Red Sox’ offensive struggles continue in 9-1 blowout loss to Astros in Game 5 of ALCS

Momentum can be a fickle thing, particularly when it comes to postseason baseball.

Two days ago, it appeared as though the Red Sox had all the momentum after taking a two-games-to-one lead over the Astros in the American League Championship Series.

Less than 48 hours later, it is the Astros who now have all the momentum after they took their second straight game from the Sox at Fenway Park on Wednesday night.

Boston fell to Houston by a final score of 9-1 in Game 5, which puts them in a three-games-to-two hole as this ALCS heads back to Houston.

Playing at Fenway Park for possibly the last time this year, the Red Sox got what they needed out of Chris Sale, though the left-hander’s final line may not reflect that.

Sale, making his third start of the postseason, allowed four runs — only two of which were earned — on three hits and two walks to go along with seven strikeouts over 5 1/3 innings of work.

After retiring the side in order to begin his day, Sale kicked off the top half of the second by serving up a towering solo shot to Yordan Alvarez on a first-pitch 94 mph heater that wasn’t in the strike zone.

Still, the Astros went up 1-0 on Alvarez’s home run, but Sale did not let that put a damper on things for him, as he rebounded and sat down the next seven batters he faced in order.

With one out in the fourth inning of what was still a one-run contest that favored Houston, Sale issued an eight-pitch walk to Alex Bregman that was followed by another hard-hit single from Alvarez that put runners at the corners.

Again, Sale did not back down and instead fanned Carlos Correa on three straight strikes before doing the very same to Kyle Tucker on four pitches to escape the jam.

Upon getting Tucker to fan on a 98.5 mph four-seam fastball — his fastest pitch of the night — that was up and out of the zone, an energetic Sale pumped his left fist, put his glove to his face, and let out a fiery scream while heading back to his dugout.

Sale’s evening was not done yet, however, as the lefty came back out for the fifth and put up another zero. At that point, Sale had gone through the dangerous Astros lineup twice and managed to avoid any serious damage aside from the Alvarez home run.

With his pitch count rising and Houston’s batting order flipping back over, Sale took the mound for the sixth and promptly issued a leadoff walk to Jose Altuve.

Michael Brantley then made matters worse when he reached base safely on a missed catch error committed by Kyle Schwarber at first base, which allowed Altuve to advance all the way up to third.

A groundout off the bat of Bregman moved Brantley up to second and kept the rally alive for Alvarez, who the Red Sox decided to pitch to despite first base being open.

Alvarez made Boston pay dearly for that mistake, as he proceeded to hit Sale hard yet again when he laced a two-run double down the left field line that plated both Altuve and Brantley.

Suddenly down 3-0, Sox manager Alex Cora quickly turned to his bullpen, giving Sale the hook in favor of Ryan Brasier. Brasier, in turn, yielded a two-out single to Tucker that put runners at the corners before Yuli Gurriel drove in another on an RBI double down the right field line.

Jose Siri made sure to keep it going by blooping a softly-hit two-run single to shallow right field that gave the Astros a commanding 6-0 lead before the sixth inning mercifully came to an end.

By the time the third out of the sixth was recorded, the book was officially closed on Sale’s outing while Brasier himself was charged with two earned runs in two-thirds of an inning.

In the top of the seventh, Hansel Robles took over for Brasier, but was unable to get through the inning. The right-handed reliever yielded a leadoff single to Altuve and allowed the speedy second baseman to advance an additional 90 feet on a failed pickoff attempt.

Altuve then scored all the way from second on an RBI single off the bat of Brantley before Bregman grounded into a 6-4-3 double play that was followed by a pitching change that saw Darwinzon Hernandez replace Robles.

Hernandez did what he was called upon to do by punching out Alvarez on six pitches to set the Red Sox up in the bottom half of the frame.

To that point in the night, the Sox lineup had been held in check by Astros starter Framber Valdez in the process of squandering several scoring opportunities.

