HOUSTON — Since late last season, whenever a Boston Red Sox player smashes a home run, he plops down afterward in a metal laundry cart and gets pushed the length of the cramped dugout through a receiving line of high fives. It’s a silly but unique ritual, and the players all seem to love it.
In Game 2 of the American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros, the Red Sox were in danger of wearing out their cart.
Six batters into the game, they celebrated a grand slam by designated hitter J.D. Martinez. Six batters later, they did it again, this time for third baseman Rafael Devers, who also hit a grand slam. The Red Sox thus became the first team in postseason history with multiple such blasts in the same game.
“We were really happy with what happened,” Devers said afterward in Spanish. “And we know that with a team like Houston, you have to score a lot of runs.”
On and on it went for the Red Sox against the Astros in a marathon 9-5 win that evened the best-of-seven series at one game apiece as it shifts to Boston on Monday. Red Sox center fielder Kiké Hernandez, who is hitting like a smaller, right-handed reincarnation of Barry Bonds, continued his blazing postseason at the plate, collecting two more hits, including yet another home run.
Through two games, it is clear that there will be little to no pitching, especially from the starting rotation, that the runs will come in bushels and that the games will be long for both of those reasons.
“They got the same kind of team,” Martinez said. “When you look at it on paper, they have an unbelievable lineup, and we feel like we do, too.”
It all unraveled so quickly for the Astros on Saturday. Red Sox first baseman Kyle Schwarber led off the game with a double off Astros starter Luis Garcia, Devers drew a one-out walk and left fielder Alex Verdugo drew a two-out walk to load the bases.
Up came Martinez, Boston’s most accomplished slugger, who missed two games this postseason because of a twisted ankle. When Garcia fell behind Martinez, 1-0, and then threw a fastball away, Martinez didn’t miss. He sliced it over the right field fence for a 4-0 lead that silenced Minute Maid Park.
“That situation, the pressure is on him; it’s not on me to come through there,” Martinez said. “It’s the first inning. He has bases loaded. I’m trying to tell myself that, trying to stay relaxed and just looking for a pitch so I can just put a barrel on it.”
The same thing happened in the second inning, amid a concerning development for the Astros pitcher. After Garcia walked catcher Kevin Plawecki on four pitches and his velocity dipped, Astros Manager Dusty Baker and an athletic trainer paid a visit to the mound. They ended up removing Garcia, who was done after 33 pitches, citing discomfort in his right knee.
In Game 1, the Astros had only received two and two-thirds innings from another one of their normally stout starters, Framber Valdez. As a result, the Astros bullpen has been heavily taxed two days in a row.
Complicating the issue further, Lance McCullers Jr., the Astros’ ace, is out indefinitely after straining a muscle in his throwing forearm in the previous round. And Zack Greinke, the former A.L. Cy Young Award winner, was moved to the Astros bullpen late in the regular season.
So with Garcia out, and few other options available, Jake Odorizzi, the originally planned Game 4 starter, had to take over. Odorizzi was allowed to take as long as possible to get ready, which he needed because he was unaccustomed to the short warm-ups of a reliever.
“It’s probably the worst situation you can come in as a starting pitcher,” he said, adding later, “Usually takes me 30-plus minutes, and I think I did it in under 15. So not ideal, and it’s not like it’s a fun warm-up. You’re sitting there pretty much naked in front of the other team. They get to watch every single pitch you’re throwing.”
When Odorizzi was ready to pitch, the game was nearly an hour old but still only in the top of the second inning, and there were no outs. He quickly ran into the same problem as Garcia. Red Sox second baseman Christian Arroyo and Hernandez both singled, loading the bases. And when Odorizzi threw a cutter inside, Devers clubbed the ball down the right field line, despite a sore right elbow that bothered him later in the game.
Watching to see if the ball stayed fair, Devers held the bat in his hands while standing at home plate. When it did, he jogged, spun toward his teammates and tossed his bat to the side. In the dugout, the merriment continued with the laundry cart.
“For our guys to open it up the way they did, it takes a lot of the pressure off my back,” said Boston’s ace, Nathan Eovaldi, who overcame a 40-minute gap between his first- and second-inning appearances. He allowed three runs over five and a third innings, sparing the bullpen and giving the Red Sox, who have also had trouble finding consistent starting pitching beyond Eovaldi, an advantage going forward.
Despite a sizable lead, Hernandez, Boston’s best hitter this postseason, didn’t want to be left out. When he belted a solo blast in the fourth inning, his fifth this postseason, he also got pushed through the dugout. Teammate Christian Vazquez bowed with his hands outstretched.
This postseason, Hernandez is 16 for 32. He set playoff records for hits (15), extra-base hits (nine) and total bases (34) in a five-game span. And even though the Astros, the best offense in baseball during the regular season, chipped away at their deficit later in the game, the outcome had all but been determined long ago because of the early grand slams.
“We won the seventh, eighth and ninth, but those two innings in the beginning, that’s a tremendous mountain to climb,” Baker said.