ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Red Sox were in deep trouble on Friday night, as Chris Sale walked slowly off the mound in the first inning after giving up five runs to the Tampa Bay Rays.
The 2004 Red Sox proved nothing is impossible in the postseason, but losing the first two games of the best-of-five Division Series would have been a cavernous hole for this team.
Instead, the Sox will return to Fenway Park riding high after an 14-6 Game 2 victory that was stunning in myriad ways.
Tanner Houck replaced Sale and retired 11 batters in a row. His five innings of one-run relief were reminiscent of Pedro Martinez’s six shutout innings against Cleveland in Game 5 of the 1999 Division Series.
As Houck cooled the Rays, the Sox lineup went to work. Their five home runs were a franchise postseason record.
“Offensively it was like, hey, don’t panic,” said Alex Cora, now 4-0 after a loss in the four playoff series he has managed with the Sox.
J.D. Martinez returned from a two-game absence with a sprained left ankle to go 4 for 5 with a home run and three RBIs. Were it during the season, Martinez was told, he would have been on the injured list.
“But it’s the playoffs, you know? You only get one chance at this,” he said.
Kiké Hernández was 5 for 6 with three doubles, a home run, three runs scored, and three RBIs. The four extra-base hits were a team record for a postseason game.
Xander Bogaerts had three hits for the first time in a playoff game. He drove in two runs and homered. Alex Verdugo was 3 for 5 with a homer and two RBIs. Rafael Devers added a two-run homer, and Christian Vázquez was 3 for 5 with two RBIs.
The Sox had 20 hits in all, a team record for a playoff game on the road.
Game 3 is scheduled for 4:07 p.m. on Sunday. Nate Eovaldi starts, likely against Drew Rasmussen.
Houck, the winning pitcher, has retired 30 of 32 batters in his last two relief appearances, 26 in a row at one point. The rookie’s cool under pressure allowed his teammates to believe.
“We started one run at a time and started scoring and scoring and scoring until we were able to tie it, and then [Houck] kept them right there,” Hernández said.
The first three innings of the game featured nine runs on 11 hits, three of them home runs. It was a disaster for both starting pitchers, in particular Sale.
Five of the first six batters reached on Tampa Bay rookie righthander Shane Baz in the first inning as the Sox took a 2-0 lead.
Kyle Schwarber walked, went to third on a double down the left field line by Hernández, and scored on a single by Bogaerts.
Sale took the mound, and the lead vanished quickly. Rays Game 1 hero Randy Arozarena led off with a single into left field. Wander Franco then grounded a single into right. With one out, Sale pitched around Nelson Cruz for a walk.
The Rays made him pay. Yandy Diaz singled to right field to drive in Arozarena, and Jordan Luplow drilled an 0-2 fastball into the left-field bleachers for a grand slam.
That Sale threw an 0-2 fastball to Luplow, as opposed to a slider or changeup, was stunning and spoke to the lack of confidence in his secondary pitches.
Sale ended the inning without further damage, but didn’t come back out for the second as Houck took over. The one-inning start matched the shortest of his career. (The other, on Sept. 11, 2018, was planned for one inning as Sale was returning from a shoulder injury.)
Sale has allowed 10 runs on 12 hits over 8⅔ innings his last three games. His comeback from Tommy John surgery, smooth for seven starts, has hit a wall.
“It was definitely a little deflating at first,” Verdugo said. “But I just remember [Cora] is coming up and down the dugout [saying], ‘It’s all right, we got a whole game, eight more innings. Keep going.’ I felt like that really set the tone.”
Bogaerts homered in the third to knock Baz out of the game. Collin McHugh came on, and his fifth pitch was driven out to right field by Verdugo.
Hernández homered to left leading off the fifth to tie the game. Devers drew a walk, and Matt Wisler replaced McHugh.
Bogaerts singled to set up Martinez. He fell behind 0-2, took two sliders off the plate, then drove a hanger over the wall in center for an 8-5 lead. It was Martinez’s seventh postseason home run, the fourth with the Sox.
Ji-Man Choi homered for Tampa Bay in the sixth, but the Sox built the lead back up to three runs in the seventh on a two-out single by Vázquez. It grew to 11-6 in the eighth when Hernández doubled for the third time and Devers homered to center off Michael Wacha.
The Sox added three more in the ninth.
“We’re all happy, man. Riding high right now. Just we did our job,” Verdugo said. “We came out here, overcame a deficit again. Our bats came up. Our pitchers came up big, and now we’re going back to Fenway in our element.”