After going 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position in Tuesday’s Game 4 loss to Houston, Boston had been no-hit by Valdez through four innings on Wednesday before Rafael Devers led off the bottom of the fifth with a sharply-hit single.

J.D. Martinez followed by taking a curveball off the knee that put runners at first and second for Hunter Renfroe, whose postseason struggles continued to drag on when he grounded into a soul-crushing 6-4-3 double play that ultimately stranded Martinez at third.

An inning later, the Sox had the chance to respond to the Astros’ five-run sixth when Christian Vazquez ripped a one-out double off Valdez. He, like Martinez, was left in scoring position after both Enrique Hernandez and Schwarber were sat down by the opposing left-hander.

This takes us to the aforementioned bottom half of the seventh. Shortly after Houston tacked on another run to their lead, Devers got that one run back immediately.

With one out and the bases empty, Devers stayed hot by unloading on a 1-0, 94 mph sinker on the inner half of the plate from Valdez and wrapped it 402 feet around Pesky’s Pole in right field.

Devers’ fifth homer of the postseason left the young slugger’s bat at a scorching 110.7 mph. It also trimmed Boston’s defecit down to six runs at 7-1.

Another walk drawn by Martinez kept the inning alive momentarily, but Renfroe followed by grounding into another twin killing that extinguished the threat.

In the eighth, after Hernandez and Hirokazu Sawamura somehow combined to toss a scoreless frame of relief, Valdez capped off his stellar day for Houston in the bottom half by sitting down the final three batters he faced in order.

Martin Perez then surrendered two additional runs to the Astros to begin the ninth, while Ryne Stanek retired the side in order to close this one out.

All in all, the Boston bats went 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position and left two runners on base as a team in what will go down as a lopsided 9-1 defeat.

With this loss, which is their second straight, the Red Sox’ backs are now against the wall as they trail this best-of-seven ALCS, 3-2.

Next up: Eovaldi on top for Game 6 in Houston

The Red Sox will have Thursday off as they board a flight to Houston for the final leg of this championship series at Minute Maid Park.

On the brink of elimination, it will be right-hander Nathan Eovaldi getting the ball for Boston in Game 6 on Friday night. Houston, on the other hand, will turn to fellow righty Luis Garcia in what will be a rematch of Game 2 from last Sunday.

First pitch from Minute Maid Park on Friday is scheduled for 8:08 p.m. eastern time on FS1.

(Picture of J.D. Martinez and Jose Altuve: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox lineup for Game 5 of ALCS vs. Astros: Kiké Hernández leading off, J.D. Martinez batting fifth

The Red Sox will look to bounce back from an unexpectedly lopsided 9-2 loss to the Astros in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series on Tuesday with a quick turnaround for Game 5 on Wednesday.

After Boston dropped Game 4 to Houston at Fenway Park, this best-of-seven ALCS is now tied up at two games apiece and has essentially turned into a best-of-three race.

With Tuesday’s loss, the Sox have given home-field advantage back to the Astros, as the series will definitely be heading back to Houston since it will be at least six games in length.

Wednesday’s clash between the Red Sox and Astros will feature a pair of left-handers getting the start for their respective clubs, with Chris Sale getting the ball for Boston and Framber Valdez doing the same for Houston in what will be a rematch of Game 1.

In Game 1 of this series at Minute Maid Park, Sale went just 2 2/3 innings while allowing one earned run on five hits, one walk, and one hit batsman to go along with two strikeouts on 61 pitches (37 strikes).

Valdez, meanwhile, did not last long either, as he surrendered three runs — two of which were earned — on six hits (one home run), three walks, and two strikeouts over 2 2/3 innings of work.

Since a left-hander will be starting for the Astros, Sox manager Alex Cora has made some slight alterations to his lineup. For instance, the right-handed hitting Enrique Hernandez will be leading off in front of the left-handed hitting Kyle Schwarber.

J.D. Martinez, on the other hand, has been bumped up to fifth in the batting order, resulting in Alex Verdugo dropping down to the seven-hole behind Hunter Renfroe.

