HOUSTON — When the Red Sox lost the second game of their Division Series against the Yankees at Fenway Park, what had been a joyride season came down the necessity of winning at least one game at Yankee Stadium to bring the series back home.
“The sky was falling in Boston. It seems like all of a sudden we weren’t good,” manager Alex Cora said.
The Sox went to New York and eliminated their rivals in two games, gaining the kind of confidence not even a 108-win regular season could produce.
There’s a direct line from those games to where the Red Sox are now: two victories away from the World Series.
The Sox quieted another noisy crowd on Tuesday with an 8-2 victory against the Houston Astros in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series.
Jackie Bradley Jr.’s grand slam in the eighth inning put the game away as the Sox took a 2-1 lead in the series and improved to 3-0 on the road in the postseason. They have outscored the Yankees and Astros, 28-6, in those games.
“There’s not a lot of soft landings in the playoffs against the Red Sox,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said.
Cora said before the game his only goal was to win at least once here and get the series back to Boston. Now the Sox have Rick Porcello for Game 4 on Wednesday at 8:39 p.m. with the chance to take control of the series.
Porcello will face Charlie Morton, who has not pitched since Sept. 30 and has thrown only four innings since Sept. 16.
“This is a place that [the Astros] feed off the crowd. They’re very comfortable here offensively and to show up today and play the way we did, I’m very proud of them,” Cora said.
Bradley put a game away that teammates set up for that final shot.
Nathan Eovaldi and four relievers held the Astros to seven hits and struck out eight. Eovaldi allowed two over six innings and improved to 2-0 in the postseason.
“Nate did amazing. He’s been like the unsung hero, coming in and just filling up the zone with strikes with all his pitches,” Bradley said.
Steve Pearce hit a go-ahead home run in the sixth inning, a rocket that could not be caught three innings after he was robbed of an extra-base hit with a disputed catch.
From there, the Sox built a five-run inning against Houston closer Roberto Osuna.
With two outs and a runner on first, Rafael Devers singled. Pinch hitter Brock Holt was then hit in the foot by a pitch, a call the Red Sox successfully challenged and got reversed.
With the bases loaded, pinch hitter Mitch Moreland was hit in the shoulder by a pitch to force in a run.
Moreland has so far been available only as a pinch hitter in this series because of a strained right hamstring. He drew a walk with the bases loaded in Game 1, had a single in Game 2, and drove in another run in Game 3.
“I’m a specialist,” he said.
Bradley was next and he hammered a high fastball deep into the stands in right field. The slam gave him seven RBIs in the series and sent Astros fans for the exits.
Bradley was 1 for 17 with four RBIs with the bases loaded in the regular season. But he doubled in three runs in the third inning of Game 2, then followed that with perhaps the biggest hit of his career.
“Putting good swings on good pitches. That’s pretty much it,” he said.
It’s more than that. Bradley slumped early in the season but remade his approach at the plate to avoid defensive shifts. He has since been one of the team’s most productive hitters.
“It’s all him,” Cora said. “It’s a credit to him, because at this level, when you’re hitting .180 after two months or I think it was three months, it is hard. And he kept showing up. He kept working. He kept working his craft. Now you see the results.”
The Red Sox started quickly against Houston starter Dallas Keuchel in the first inning. Mookie Betts singled to center field before Andrew Benintendi went the other way and singled to left.
The Sox stayed with an opposite field approach as J.D. Martinez drove a double down the right field line and Betts scored. Xander Bogaerts followed with a groundout to shortstop that scored Benintendi.
The Astros quickly cut the lead to 2-1 in the bottom of the inning.
Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman had singles off Eovaldi. With two outs, Eovaldi got ahead of Marwin Gonzalez, 0 and 2, but could not put him away. His 2-and-2 pitch was a cutter on the inner half of the plate that Gonzalez flicked into right field for an RBI single.
Keuchel walked Martinez and Bogaerts with two outs in the third. Pearce drove a slider to left field. Tony Kemp made a leaping catch up against the scoreboard.
The Sox challenged the call, believing the ball hit a panel of the scoreboard first. But MLB’s replay center upheld the decision.
The Astros did not score again until the fifth inning. Altuve drew a two-out walk. Bregman followed with a hard-hit ball to third base that Devers tried to play on a short hop. The ball got by him and rolled down the line, allowing Altuve to score.
The play was charitably ruled a double and it was 2-2.
Joe Smith replaced Keuchel to start the sixth inning. Pearce unloaded on a fastball and sent it 465 feet to left field for his first career postseason home run.
“It felt great. I’m not going to lie. I’m just glad it stayed fair,” he said.
BARRY CHIN AND JIM DAVIS PHOTOS