Officially, the baseball game played at Fenway Park on Monday night was Game 3 of the American League Championship Series between the Boston Red Sox and Houston Astros.
Unofficially, let's call it "The Boston Tee-Off Party."
After avenging a loss in Game 1 by banging out a record-setting two grand slams and nine runs to beat Houston in Game 2, the Red Sox kept right on rolling with a 12-3 rout in Game 3 to take a 2-1 lead in the series. They're two wins away from their fifth World Series appearance since 2004.
The Red Sox hit "only" one grand slam this time, but it was a 430-foot dandy off the bat of Kyle Schwarber in the second inning:
With that, the Red Sox have as many grand slams just in the last two games of the ALCS as they had throughout their 162-game regular season. Because, you know, baseball just wouldn't be baseball without your daily dose of statistical weirdness.
For the Astros' part, exactly how their offense is supposed to hang with the Red Sox's isn't even the most ominous question looming over them as they dwell in their 2-1 hole.
Red Sox Players of the Game
- 1B Kyle Schwarber: 1-for-4, 1 HR, 1 R, 4 RBI. He now has three home runs this postseason, all of which have come out of his new post in the leadoff spot.
- 2B Christian Arroyo, DH J.D. Martinez and 3B Rafael Devers: These three also got in on Boston's home run fun with two-run homers in the third and sixth and a solo homer in the eighth, respectively.
- LHP Eduardo Rodriguez: 6.0 IP, 5 H, 0 BB, 3 R, 7 K. Apart from one mistake in the fourth inning, the left-hander was absolutely on point with the 97 pitches that he threw. Coming on the heels of his excellent turn in Game 4 of the American League Division Series, he seems to have turned a corner.
Astros Players of the Game
- RF Kyle Tucker: 1-for-2, 1 HR, 1 R, 3 RBI, 1 BB. He's the guy who took advantage of Rodriguez's one mistake, crushing it to right field for a three-run home run that temporarily slimmed Boston's lead to 9-3. So it goes, as Tucker has been the sturdiest rock in Houston's lineup since May.
- LHP Blake Taylor: 1.0 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 0 R, 1 K. Hey, kudos to him for being the only one of six pitchers used by the Astros in Game 3 who didn't get scored upon.
Even Fire Thinks the Red Sox Offense Needs to Chill
If you were to come into possession of a time machine, you wouldn't need to travel that far back in history to find a moment when the Red Sox's offense didn't look at all cut out for a deep playoff run.
That moment was Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the Tampa Bay Rays. In it, the Red Sox managed only nine singles and got shut out in a 5-0 loss. That rendered them with about a 30 percent chance of winning the series, which actually seemed high.
Things have, uh, let's say, changed since then.
Starting with their 14-run outburst in Game 2 of the ALDS, the Red Sox are now hitting .333 over their last six games. No single batting title qualifier even hit that well during the regular season, much less with power like Boston is generating.
The Red Sox have already hit nine home runs in the ALCS, seven of which have come just in the last two games. They're also up to 20 homers for the playoffs as a whole, which Sarah Langs of MLB.com noted is record territory for an eight-game sample:
Perhaps just as remarkable is that it isn't a small handful of hitters driving Boston's October dominance.
Sure, Enrique Hernandez is batting .500 with five home runs just on his own. But he's ultimately just one part of a front seven—typically Hernandez, Schwarber, Xander Bogaerts, Devers, Martinez, Alex Verdugo and Hunter Renfroe—that's collectively hitting .345 with all but two of Boston's playoff homers.
It's not as if the Red Sox's offense wasn't also good during the regular season, as it was indeed quite strong in scoring 5.1 runs per game. But right now, manager Alex Cora is seeing what everyone else is seeing:
Nick Coit @NCoitABC6
Alex Cora: “Offensively, this is the best we’ve been all season.”<br><br>“The preparation is a lot better, the communication is a lot better.” <a href="https://twitter.com/ABC6?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@ABC6</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/RedSox?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#RedSox</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/DirtyWater?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#DirtyWater</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Postseason?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Postseason</a> <a href="https://t.co/OS6g4VnRqu">pic.twitter.com/OS6g4VnRqu</a>
Looking ahead to the next two games of the series, the sheer hotness of the Red Sox's offense isn't the only bad omen for the Astros. Both of these games will also be at Fenway Park, where the Red Sox had an MLB-high .831 OPS even before October set their bats ablaze.
The Red Sox could also be in worse shape pitching-wise. It was crucial that Rodriguez set a positive tone and allow the club's relievers to rest in the first of three games over three days. He handily accomplished both missions on Monday, thereby allowing Cora to rest Garrett Whitlock and his other top high-leverage arms.
The Astros Are Kinda-Sorta-Very in Trouble
As hopes go, the best one the Astros have working for them is the prospect that Boston's diabolically hot offense will regress to the mean (i.e., cool off) eventually.
Of course, this is largely contingent on Houston's pitching staff finding ways to silence the frequent loud noises coming off Boston's bats. That obviously hasn't happened so far, mostly because Astros starting pitchers have been completely overmatched:
To quote Astros manager Dusty Baker, per Danielle Lerner of the Houston Chronicle: "It's kind of like a groundhog day, a recurring nightmare."
Alas, ace right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. (forearm) won't be walking through that door in this series. It's also unlikely that rookie Luis Garcia will be seen again after exiting a difficult outing in Game 2 with a strained knee.
As he hadn't pitched since the last day of the regular season on Oct. 3, the Astros turned to Jose Urquidy to start Game 3 out of a lack of better options more than anything else. Baker is now making a similar call with Zack Greinke:
On the plus side, Greinke is an 18-year veteran and potentially a future Hall of Famer who's no stranger to October. On the less-plus side, he's made just two relief appearances since laying three straight eggs as a starter between Aug. 29 and Sept. 19.
Houston's bullpen, meanwhile, is the opposite of rested. It had to pick up all but 3.2 innings of the first two games of the series, and once again had a heavy workload dumped upon it in Game 3 after Urquidy recorded only five outs. Unless Greinke and whoever starts Game 5 miraculously go deep, there won't be any rest for the weary in the next two games.
As such, there's probably only one way that the Astros are going to come back and beat the Red Sox in this series. Somehow, someway, they have to outslug them.
This should at least be in the neighborhood of doable. The Astros did lead the majors with 863 runs scored during the regular season, after all, and their offense was in fine form as it cranked out 31 runs in four games against the Chicago White Sox in the ALDS.
In this series, however, the Red Sox are making the Astros scratch and claw for runs. It certainly hasn't helped that Jose Altuve, Michael Brantley and Alex Bregman have turned the top three spots in Houston's lineup into a block of ice. They're hitting just .139 in the ALCS.
Lest anyone concludes that the Astros' situation is entirely hopeless, they could change everything with just one win in Boston. That would ensure that this series will return to Houston, where the Astros went 51-30 this season.
But if Han Solo was here, he'd wish the Astros good luck with that. Not just because it's polite, but because they're gonna need it.
What's Next for the Red Sox and Astros?
Game 4 is scheduled for 8:08 p.m. ET on Tuesday at Fenway Park, with Greinke set to be opposed by Boston right-hander Nick Pivetta.
Neither club has announced a starter for Game 5 on Wednesday, but it'll likely be a rematch between the starters for Game 1 of the series on Friday, Oct. 15: Framber Valdez for the Astros and Chris Sale for the Red Sox.