Christian Vazquez, who will be catching Sale, is batting ninth after second baseman Christian Arroyo. Here is how the rest of the Red Sox will be lining up behind Sale:

First pitch from Fenway Park on Wednesday is scheduled for 5:08 p.m. eastern time on FS1.

(Picture of Enrique Hernandez: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Red Sox blow late lead in process of falling to Astros, 9-2, in Game 4 of ALCS

The Red Sox were just a few innings away from potentially jumping out to a commanding three-games-to-one-lead over the Astros in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series on Tuesday night … until they weren’t.

After holding on to a 2-1 lead for most of the night, Boston saw things unravel in the eighth inning of what would later go down as a 9-2 loss to Houston at Fenway Park, which means this best-of-seven ALCS is now tied at two games apiece.

Nick Pivetta, making his first start and third overall appearance of the postseason for the Sox, was solid in his championship series debut. The right-hander limited the Astros to just one run while scattering two hits and two walks to go along with three strikeouts over five impressive innings of work.

The lone run Pivetta surrendered to Houston came right away in the top half of the first, when he served up a two-out solo shot over the Green Monster to Alex Bregman that gave the Astros an early 1-0 lead.

Despite that miscue, the Red Sox lineup picked up their starter right away in the bottom half of the frame.

Matched up against Astros veteran right-hander Zack Greinke to begin things on Tuesday, Rafael Devers drew a five-pitch walk with two outs to set the stage for Xander Bogaerts.

After not collecting an RBI in Monday’s 12-3 thumping of Houston, Bogaerts unloaded on a 1-0, 84 mph slider from Greinke and deposited 413 feet into the Boston night and onto Lansdowne Street.

Bogaerts’ third homer of the postseason — a sizzling two-run blast that left his bat at 107.9 mph — allowed the Sox to snatch their first lead of the evening at 2-1.

Given that fresh one-run advantage to work with, Pivetta took full advantage by stringing together four scoreless frames. He had to escape a bit of a jam he created for himself in the second, but followed by sitting down nine of the final 10 batters he faced leading into the middle of the fifth.

Even after the Astros lineup flipped over for a third time in that fifth inning, Pivetta responded by getting the dangerous Jose Altuve to ground out to third base to retire the side and end his night on a positive note.

Finishing with a final pitch count of just of 65 (36 strikes), the 28-year-old hurler topped out at 96.5 mph with his four-seam fastball — a pitch he turned to 38 times to complement both his slider and knuckle curveball.

In relief of Pivetta, left-hander Josh Taylor got the first call from Red Sox manager Alex Cora out of the Boston bullpen, and he recorded the first two outs of the sixth before yielding a two-out single to Yordan Alvarez.

Adam Ottavino then came on for Taylor to finish the inning, and the veteran reliever did just that by emphatically punching out Carlos Correa on a 96 mph sinker on the outer half of the plate.

From there, Garrett Whitlock put up a zero in the seventh, but ran into some trouble an inning later.

To that point in the contest, the Boston bats had been held in check by Houston pitching. Despite knocking Greinke out after just 1 1/3 innings, the Sox were stymied by the Astros bullpen, though they certainly had their fair share of scoring opportunities.

In the bottom of the second, for instance, the Red Sox had runners at first and second with one out, but neither Enrique Hernandez or Devers were able to come through and instead went down quietly.

Two innings later, Chritian Arroyo ripped a one-out triple off Cristian Javier, but was stranded there after both Kyle Schwarber and Hernandez were retired by the Astros reliever.

With one out in the bottom of the fifth, Bogaerts laced a 106.9 mph double off Javier. He, too, was left there when Alex Verdugo and J.D. Martinez were sat down on a fly out and swinging strikeout, respectively.

Fast forward to the top half of the eighth, and the Astros promptly capitalized on the fact that the Red Sox had gone 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position while leaving eight runners on base as a team up until then.

