HOUSTON -- Deep in the heart of Texas (clap, clap, clap). Deeper in the heart of darkness for the Boston Red Sox.
With Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington flying in for the occasion, Boston's losing streak was extended to six games on Tuesday night by the Houston Astros, by a score of 8-3, and without fail produced one of those, "You won't believe how they embarrassed themselves this time" moments.
It came in the bottom of the fifth inning, with the Red Sox holding a 3-1 advantage -- their first lead five games into this trip.
The Astros had runners on first and third after a couple of singles and a force play with Sox rookie left-hander Brian Johnson on the mound making his major league debut. Jose Altuve, the Astros' All-Star second baseman was at the plate.
Johnson lobbed a couple of throws over to first base to keep the runner there, Jake Marisnick, from straying too far from the bag. But as soon as Johnson went to the plate, Marisnick took off. The pitch was high, which should have worked to the advantage of Red Sox catcher Ryan Hanigan, who sprung from his crouch and fired a throw to second. But the ball tailed badly away from the bag and the outstretched glove of Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts, and it struck the extended left elbow of Marisnick, who had dived headfirst into the base.
The throw caromed into a large piece of unoccupied real estate in left field. By the time outfielder Hanley Ramirez realized the bus was not going to pick him up in time and chugged after the ball, Marisnick was flying around third and headed home. Ramirez's throw was way up the first-base line, and Marisnick scored easily.
The Astros and their fans were jacked, and even though the score was tied, the Sox were cooked.
Johnson, who hadn't pitched in 15 days -- his last start came July 6 in Pawtucket -- walked Altuve for his fourth free pass of the night. Boston manager John Farrell summoned reliever Justin Masterson, who for the second straight outing hit the first batter he faced, Marwin Gonzalez. The Wonder Rook, Carlos Correa, hit a ground-rule double to break the tie, and an infield out produced another run.
After the Sox were held to four runs in four games while being swept in Anaheim (you had to go back 50 years to find the last time they were that impotent in a four-game set), they actually were on the receiving end of some good fortune Tuesday night. Mookie Betts' excuse-me checked swing produced a ground-ball double over the first-base bag, simultaneously ending his 0-for-20 skid and driving in two runs. Bogaerts' single scored Betts, and the Sox had themselves a 3-1 lead.
Before the game, Farrell had expressed some apprehension that Johnson would be able to harness his emotions on such a momentous occasion. Hard to know if it was nerves, or simply the long layoff, but Johnson walked the first batter he faced, Altuve, who easily stole second and eventually scored on Correa's sacrifice fly.
Johnson walked two more batters in the second but escaped that jam and enjoyed a most impressive third inning, when he struck out the first three batters in the Houston lineup in succession -- Altuve, Gonzalez and Correa -- while featuring a terrific breaking ball.
A 1-2-3 fourth followed.
But it all unraveled in the fifth.
The Sox, meanwhile, managed just three hits over the game's final 6 2/3 innings. They have been outscored in the first five games of this trip by a combined score of 30 to 7.
They are 10 games under .500 again (42-52).
They are 10 games behind the Yankees.
They are a beaten team.