With Boston right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka and four relievers combining on a four-hitter, the 2007 World Series champions cruised to a 6-1 victory over the Astros on Friday night in front of a sellout crowd of 42,327 at Minute Maid Park.
Matsuzaka (9-1) went five innings, allowing two singles and three walks. Craig Hansen and Manny Delcarmen were perfect in an inning apiece before the Astros finally got on the board with two outs in the eighth on pinch-hitter Reggie Abercrombie's home run off Hideki Okajima. Jonathan Papelbon finished up for his 24th save.
"I didn't think he was all that sharp tonight, but hey, we didn't really get a lot of good swings on him," Astros manager Cecil Cooper said of Matsuzaka. "We had one opportunity, and that was it really for the night.
"Bases loaded with two outs in the fifth inning. If we get a base hit there, it might have been a whole different ballgame. Those guys like that, you don't get too many opportunities. When you get a chance to get him, you've got to take advantage of it."
The Astros (37-43) squandered that scoring opportunity when Matsuzaka struck out pinch-hitter Darin Erstad, and after walking Michael Bourn to fill the sacks, retired David Newhan on a popup.
"He really didn't have his changeup working tonight," Bourn said. "I felt like we had a chance to get him, but he battled his way out of it."
Astros starter Runelvys Hernandez, making his season debut in place of recently released Shawn Chacon, was charged with the loss after giving up three runs on five hits.
"I thought he threw the ball OK," Cooper said. "The first couple of innings he was down in the strike zone. That's kind of what he has to do. He showed a real good slider, and his command was real good early. I saw great arm strength and that's something we don't have here, so he's going to get some opportunities."
Hernandez (0-1) found himself pitching from the stretch in four of the five innings he worked, but despite all the traffic on the bases, he kept Boston off the board in all but one of the frames.
That was the third, when J.D. Drew turned on an 87-mph slider for his 15th homer. Drew's shot into the right-field seats on the 2-0 offering snapped an 0-for-14 string for the Red Sox right fielder and scored Coco Crisp and Dustin Pedroia to give the Sox a 3-0 lead.
"I threw the slider in the wrong position," Hernandez said. "I felt really good, but that mistake took me out of the game."
The Red Sox (50-32) added an insurance run in the seventh off Chris Sampson on an RBI single by Pedroia. Astros lefty Wesley Wright surrendered two more runs in the ninth.
Houston avoided the shutout, thanks to the first pinch-hit homer of Abercrombie's career.
"[First-base coach Jose Cruz] told me to just go out there and try to make good contact," Abercrombie said. "I ran into one and hit a home run."
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.