ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Boston Red Sox are an imperfect team. They made the second most fielding errors in the major leagues during the regular season. Their pitching staff ranked, depending on the statistic, in the top third or middle of the pack. But make no mistake, they can absolutely crush the ball.
So when they fell behind early to the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 2 of the best-of-five American League division series on Friday, there was no need to be concerned. They can almost always mash their way out of a jam, with a shutout in Game 1 being the exception, not the rule.
“We led baseball in comeback wins this year,” center fielder Enrique Hernandez said. “We did it all during the season, so why not do it now? It wasn’t win or go home, but for us that was kind of the mentality.”
To come back and claim a 14-6 victory at Tropicana Field that evened the series at one game apiece, the Red Sox, the fifth highest scoring team in baseball during the regular season, blasted a team postseason record five home runs.
And leading the way was Hernandez, who became the first player to amass four extra-base hits in a postseason game since likely future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols did so for the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 2 of the 2011 National League Championship Series. Hernandez finished the night 5 for 6, with three doubles, a home run, three runs scored and three batted in.
The series now shifts to Boston, where the Red Sox were the best hitting team at home this season. Game 3 is scheduled for Sunday.
“Hitting is contagious and these guys came out raking,” Red Sox designated hitter J.D. Martinez said.
The first inning on Friday was a nightmare for the Red Sox. After shortstop Xander Bogaerts and left fielder Alex Verdugo gave the Red Sox a 2-0 lead with run-scoring singles, starting pitcher Chris Sale imploded.
Making just his 10th appearance since returning from Tommy John surgery and subsequent setbacks, Sale loaded the bases and coughed up an R.B.I. single to Yandy Diaz. Still lacking his full arsenal of pitches, Sale then surrendered a grand slam to Jordan Luplow to give the Rays a 5-2 lead.
But over the next several innings, the Red Sox grinded down the Rays, the defending A.L. champions who posses one of the best pitching staffs in baseball.
“The hitters just didn’t stop,” Verdugo said. “They were relentless.”
Solo home runs by Verdugo and Bogaerts trimmed the deficit to 5-4 in the third inning. Two frames later, the Red Sox surged ahead for good.
Playing in his 61st career playoff game, Hernandez, a member of the 2020 World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers, clobbered a game-tying home run.
The Red Sox then took an 8-5 lead on a three-run shot by Martinez, who was playing in his first game since turning his left ankle when stepping on second base in the regular-season finale on Sunday.
Before pregame batting practice, Martinez was unsure how his improving ankle would feel. But after one round of hitting, Red Sox Manager Alex Cora said Martinez told him, “Hey jefe (boss), let’s go.”
Cora batted Martinez, the team’s most decorated slugger, sixth in the lineup, lower than usual just in case Martinez’s ankle forced him to leave the game early. He delivered four hits.
“Hats off to our athletic training staff because they did miracles,” Martinez said.
On the mound for the Red Sox, Tanner Houck saved the day after Sale lasted one inning. Houck surrendered just one run over five innings, allowing his slugging teammates to blast their way back. It was his only blemish over 11 innings this week.
“That was huge, absolutely huge,” Verdugo said, adding later, “That gave us enough time.”