That being the case because on the very first pitch he saw from Whitlock, Altuve led off the eighth by crushing a game-tying solo home run 400 feet off the National Car Rental sign hovering above the Green Monster.

Altuve’s late-game heroics knotted things up at two runs apiece, and it also paved the way for Nathan Eovaldi to attempt to keep it that way in the ninth.

Having just started Game 2 of this series on Saturday, Eovaldi immediately gave up a leadoff double to Correa that was just out of the reach of Hunter Renfroe in right field. He then struck out Kyle Tucker and intentionally walked Yuli Gurriel to face the pinch-hitting Aledmys Diaz.

Diaz, in turn, fanned on five pitches, bringing Eovaldi to within one out of escaping a sticky situation. Jason Castro, however, had different plans.

Moments after it appeared as though Eovaldi had punched out Castro on a 1-2, 80 mph curveball on the inner half of the plate that was instead called a ball by home plate umpire Laz Diaz, the Astros backstop responded by drilling a go-ahead, run-scoring single through the right side of the infield.

Castro plated Correa on his clutch hit to make it a 3-2 game in favor of Houston, but the Astros were not done there. Not with Altuve drawing a walk that prompted Cora to go get Eovaldi.

With two outs and the bases full of Astros, Michael Brantley greeted the newly-inserted Martin Perez by drilling a three-run, bases-clearing double to the gap in right-center field that increased his side’s advantage to four runs at 6-2.

Perez’s struggles did not end there, as the lefty surrendered three more runs on three more hits before the top of the ninth inning mercifully came to a close with the Astros up, 9-2.

In total, Eovaldi was charged for four runs — all of which were earned — on two hits, two walks, and two strikeouts in 2/3 of an inning. He is slated to start Game 6 of this series in Houston on Friday.

Perez, on the other hand, was charged with three runs (two earned) in a third of an inning.

The Sox somewhat threatened in their half of the ninth, but ultimately went down quietly against Astros closer Ryan Pressly to secure a heart-breaking 9-2 defeat in which they went 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position and left 11 runners on base as a team.

With the loss, the Red Sox have given home-field advantage back to the Astros, as they ensure that they will be heading back to Houston later this week since this ALCS is now tied up at 2-2 and will at least be six games in length.

Next up: Sale vs. Valdez to start off Game 5

The Red Sox will turn to left-hander Chris Sale to start Game 5 at Fenway Park on Wednesday evening, while the Astros will roll with fellow southpaw Framber Valdez.

First pitch from Fenway Park on Wednesday is scheduled for 5:08 p.m. eastern time on FS1.

(Picture of Nathan Eovaldi: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Chris Sale likely to start Game 5 of ALCS for Red Sox, but left-hander will be available out of bullpen for Game 4 vs. Astros

The Red Sox will have Chris Sale available out of their bullpen for Game 4 of the American League Championship Series on Tuesday night, though the club is hoping they will be able to stay away from him.

When speaking with reporters (including The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier) at Fenway Park ahead of Game 4, Sox manager Alex Cora said that Sale is penciled in to start Game 5, but the veteran left-hander could pitch in relief of Nick Pivetta on Tuesday if the situation arises.

As noted by Speier, Cora and Co. would prefer to avoid using Sale out of the ‘pen in order to preserve him for what would be his third start of the postseason on Wednesday. If they were forced to use the lefty, though, Cora did indicate that the Red Sox would be able to make the necessary adjustments to their starting rotation.

Through his first two outings of these playoffs, Sale has allowed a total of six earned runs on nine hits, two walks, and one hit batsman to go along with four strikeouts over just 3 2/3 innings of work. That’s good for an ERA of 14.73 and FIP of 6.99.

The 32-year-old is coming off a start against the Astros in Game 1 of the ALCS in which he surrendered one run on five hits, one walk, one HBP and two strikeouts in 2 2/3 innings pitched at Minute Maid Park on October 15.

If Sale were to toss an inning of relief on Tuesday night, he would be working on three days rest and would subsequently not be available to start on Wednesday. Assuming he is not used, the seven-time All-Star would then be pitching on seven days rest come Wednesday night.

