HOUSTON -- Daisuke Matsuzaka is feeling closer to his old self after sitting out almost a month with a shoulder injury. He certainly feels better than he did a week ago.
Matsuzaka (9-1) bounced back from his awful outing against St. Louis last weekend, his first start since coming off the disabled list with a mild strain in his rotator cuff. He gave up seven runs and six hits in one inning in that one, but immediately atoned for that by fanning the first three Astros he faced.
"I'm not even counting my last start," Matsuzaka said through an interpreter. "But I did feel like I did come back with this start. I just hope gradually I can make back all the trouble that I caused."
Matsuzaka threw only 87 pitches, his third-lowest total in 13 starts. Boston manager Terry Francona wanted Dice-K to throw around 85 pitches and he liked what he saw from the pitcher's mechanics.
"The ball came out of his hand crisp," Francona said. "I know he felt good, but we want to progress him to where he gets stronger."
Dice-K called the start an important step.
"I don't know if I'd say happy, but there was a minimum standard I wanted to reach out there today," he said. "I feel that, with my next start and going forward, it will just get better and better."
J.D. Drew hit a three-run homer and Mike Lowell added a two-run single in the ninth for the Red Sox, who stayed one-half game ahead of Tampa Bay in the AL East.
Drew helped Boston's Japanese ace with a homer off Runelvys Hernandez in the third, after Coco Crisp walked and Dustin Pedroia doubled. Drew snapped an 0-for-14 drought with his 15th homer. Despite the mini-slump, Drew has 11 homers and 26 RBI in June.
"It's been a nice month," Drew said. "I'll just try to transition that up for the rest of the season."
Drew's drive was all the offense Matsuzaka and the Red Sox needed.
Lance Berkman led off the second with a single, but Dice-K set down 10 of the next 11 Houston hitters, allowing only a walk to Hernandez.
Houston loaded the bases with two outs in the fifth inning, the only real scoring threat Matsuzaka faced all night. After a mound visit from pitching coach John Farrell, Matsuzaka got David Newhan to pop up for the final out.
Catcher Jason Varitek knew Matsuzaka was tiring in the fifth.
"He was pretty gassed," Varitek said. "We had to give him a little breather. He had to work a bit, but it was good to get him through five."
The Astros sensed Matsuzaka was struggling throughout the game, but couldn't take advantage.
"He had a decent fastball, but he really didn't have his changeup working," said Houston leadoff man Michael Bourn, who went 0-for-3. "We had a chance to get him, but he battled his way out of it."
Craig Hansen relieved Matsuzaka for the sixth and needed only eight pitches to retire the Astros in order. Pedroia tacked on an RBI single in the seventh off Astros reliever Chris Sampson.
Reggie Abercrombie hit a solo homer off Hideki Okajima in the eighth, the first run allowed by Boston's bullpen in 12 innings. Miguel Tejada singled before Francona brought in closer Jonathan Papelbon, who struck out Berkman.
The Red Sox loaded the bases in the ninth and Lowell singled to center off Doug Brocail. Papelbon pitched a perfect ninth to earn his 24th save in his 28th chance.
The Astros' punchless offense ruined a solid start from the 30-year-old Hernandez, who was called up from the minors on Thursday to take Shawn Chacon's spot in the rotation.
Houston placed Chacon on waivers Thursday, one day after he got into a physical confrontation with general manager Ed Wade in the Astros' clubhouse.
Hernandez was 6-3 with a 3.72 ERA in 15 starts with Triple-A Round Rock before the Astros purchased his contract.
"I gave 100 percent and that's usually enough to win," said Hernandez, who threw 99 pitches. "But I didn't want to be too excited. I was just trying to do my job."
Pedroia has hit safely in his last nine road games. ... Crisp will begin serving a five-game suspension on Saturday. Major League Baseball cut two days off his original seven-game suspension for his role in a bench-clearing brawl during Boston's June 5 game against Tampa Bay. ... Boston has now beaten every NL opponent on the road except the Los Angeles Dodgers (0-3).