Boston — The Grand Slam is the most productive offensive game in baseball, equivalent to a touchdown and two-point conversion in football, or a four-point game in basketball.
They are not very rare, but the Boston Red Sox only managed three of them in a 162-game regular season. Then came the American League Championship Series.
In the last two games of the series – spanning just 11 innings – the Red Sox hit three Grand Slams and set a record for most base-loaded homers in a post-season series. Kyle Schwarber led Boston in the second innings on Monday to a 12-3 win over the Houston Astros in Game 3 of the ALCS, Boston’s second consecutive win.
On the back of another prodigious display of power, Boston has taken a two-game-to-one lead in a best-of-seven series and will hold the next two games at Fenway Park, scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday.
“Aggressively, it’s the best we’ve seen all season,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora, “and they’re off right now.”
Schwarber’s massive blast in the far right field seats off Houston starter Jose Urquidi was part of a six-run second innings that turned a crisp, autumn evening at Fenway into a huge party. Over the next three hours, more than 37,000 fans hurled abuses and abuses, ensuring that the Astros had little chance of recovering from such losses.
Boston added home runs by Christian Arroyo, JD Martinez and Rafael Devers as part of an 11-hit barrage and now have nine home runs in the first three games of the series.
Martinez and Devers hit Grand Slams in the first and second innings of Game 2, so when Schwarber, Boston’s most productive hitter since joining the team in August, came to the plate with a loaded base in the second inning on Monday, It wasn’t a stretch to think he might do it again, especially as Urquidy went 3-0 down on the count.
What made the situation even more dramatic was that the previous batsman, Christian Arroyo, had hit a bouncer towards second base, which could have ended the innings with a simple double play. But Jose Altuve, the Astros gifted shortstop, misplayed the high bounce and it drove him further into the outfield, allowing all runners to advance safely.
Red Sox fans cheered and screamed and envisioned a third Grand Slam in two games. Schwarber, however, did not indulge in those ideas.
“I certainly wasn’t thinking about driving home, but I certainly was thinking, don’t be late,” he said, adding, “You know there’s a heater coming, and just from there Go.”
The next pitch was actually a fastball, and a juicy, thick one that bisected home plate, belt high. Schwarber destroyed it when the fans erupted, sending it several rows into the right field grandstand. The reaction in the dugout of visitors was more calm. Dusty Baker, Houston’s manager, was concerned about a second game in a row in which the starting pitcher stumbled early, and the implications of his overloaded bullpen in subsequent games.
“It’s like Groundhog Day,” he said, “a recurring nightmare where you expect these guys to get a few innings.”
For Cora, it was like a dream come true. On his 46th birthday, not only did he see a definite offensive blast, he also saw several crisp defensive plays, including three by Devers at third base, and a fine outing by left-handed starting pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez, who played a key role in his struggle. Struggled had their first postseason start in their Division Series against the Tampa Bay Rays.
“Today was as close as we were to a perfect game,” Cora said of the all-round effort.
Rodriguez scored seven on Monday, conceding five hits and three runs, all of which came on Kyle Tucker’s three-run home run in the fourth inning, which made the score 9-3.
But when Rodriguez came off the field in sixth after being dismissed in the final, he made a gesture that prompted his manager to reprimand him with dugout steps.
In Game 1, when Carlos Correa hit Hansel Robles’s side to go home, he stood at home plate, pointing his wrist, figuratively asking what time it was, Then patted his chest and shouted, “It’s my time.”
So, when Correa took the field to end the sixth inning on Monday, Rodriguez pointed his wrist as he walked off the mound. After yelling at Rodriguez not to do this, Cora met him on the steps of the dugout, wrapped an arm around his pitcher and put a strong message to his ear not to do such things.
“Because we don’t act that way,” Cora later explained. “We just show up, we play and we move on, and he knows. I told him. We don’t have to. If we’re looking for inspiration outside of what we were trying to achieve So, we are in the wrong business. The only motivation we have is to win four games against them and move on to the next round.
It would be difficult for the Astros to stop this from happening. They’ll send Jack Greinke to the mound to start Game 4 against Nick Pivetta, and they hope it’s not another Groundhog Day.