Per MLB.com’s Ian Browne, Cora likened this situation with Sale to what Boston went through with Pivetta on Monday. Pivetta, like Sale, had been available to work out of the bullpen in Game 3, but his services were not needed since the Sox bested the Astros in a 12-3 blowout win.

Following Monday’s victory, Cora officially named Pivetta as his Game 4 starter. The same sort of thing will likely happen on Tuesday night — with Sale getting tabbed to start Game 5 — so long as the southpaw does not make a relief appearance between now and then.

(Picture of Chris Sale: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Red Sox squander lead, let scoring opportunities go to waste in 5-4 loss to Astros in Game 1 of ALCS

The Red Sox certainly had their opportunities, but were ultimately unable to come away with a come-from-behind win over the Astros in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series.

Boston fell to Houston by a final score of 5-4 at Minute Maid Park on Friday night, meaning they now trail in this best-of-seven ALCS by one game to none.

Chris Sale, making his second start of the postseason for the Sox, saw his October struggles continue after a poor showing in last week’s American League Division Series against the Rays, though there were some signs of encouragement.

Over just 2 2/3 innings of work on Friday, Sale allowed one run on five hits, one walk, and one hit batsman to go along with two strikeouts on the night.

The lone run Sale surrendered came in the bottom half of the first, when — after the Red Sox left the bases loaded in their half of the inning — the veteran left-hander issued a leadoff walk to Jose Altuve that was followed by a one-out single from Alex Bregman.

A wild pitch from Sale allowed both of those runners to advance an additional 90 feet, and the Astros took full advantage of that miscue when Yordan Alvarez drove in the first run of the contest on a sacrifice fly to left field.

While the Sox may have fallen behind early, their potent lineup eventually got to Astros starter Framber Valdez the second time through the order beginning in the third inning.

There, moments after he bailed out Sale by making a sprawling grab in center field to escape a bases-loaded jam, Enrique Hernandez stayed hot at the plate by cranking a 448-foot leadoff home run off Valdez.

Hernandez’s solo shot knotted things up at one run apiece, while a one-out walk from Xander Bogaerts that was followed by a line-drive single off the bat of Rafael Devers put runners at first and second base for J.D. Martinez.

Martinez, a former Astro like Hernandez, nearly grounded into another double play that would have ended the inning, but his grounder was instead booted by Altuve at second base, which allowed Bogaerts to score all the way from second to give the Sox their first lead of the night at 2-1.

Hunter Renfroe kept the rally going with a hard-hit RBI double to left field that plated Devers and moved Martinez up to second, though neither runner was able to score after Alex Verdugo and Christian Arroyo both struck out swinging.

Given a two-run lead to work with going into the bottom of the third, Sale retired Bregman before Alvarez and the dangerous Carlos Correa ripped back-to-back one-out singles off him. The lefty then fanned Kyle Tucker on five pitches for the second out, but that would mark the end of his night with the right-handed hitting Yuli Gurriel looming in the on-deck circle for Houston.

Finishing with a final pitch count of 61 (37 strikes), the 32-year-old hurler relied heavily upon his four-seam fastball (57% usage) and slider (33% usage), as he only threw four changeups and two sinkers. He did, however, top out at 97.5 mph with his four-seamer.

In relief of Sale, Adam Ottavino got the first call out of the Red Sox bullpen from manager Alex Cora, and he officially closed the book on Sale’s outing by getting Gurriel to ground out to second before retiring the side in order in the fourth as well.

From there, while the Boston bats continued to struggle against the Houston bullpen, Josh Taylor recorded the first two outs of the fifth inning before Ryan Brasier was deployed to finish it in the process of stranding a pair of runners.

Fellow right-hander Tanner Houck took over for Brasier in the sixth, and he saw his side’s 3-1 advantage wiped off the board when he yielded a one-out single to Chas McCormick that was followed by a game-tying, two-run home run to Altuve that traveled 382 feet into the Crawford Boxes in left-center field.

