Red Sox

4 takeaways from the Red Sox’ Game 2 win over the Rays

The Red Sox evened their ALDS series against the Rays.

Matthew J Lee/Globe staff
Alex Verdugo and the Red Sox offense muscled up in a big way Friday night at Tropicana Field, delivering five home runs and erasing an early 5-2 deficit with a 20-hit performance.

The Red Sox evened up their ALDS series against the Rays on Friday night, winning Game 2 14-6.

Here’s what happened, the player of the game, and takeaways as the series is now 1-1.

The big picture

After getting shut out in Game 1, the Red Sox bats showed up in the first inning. A Kyle Schwarber walk and a Kiké Hernández double gave the Red Sox runners scoring position right away. They scored on singles from Xander Bogaerts and Alex Verdugo, respectively, giving the Red Sox a 2-0 lead.

Unfortunately for Boston, its starting pitcher didn’t show up. Chris Sale allowed singles on the first two pitches of the game and the Rays loaded up the bases following a walk from Nelson Cruz. Yandy Díaz’s single gave the Rays a run, making it 2-1 with the bases still loaded. Jordan Luplow crushed a fastball from Sale to left, hitting a grand slam and giving the Rays a 5-2 lead. Sale got out of the inning without any more trouble, but his day ended there.

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The Red Sox turned the game around starting in the third. Back-to-back home runs from Bogaerts and Verdugo cut the Rays’ lead to 5-4. Hernández hit a solo shot himself in the fifth, tying the game up. A walk by Rafael Devers and a single from Bogaerts put runners on board for J.D. Martinez, who returned to the lineup after injuring his ankle on Sunday. Martinez showed what the Red Sox missed in Game 1, hitting a homer to straightaway center to give the Red Sox an 8-5 lead.

On the other end, the Red Sox got another long performance out of the bullpen following a subpar performance from their starter. Tanner Houck stepped up in relief on Friday, throwing four scoreless innings to start. He allowed his only run in the sixth when Ji-Man Choi hit a solo homer to cut the Red Sox’ lead to 8-6.

But Boston got the runs back. Christian Vázquez singled in the seventh, giving the Red Sox a 9-6 lead. Devers hit a two-run home run in the eighth, extending the Red Sox lead to 11-6. Vázquez had another RBI single in the ninth and Hernández knocked in two more runs on a single of his own, giving the Red Sox a 14-6 lead.

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Ryan Brasier, Hansel Robles, and Matt Barnes each pitched scoreless innings, ensuring the Game 2 win for Boston.

Player of the game

Kiké Hernández: 5-for-6, one home run, three RBIs, three runs.

When you tie multiple playoff records, you earn yourself the “Player of the game.” In Game 2, Hernández tied the record for most hits in a playoff game with five. He also tied the record for most extra-base hits with four as he had three doubles to go along with his homer. It’s just the second time in MLB history that a player’s had five hits and four extra-base hits in a game.

Four of Hernández’s five hits either drove in a run or led to him scoring. His first-inning double was Boston’s first extra-base hit of the series, helping to set the tone for the Red Sox offense in Game 2. And, of course, he hit the game-tying homer in the fifth, helping shift the momentum in the Red Sox’ way.

Takeaways

1. Tanner Houck’s been really impressive over the last week.

He threw five perfect innings in his start against the Nationals last Saturday. He threw another perfect inning in relief against the Yankees in the Wild Card Game. On Friday, he threw three perfect innings to start his appearance, giving him nine innings of perfection.

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Houck’s most impressive stretch came in the third inning, when he struck out the Rays’ 3-4-5 hitters. He got Brandon Lowe to strike out looking on a slider on the opposite edge of the plate in a six-pitch at-bat. He got Nelson Cruz to strike out swinging on three pitches, throwing a slider away to put Cruz out. Finally, he struck out Yandy Díaz by getting Díaz to swing-and-miss at a sinker inside.

