HOUSTON -- The biggest bright spot in the Astros' bullpen for much of the season was veteran reliever Jose Veras, who had settled nicely into a closer's role for the first time in his career and had pitched so well that the Tigers acquired him July 29 for their playoff push.
Without Veras, the Astros have had a difficult time finishing off games with a bullpen that features a rookie majority and no clear-cut closer.
Josh Fields got the job done in Monday's series opener against the Red Sox by striking out all four batters he faced, but Red Sox shortstop Stephen Drew tagged him for a three-run home run in the ninth inning Wednesday night that sent the Astros a 7-5 loss at Minute Maid Park.
"[Veras] was the one stabilizing force you felt like you get the ball to the ninth inning and you felt pretty good about him closing out the ballgame," manager Bo Porter said. "With him being traded, it was a concern who was going to close out games. It's another example of us being in position to close out a game and not having the ability to do it."
The blown save was the fourth in five opportunities for the Astros since trading Veras. In that span, Houston's bullpen has posted a 6.58 ERA and has allowed five home runs and 19 walks in 26 innings.
What made the latest blown save more frustrating for the Astros was that relievers Wesley Wright, Josh Zeid and Chia-Jen Lo recorded some huge outs to preserve the lead heading to the ninth inning. The Astros are 30-4 when leading after eight innings.
"It is frustrating, but I tell you what, I'm proud of the effort these guys displayed in these three ballgames against one of the best teams in baseball," said Porter, who suffered his first career ejection in the ninth inning. "The Boston Red Sox aren't feeling like they came in here for three games and walked over a team that has the worst record in baseball."
The Astros, leading 5-4, were three outs away from posting their first series win in nearly two months when David Ortiz started the ninth with his fourth single of the game. Jonny Gomes drew a one-out walk to set the stage for Drew, who put an 0-1 pitch into the right-field seats to win the game.
"I got ahead of him and threw a pretty good change and then tried to come back with a breaking ball and left it up," Fields said. "I should have buried it down a little bit more. It just came up out of my hand, and he put a pretty good swing on it."
Said Drew: "He threw me a first-pitch changeup, and watching Jonny's at-bat and having faced [Fields] yesterday, I just figured if I got something up in the zone I'd put a good swing on it. I got a curveball and he left it out over [the plate] and I got a good rip."
Houston scored three times in the sixth inning on RBI hits by Jose Altuve and Jason Castro and a sacrifice fly by Marc Krauss to take a 5-2 lead. Gomes hit a two-out, two-run homer off Zeid in the seventh to get Boston within a run.
Lo recorded a big strikeout to end the seventh and strand a pair of runners and then pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning to get the ball to Fields.
"We're going to continue to give them opportunities," Porter said. "You look at two nights ago -- Josh Fields came in and struck out four guys and got a save. Tonight he was in a similar situation with an opportunity to get the save, and he didn't get it done. From that standpoint, you live and die with the guys that you have."
Astros outfielder Robbie Grossman, who extended his hitting streak to 10 games by going 2-for-5, including a two-run homer in the third inning off Ryan Dempster, said he hasn't lost confidence in the bullpen.
"I have complete confidence in them, because they're a part of this team," Grossman said. "That's all that matters. Any time you get a chance to go on the mound, you have a chance to win or lose the game, and you have to make the best of it."
Astros starter Jarred Cosart, who was only the second pitcher in the last 100 years to allow one earned run or fewer and pitch at least six innings in his first four Major League starts, threw five-plus innings and surrendered two earned runs and seven hits while walking five batters and throwing a wild pitch.
"You look at the fact he did not have his pinpoint command today against a lineup like the Boston Red Sox -- they're patient, they work counts, they see a lot of pitches," Porter said. "I felt like he did a tremendous job making quality pitches when he did get in trouble."
Cosart has more walks (19) than strikeouts (14) in his first five starts despite a 1.36 ERA. He threw a season-high 25 curveballs, but 17 of them didn't find the strike zone.
"It's pretty self-explanatory where the walks came from," he said.