More two-out trouble came back to bite the Sox an inning later, with Hansel Robles serving up a go-ahead 350-foot blast to Correa that allowed the Astros to retake a 4-3 lead.

In the top of the eighth, Renfroe was pinch-hit for by Danny Santana, who led things off against Kendall Graveman by striking out swinging on nine pitches. Verdugo then flew out to center field, but Arroyo kept the inning alive by drilling a 106.8 mph single to left field.

That sequence prompted Cora to turn to his bench, as he had the left-handed hitting Travis Shaw pinch-hit for the right-handed hitting Christian Vazquez in that spot.

Shaw, representing the potential go-ahead run himself, proceeded to lift a 335-foot flyball to right field off Graveman, but it was one that was caught by Tucker at the warning track, thus extinguishing the threat.

Hirokazu Sawamura, meanwhile, was responsible for the bottom of the eighth, and in his first action of the postseason, struggled to find his command of the strike zone.

The righty loaded the bases with no outs by issuing a leadoff walk and a single before plunking Martin Maldonado. He then allowed the Astros to tack on a very important insurance run when he gave up a sacrifice fly to Altuve that Gurriel was able to score on to make it a 5-3 game.

Martin Perez had to come on to get the final two outs of the eighth, and he did that by inducing an inning-ending double play off the bat of a hobbled Michael Brantley.

Down to their final three outs in the ninth while opposed by Astros closer Ryan Pressly, Hernandez led things off by clubbing his second home run of the night and one that cut the Sox’ deficit down to one run at 5-4.

Pressly did recover, however, as he got Kyle Schwarber, Bogaerts, and Devers to each ground out to seal a 5-4 defeat for Boston in which they went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position while leaving nine runners on base as a team.

With the loss, not only do the Red Sox see their three-game postseason winning streak come to an end, but they also find themselves in a 1-0 hole in regards to this ALCS.

Next up: Eovaldi vs. Garcia

The Red Sox will send Houston-area native Nathan Eovaldi to the mound as they look to even up this best-of-seven series against the Astros on Saturday afternoon.

The Astros will counter with fellow right-hander Luis Garcia, who held the Sox to one run over seven impressive innings during his June 1 start against them at Fenway Park.

First pitch from Minute Maid Park on Saturday is scheduled for 4:20 p.m. eastern time on FOX and FS1.

(Picture of Enrique Hernandez and Carlos Correa: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

J.D. Martinez batting fifth for Red Sox in Game 1 of ALCS vs. Astros

The Red Sox have made some slight alterations to their starting lineup for Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Astros at Minute Maid Park on Friday night.

After batting sixth for all three of his starts in the American League Division Series with the Rays, designated hitter J.D. Martinez has moved up to the No. 5 spot in the Sox’ lineup for Friday’s ALCS opener in Houston.

While still recuperating from a left ankle sprain that he sustained in Boston’s regular season finale against the Nationals on October 3, Martinez — after being held out of action in Game 1 — went 7-for-15 (.467) with one double, one home run, four RBI, one run scored, zero walks, and one strikeout in the final three games of the ALDS, all of which the Red Sox won.

With left-hander Framber Valdez getting the start for the Astros to kick off this best-of-seven series, Sox manager Alex Cora has gone with a primarily right-handed heavy lineup.

Enrique Hernandez, a former Astro, will lead off and get the start in center field, while Kyle Schwarber will bat second and start at first base. Schwarber starting at first base means the right-handed hitting Bobby Dalbec will start Game 1 on the Sox’ bench.

Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, and Martinez make up the most dangerous portion of Boston’s batting order.

Those three will be followed by the likes of right fielder Hunter Renfroe, left fielder Alex Verdugo, second baseman Christian Arroyo, and — last but not least — Christian Vazquez.

Vazquez, of course, will be catching Game 1 starter Chris Sale, who will be looking to bounce back from a rough outing against Tampa Bay in Game 2 of the ALDS in which he surrendered five runs (all earned) on four hits, one walk, and two strikeouts in just one inning of work at Tropicana Field last week.

