The Boston Red Sox arrived at Minute Maid Park on Tuesday tied with the Houston Astros, 1-1, in the best-of-seven American League Championship Series.
They left the stadium hours later with an 8-2 victory and a 2-1 series lead under their belts.
For the third time during these playoffs, the Red Sox won on the road in a hostile environment.
“It’s not easy to win here,” said manager Alex Cora, who was the Astros’ bench coach last year. “This is a place that they 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.”
The scene occurred in the wake of the Astros’ Alex Bregman coming under fire Monday for posting videos to his Instagram account of the Astros hitting three consecutive home runs off Red Sox Game 3 starter Nathan Eovaldi on June 20, back when Eovaldi was still pitching for the Tampa Bay Rays. The accompanying caption read, “lil pregame video work.”
Yet Bregman, a famously confident young player who is a dark horse in the AL most-valuable-player award race, became embarrassed and deleted the clips from his account.
It was a harmless trolling tactic to which the Red Sox gave little credence.
“Not worried about it,” Steve Pearce said.
The Red Sox put an end to the narrative in convincing fashion.
First, Eovaldi tossed six innings of two-hit baseball. Then, Pearce broke a 2-2 tie with a solo blast off reliever Joe Smith to left field in the sixth inning, moments after Bregman had tied the score with an RBI double. Finally, Jackie Bradley Jr. hit a grand slam in the eighth to shut the door on an Astros’ comeback.
"We're playing a really good team in Houston," Bradley said. "Runs are at a premium. We never feel like enough runs is going to be enough. So it was very, very special for us."
The game wasn’t always in Boston’s grasp.
Three innings before he hit the tiebreaking homer, Pearce stood at second base, helmet lifted over his head and incredulity on his face.
With two runners on base in the third, Pearce had launched a ball to the wall in left field at an angle high enough to ram into the scoreboard. The ball never made it. Astros left fielder Tony Kemp uncoiled his 5-foot-6 frame to make a leaping catch for the final out.
Pearce and the Red Sox thought Kemp had caught the ball on a ricochet, so Cora asked for a replay review. Umpires confirmed the ruling on the field.
But Pearce was not denied his next time up. He crushed a ball that hooked inside the left-field foul line, soared over the Crawford Boxes and smashed into an advertisement an estimated 456 feet from home plate.
“I’m not going to lie,” he said. “I’m just glad it stayed fair.”
The Red Sox, who led baseball with a .453 slugging percentage, jumped to an early 2-0 lead without making hard contact. They battled against Astros starter Dallas Keuchel’s sinking fastball and hit three consecutive ground balls through gaps in the infield. Mookie Betts shot a single into right field to start the gambit. He scored the first run of the game when J.D. Martinez roped an opposite-field double to the right-field corner.
As Keuchel settled in and pitched three scoreless frames to cap a four-inning outing, Betts did little else for the Red Sox.
But he didn’t need to.
Pearce was there to provide the lead. A cast of five others combined to put up five runs against Astros reliever Roberto Osuna, who hit two batters, in the eighth inning. Bradley Jr.’s two-out grand slam sent Astros fans swarming for the exits.
Not much earlier, Bregman had sparked life into the sellout Minute Maid crowd. He’d reached base three times, tied the game on a double down the third base line that should have been fielded by Boston’s Rafael Devers, and turned a number of astonishing plays at third base. Chants of “MVP” rocked the stadium.
But the cacophony didn’t faze the Red Sox as they turned the game into a blowout.
The battering gave Eovaldi his second win of the postseason. And it guaranteed the Red Sox at least one more game at Fenway Park, should the Astros extend the series to a sixth game with a win Wednesday night.