERA) will face the Indians when the Red Sox return home to Fenway Park on Monday. Boston is 6-1 in Porcello's last seven starts. RHP Jefry Rodriguez (1-4, 4.08) goes for Cleveland.
Astros: RHP Gerrit Cole (4-5, 4.11) pitches Monday against the Cubs, looking to improve on his 9-3 career record versus Chicago and add to his MLB-leading 100 strikeouts. LHP Cole Hamels (4-0, 3.38) gets the ball for the Cubs.
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