Have a happy birthday, Alex Cora.
The Red Sox celebrated their manager’s 46th birthday by taking a two-games-to-one lead over the Astros in the American League Championship Series on Monday night.
Boston crushed Houston by a final score of 12-3 in Game 3 of the ALCS at Fenway Park to kick off the week, meaning they are now just two wins away from heading to their first World Series since 2018.
A travel day on Sunday could not stymie a red-hot Sox lineup, as they once again knocked out an Astros starter early while matched up against right-hander Jose Urquidy.
After going down in order to Urquidy in their half of the first inning, Alex Verdugo proved to be the catalyst for an explosive second inning by drawing a hard-fought, 11-pitch walk with one out.
J.D. Martinez advanced Verdugo up to third and put a pair of runners at scoring position with a line-drive double to center field, then Hunter Renfroe drew another walk off Urquidy to fill the bases for Christian Vazquez.
Vazquez got his productive night at the plate started by slapping an RBI single to the opposite field that plated Verdugo and re-loaded the bases for Christian Arroyo, who nearly grounded into an inning-ending double play.
Instead, Astros second baseman Jose Altuve once again mishandled another groundball hit in his direction, which allowed Arroyo to reach base safely and Martinez to cross home plate uncontested.
With the bases still full of Red Sox, Kyle Schwarber put the finishing touches on his side’s second-inning outburst by first getting ahead in a 3-0 count against Urquidy. He then took the fourth pitch he saw, a 93 mph heater on the outer half of the plate, and deposited it 430 feet into the night and into the right field seats.
Schwarber’s grand slam, which left his bat at 114 mph, gave the Sox a commanding 6-0 lead. It also made history since it was the third grand slam Boston has hit in this series alone, matching their total from the 162-game regular season.
While Boston’s six-run surge in the second inning forced Astros manager Dusty Baker to turn to his bullpen earlier than expected yet again, the Red Sox offense did not stop there, as they got to Houston reliever Yimi Garcia in their half of the third as well.
There, with one out and Renfroe at third base after reaching on a walk, stealing second, and moving up to third on a throwing error, Vazquez took advantage of the Astros’ infield positioning by blooping a 67.1 mph single to shallow left field.
Vazquez’s second run-scoring base knock of the evening made it a 7-0 contest in favor of Boston, though their lead only grew when Arroyo promptly uncorked a two-run home run 399 feet over the Green Monster off a first-pitch slider to give his side a 9-0 advantage.
To that point in the night, Eduardo Rodriguez had held the Astros in check, though he did eventually run into some trouble in the middle innings.
Rodriguez, making his third start of the postseason for the Sox, came out firing, hovering around 94-96 mph with his four-seam fastball while striking out the side in the second in the process of retiring nine of the first 10 batters he faced.
The left-hander’s fortunes momentarily ran out in the top half of the fourth, however, and it began when he yielded a leadoff single to Michael Brantley.
A one-out single off the bat of Yordan Alvarez put runners at the corners for the dangerous Carlos Correa, who popped out to short to bring Rodriguez within one out of getting out of the jam.
Kyle Tucker prevented that from happening, though, as he took Rodriguez deep on a three-run blast hit 413 feet to right field that scored Brantley, Alvarez, and himself to cut the Astros’ deficit down to six runs at 9-3.
Despite that miscue, Rodriguez did manage to limit the damage. He got through the rest of the fourth unscathed before sitting down each of the final six hitters he faced in order. Correa was his final victim, as he got the star shortstop to ground out to second for the last out of the sixth.
Finishing with a final pitch count of 97 (65 pitches), the 28-year-old hurler wound up allowing three runs — all of which were earned — on five hits and zero walks to go along with seven strikeouts over six quality frames of work.
Moments after Rodriguez’s evening came to a close, Martinez provided some two-out insurance in the bottom of the sixth. Following a Rafael Devers leadoff walk, the veteran slugger greeted newly-inserted Astros reliever Phil Maton by clubbing another two-run shot 395 feet over the Monster.
Martinez’s third homer of the postseason, which had an exit velocity of 106 mph, put the Red Sox up over the Astros, 11-3. It subsequently set the stage for the Boston bullpen to take over for Rodriguez as well.
Hansel Robles, who got that first call from Cora out of the ‘pen, maneuvered his way around a leadoff walk to face the minimum of three batters with the help of a double play in a clean seventh inning.
From there, Martin Perez did the exact same thing by inducing another twin killing in the top of the eighth before Devers made it a 12-3 game by tattooing a 372-foot solo into the Monster seats off Ryne Stanek in the bottom half.
That sequence paved the way for Hirokazu Sawamura to be dispatched in the ninth, and he slammed the door on the Astros with the help of a sliding, game-ending catch from Renfroe to secure a 12-3 victory for the Sox.
With the win, the Red Sox find themselves up 2-1 in this best-of-seven ALCS with the Astros and inch ever closer to punching their ticket to the Fall Classic.
Next up: Pivetta likely for Game 4
The Red Sox have yet to officially name a starter for Game 4 on Tuesday, though it seems likely that responsibility will fall to right-hander Nick Pivetta, who was available out of the bullpen on Monday but was not used.
Likewise, the Astros also have not named a starter for Tuesday’s contest. Fellow righty Zack Greinke could wind up getting the start for Houston opposite Pivetta.
Regardless, first pitch from Fenway Park on Tuesday night is scheduled for 8:08 p.m. eastern time on FS1.
(Picture of Kyle Schwarber: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)