The roof will be closed at Minute Maid Park on Friday night. First pitch is scheduled for 8:07 p.m. eastern time on FOX.

(Picture of J.D. Martinez: Elsa/Getty Images)

Chris Sale to start Game 1 of ALCS for Red Sox; Nathan Eovaldi will start Game 2 vs. Astros

The Red Sox have set their starting rotation for the first two games of their American League Series clash against the Astros in Houston.

Chris Sale has been named Boston’s Game 1 starter, while Nathan Eovaldi has been named Boston’s Game 2 starter, Sox manager Alex Cora announced when speaking with reporters from Minute Maid Park on Thursday evening.

Sale will get the ball opposite Astros left-hander Framber Valdez on Friday night to open up this best-of-seven ALCS while working on six days rest. First pitch is scheduled for 8:07 p.m. eastern time on FOX.

The 32-year-old lefty had made just one start so far this postseason, as he got rocked for five runs (all earned) on four hits, one walk, and two strikeouts in just one inning of work against the Rays in Game 2 of the American League Division Series at Tropicana Field last Friday.

While the Red Sox ultimately came back to trounce the Rays by a final score of 14-6, Sale’s struggles are still concerning considering the fact that they are prolonged in that he’s pitched a total of 3 1/3 innings in his last two starts dating back to October 3.

Still, if the situation had arisen, the veteran southpaw was available to pitch out of the Boston bullpen in Game 4 of the ALDS on Monday, but it did not.

That being said, Cora reiterated on Thursday that Sale will not be used as an opener, but rather as a traditional starter on Friday. Eduardo Rodriguez, on the other hand, will be in the bullpen for Game 1.

Following Sale on Friday will be Eovaldi on Saturday night. Eovaldi, who will be working on five days rest, will be opposed by Astros rookie right-hander Luis Garcia. First pitch for Game 2 is scheduled for 4:20 p.m. eastern time on FOX and FS1.

Through his first two starts of the postseason, the 31-year-old righty has posted a 2.61 ERA, a 2.88 FIP, and .559 OPS against to go along with 16 strikeouts to just one walk over 10 1/3 innings pitched.

The first of those two outings came against the Yankees in last Tuesday’s Wild Card Game at Fenway Park. The second came against the Rays in Game 3 of the ALDS in Boston on Sunday, meaning he Red Sox won both of those contests.

Among the 13 pitchers who have taken the mound for the Sox since the postseason began, Eovaldi leads the pack in innings pitched and strikeouts, cementing his status as the de facto ace of Boston’s pitching staff.

Over the course of a successful regular season in which he was selected to his first All-Star team and reached 10 years of major-league service time, Eovaldi only faced off against the Astros once. He gave up five runs — all of which were earned — on a season-high 11 hits, three walks, and five strikeouts to them at Fenway Park back on June 9.

Saturday will not mark Eovaldi’s first exposure to Minute Maid Park in a postseason environment, however, as the Houston-area native appeared in two games there for the Sox in the 2018 ALCS. The veteran hurler allowed a total of two earned runs in 7 1/3 innings pitched across those two outings (one start, one relief appearances) three years ago.

(Picture of Chris Sale: Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

Chris Sale will be available out of bullpen for Red Sox in Game 3 of ALDS

Red Sox manager Alex Cora had said on Saturday that the team was not considering moving Chris Sale to the bullpen on a full-time basis “for health reasons.”

Less than 24 hours later, and those plans have since changed, as Sale will be available out of the Sox bullpen for Game 3 of the American League Division Series against the Rays at Fenway Park on Sunday afternoon.

Per Cora, Sale is on board with the decision, though it is unclear if his transition to a reliever will last beyond Sunday since Cora “wouldn’t say if Sale would or would not be considered as a starter moving forward.”

The decision to move Sale to the bullpen for the time being likely comes as a result of the left-hander’s performance on the mound as of late.

