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Red Sox aim to clinch series vs. Astros

HOUSTON -- With the Boston Red Sox trending in the right direction up the American League East standings, there was a bit of buzz inside Minute Maid Park on Friday night, a vibe borne of anticipation from this showcase of two of baseball's best.

The series opener didn't disappoint, with Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts scoring both Boston (38-29) runs while ensuring that the Astros (45-23) scored just one with a marvelous defensive play to close the sixth inning in a 2-1 victory.

The Red Sox opened the season as favorites in the AL East if not the entire American League. Injuries undermined their early-season momentum, but Boston has now won four of five games and nine of 13 to make a charge at the Yankees heading into Saturday's game.

The performance in Houston, both on the mound behind Drew Pomeranz and a lights-out bullpen, and at the plate with Betts pacing the offense, showcased the talent Boston carried into the season and the potential it has moving forward.

"We knew coming in here this is going to be a strong test, a strong challenge," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "To pitch like we did tonight in their home ballpark; that was encouraging. Drew set the tone, and the bullpen continues to put up zeroes. We played a good game."

The Red Sox will look to right-hander Rick Porcello (3-8, 4.67 ERA), the 2016 AL Cy Young Award winner, to take the baton from Pomeranz and run with it. Porcello is 1-0 with a 3.29 ERA over two career starts against the Astros.

What doesn't bode well for Houston is the fact that Porcello has worked at least six innings in each of his last 19 road starts, the longest active streak in the majors.

Porcello is 8-4 with a 3.30 ERA during that impressive stretch of outings.

The Astros will counter with rookie right-hander David Paulino (0-0, 6.59 ERA), who continues to get chances to fill voids in the Astros' injury-plagued rotation.

Paulino, the Astros' third-ranked prospect, will make his fourth start of the season and fifth of his career. He suffered the loss in his previous outing, allowing five runs on six hits over four innings in a 12-6 setback to the Los Angeles Angels.

Saturday will mark his seventh career appearance and second start at home.

Given the low bar for the still developing Paulino, the Astros will require the services of their bullpen in the second game of their series with Boston. The Red Sox bullpen excelled in the opener, but the Astros made two Boston relievers, right-handers Joe Kelly and Matt Barnes, labor to record their five combined outs.

Kelly won a protracted battle with veteran Nori Aoki, who extended to a nine-pitch at-bat before hitting a line drive to third baseman Josh Rutledge with two runners in scoring position and two outs in the seventh inning of a 1-1 game.

In the eighth, Barnes allowed a hit and a walk before eluding danger with an inning-ending double play from Evan Gattis. The Red Sox are likely to need their bullpen again if they aim to clinch the series on Saturday.

Houston will be poised.

"They have a really good bullpen, and we put up some pretty good at-bats against a really good bullpen despite not getting the big breakthrough hit," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said.

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