Houck ended up pitching five innings, allowing one run on two hits, no walks, and five strikeouts. He allowed Ji-Man Choi a home run in his final inning of relief. In his last three outings, Houck’s pitched 11 innings, allowing just one run on two hits, no walks, and 15 strikeouts, retiring 33 of 35 hitters faced.

The Red Sox have asked the rookie to step up in high-leverage situations over the last week. And he sure has delivered.

2. Following their Game 1 loss, Red Sox manager Alex Cora shared he “loved” his team’s at-bats even though they didn’t score a single run.

He had some good reason to believe that, as several of their hard-hit balls didn’t turn into base hits let alone extra-base hits, which they had none of in Game 1.

Sure enough, their offensive approach was rewarded in Game 2. Hernández got a double in the second at-bat of the game. They started to break through in the third when Bogaerts and Verdugo hit home runs. Hernández, Martinez, and Devers tagged along later with home runs of their own, setting a franchise record for most home runs hit in a playoff game with five.

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The first four home runs had one thing in common. Bogaerts, Verdugo, Hernández, and Martinez had two strikes in the count when they hit their home runs on Friday. Each was at least five pitches into their at-bats when the home run was hit, rewarding the Red Sox for drawing out at-bats that lead to big plays.

In addition to having two strikes in the count in four of their five homers, at least five pitches were thrown in all three at-bats that led to doubles. While the Red Sox were probably unlucky at the plate in Game 1, they got what they wanted in Game 2.

3. Rafael Devers’s home run was the only homer by the team that was less than five pitches. He hit his eighth-inning homer in just the second pitch of the at-bat, drilling a changeup 425 feet to straightaway center.

But that at-bat was really just the exclamation point on what was a solid turnaround performance for the star third baseman after Game 1. On Thursday, Devers went 1-for-4 with two strikeouts in key moments, with his swings-and-misses leading some to speculate that he was hurt.

On Friday, Devers looked like he was going to have a repeat performance in Game 2 following his first at-bat, in which he whiffed on two fastballs for a strikeout. However, his fifth-inning walk started to change the tide, reaching base on a full count. The walk led to Martinez’s three-run homer.

Devers drew another walk on a full count in the sixth, showing good plate discipline that wasn’t there in Game 1. While he finished the night just 1-for-4, the two other outs he made outside of the strikeout were hard-hit lineouts. It was reported earlier in the day Friday that Devers is dealing with an issue in his right forearm, but it didn’t hold him back in Game 2.

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4. For how impressive Tanner Houck’s been over the last week, Chris Sale has been just as unimpressive.

The Red Sox’ ace had his shortest start of the regular season on Sunday, throwing just 2 2/3 innings while giving up two runs on four hits and three walks.

Sale’s start on Friday was tied for the shortest of his career. He allowed hits on the first pitch to Randy Arozarena and Wander Franco, who were the first two hitters in the Rays’ lineup on Friday. A walk to Nelson Cruz loaded the bases up.

Yandy Díaz was able to connect with Sale’s slider for a single, and Jordan Luplow crushed Sale’s 94 mph fastball for a grand slam.

Even though Sale was able to generate two swinging strikeouts, all three swings-and-misses came from his slider. In the seven right-handed hitters he faced, four recorded hits, one walked, and another hit a flyout.

Obviously, Sale’s still in the early months of returning from Tommy John surgery, but he looked better than this in his first handful of starts back.

Since returning from COVID-19 on Sept. 17, Sale has pitched more than five innings once in the five starts he’s made. In the 18 2/3 innings, he’s pitched since then, he’s allowed 13 runs on 20 hits, seven walks, and 25 strikeouts.

Whether he’s dealing with something post-COVID or is dealing with pitching after Tommy John surgery is anyone’s guess. But it’s clear that Chris Sale isn’t the Chris Sale that we’ve known of in years past, and the Red Sox are going to have to adjust.

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