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Red Sox 14, Rays 6: Homers, Hernández and Houck

Turns out to beat the Rays defense, you just don’t let them catch it.

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Division Series - Boston Red Sox v Tampa Bay Rays - Game Two Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

Well that was a little better than Thursday night. In the first game of this series, the Red Sox far too often fell victim to perfect positioning from the Rays, so they hit it the one place they can’t position anyone: Over the fence. Boston hit five home runs — one of which was from Kiké Hernández, who had five hits on the day — on Friday en route to their win, four of which came with two strikes. And while they got another rough start, this time from Chris Sale, they got an incredible relief appearance from Tanner Houck, who allowed just one run over five innings to give the offense a chance to get back in this game. As a road team, you’re just looking for one win in the first two games of a five-game series, and Boston got that with this one.

This was a rollercoaster of a game down in Tampa, which in and of itself was nice given that Thursday’s Game One felt like just a beat down from start to end, even if that’s not actually how it went. But after failing to get even a single run across in that series opener, the Red Sox wasted little time here in Game Two. They seem to be at their best facing velocity from the right side, and that’s what they got in this game facing off against the young Shane Baz.

But what got them started here in the first inning was patience, with Kyle Schwarber drawing a four-pitch walk to start the game. Kiké Hernández followed that up with a double to put a pair in scoring position, and then a couple batters later Xander Bogaerts got the Red Sox on the board with a base hit to make it a 1-0 lead. Alex Verdugo then followed that up with a big single of his own, and Boston had a 2-0 lead before the Rays had a chance to bat.

With Chris Sale on the mound, there was certainly reason to feel good about the state of things. It did not take long for that to change. Sale just didn’t have it in this game, and that was made clear early when his first pitch was hit back up the middle for a 105 mph single. His next pitch was also hit for a single, and trouble was brewing two pitches into his start.

Sale did follow that up with his first strikeout of the evening, but then walked Nelson Cruz on four pitches, none of which was particularly close, to load the bases. Yandy Díaz did his job in the next at bat, singling one through the right side — this was one of two balls that I thought should have been knocked down at least, but Kyle Schwarber has negative range at first base — to cut the Red Sox lead in half. Then Jordan Luplow came up. Sale was throwing him all fastballs despite him being a fastball hitter, and the third one over the zone was a pitch Luplow was hunting. He hit a no-doubt grand slam, and suddenly Tampa Bay had a three-run lead.

Division Series - Boston Red Sox v Tampa Bay Rays - Game Two Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Although he did get two outs after that to get through the inning, he wouldn’t get any more as his day was wisely cut short after just an inning. Taking his place was Tanner Houck, who looked every bit the right-handed Chris Sale he is often called, but in the good kind of way. He had retired his last 19 in a row coming into this game, and he didn’t miss a beat this time around either. The righty retired the first 11 he faced in this game, once again showing pressure just does not affect him.

And that was a very good thing, because the Red Sox bats started to wake up. They wasted a leadoff single in the second, which felt a bit deflating coming on the heels of the Luplow grand slam, but they didn’t get down. Instead, they just kept crushing the ball, and finally good things happened. Bogaerts had the first strike in the third, smoking a 3-2 fastball out to left field to cut the deficit down to two. In the very next at bat, Alex Verdugo hit a moonshot of his own, also with two strikes, to make it a one-run game.

That was all they’d get in that third inning, but Kiké Hernández picked things back up in the fourth with a solo homer of his own, giving them three of those, and all with two strikes. Boston would get a couple more baserunners in that inning after Hernández, bringing J.D. Martinez to the plate with two on and one out. The slugger missed the Wildcard Game and Game One of this series with an ankle injury suffered in the regular season finale, but you couldn’t tell here. He followed the trend of two-strike homers by blasting one out to center field, but his was a three-run shot. The momentum was suddenly all with Boston, who now held an 8-5 lead.

Houck, meanwhile, eventually got his perfect streak up to 30 straight batters before Wander Franco hit a two-out single in the fifth and broke it up. But Houck did get out of that inning unscathed. He couldn’t say the same in the sixth, when the hard contact started to arise. He was helped out by a phenomenal defensive play for the first out as Verdugo reached way over the wall in foul ground in the right field corner. But then a couple batters later, Ji-Man Choi just barely cleared the wall for a solo homer to make it a two-run game once again. The homer was reviewed for fan interference, and it looked very close upon replay but was upheld. That was all Houck would give up, and he’d end his night with five big innings in relief.

Boston had a chance to answer right back in the seventh when they started out the frame with back-to-back singles from Verdugo and Martinez. A Hunter Renfroe double play ball put that in doubt, but Christian Vázquez salvaged the opportunity with a two-out base hit down the first base line, bringing home Verdugo to make it a 9-6 ballgame.

With that extra run in hand, Alex Cora turned things over to Ryan Brasier to start off the seventh. He got the job done and then some, striking out all three batters he faced. And even better, the Red Sox added some more insurance in the eighth with Devers joining the homer party. His, coming after Hernández’s fourth hit of the night, did not come on two strikes, instead destroying a 1-0 pitch to straightaway center field for a two-run shot, putting Boston up five.

Hansel Robles then got the call for the eighth to face the heart of the Rays lineup and make sure they didn’t make this a game again. Tampa Bay did get one runner on an infield single, but that was all as Robles did his job and kept the lead at six.

The Red Sox offense only continued to add in the ninth, with Martinez getting his fourth hit of the game (and then leaving for a pinch runner), Hernández getting his fifth, and the team adding three more runs to make it a 14-6 game. Matt Barnes did not look sharp in the ninth, giving up a single and two walks, but he managed to escape without a run to end the game.

The 14-6 victory evens up the series at one game apiece as they had back to Boston for the next two.

The Red Sox and Rays now have a travel day before heading back up north to play Game Three up at Fenway on Sunday. First pitch for that one is at 4:07 PM ET.


Courtesy of FanGraphs