Upon making his highly-anticipated return from Tommy John surgery in mid-August, Sale put up a respectable 2.52 ERA and 3.93 FIP to go along with 30 strikeouts to six walks over five starts spanning 25 innings of work.

Since testing positive for COVID-19 and returning from the COVID-related injured list on September 17, though, Sale has seemingly been less effective — with his two most-recent starts sticking out in that regard.

In last Sunday’s regular season finale against the Nationals, the 32-year-old southpaw lasted 2 1/3 innings while allowing two runs on four hits, three walks, and seven strikeouts on 62 pitches (37 strikes) at Nationals Park.

In Game 2 of the ALDS at Tropicana Field on Friday, Sale got rocked for five runs (all earned) on four hits, one walk, and two strikeouts before getting pulled after just one inning.

Needless to say, whether it be that his changeup had an expected batting average against of .332 or that right-handed hitters slashed .291/.363/.461 off him in the regular season, Sale certainly has some things to work on with very little time to waste.

Sale, as well as fellow lefty Eduardo Rodriguez and right-handers Nick Pivetta and Tanner Houck, will all be available out of the Red Sox bullpen behind Game 3 starter Nathan Eovaldi.

Boston will look to go up two games to one in this best-of-five ALDS with Tampa Bay, as first pitch Sunday is scheduled for 4:07 p.m. eastern time on MLB Network.

(Picture of Chris Sale: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox crush 5 homers, collect 20 hits in 14-6 rout of Rays to even ALDS at 1-1

It was a back-and-forth kind of affair, but the Red Sox were once again able to battle their way back for a potentially pivotal win over the Rays in Game 2 of the American League Division Series.

Despite putting themselves in an early hole, Boston bested Tampa Bay by a final score of 14-6 at Tropicana Field on Friday night to even this best-of-five series at one game apiece.

Coming off a Game 1 showing in which they were shut out in a postseason game for the first time in five years, the Red Sox lineup jumped all over Rays rookie starter Shane Baz to begin things in Game 2.

Kyle Schwarber led off the top of the first inning by drawing a four-pitch walk before moving up to third base on a ground-ball double from Enrique Hernandez.

Rafael Devers struck out on five pitches for the first out of the fifth, but Xander Bogaerts and Alex Verdugo each followed by getting their productive nights at the plate started with back-to-back run-scoring singles.

The first instance of the Bogaerts-Verdugo combination at work gave the Red Sox an immediate 2-0 lead as Chris Sale took the mound, though it did not last long.

Sale, like Eduardo Rodriguez before him, was not long for his first postseason start since 2018. That being the case because the veteran left-hander surrendered five runs — all of which were earned — on four hits and one walk to go along with two strikeouts on the night.

On his first two pitches of the first inning, the Rays put runners on first and second on a pair of quick singles. Sale then issued a one-out walk to Nelson Cruz to fill the bases before giving up an RBI single to Yandy Diaz.

Diaz’s base hit pushed across the Rays’ first run of the night while also re-filling the bases for Jordan Luplow, who was primarily in Tampa Bay’s lineup to face of against left-handed pitching.

Sale, in turn, proceeded to serve up a towering, 387-foot grand slam to the right-handed hitting Luplow that saw Boston’s 2-1 lead turn into a 5-2 defecit.

On the heels of giving up that impactful of a hit, Sale’s day was done as soon as he recorded the final out of the first inning. The 32-year-old hurler finished with a final pitch count of 30 (20 strikes) and induced just three swings-and-misses in total.

Having to turn to his bullpen earlier than anticipated for the second straight day, Red Sox manager Alex Cora handed things over to Tanner Houck in the middle of the second inning, and that decision proved to be quite beneficial.

After Houck retired the side in order in the bottom of the second, the aforementioned Bogaerts-Verdugo combination struck again in the top of the third, as the All-Star shortstop clubbed a one-out solo shot to knock Baz out of the game while the fiery outfielder greeted new reliever Collin McHugh by crushing a home run of his own.

The back-to-back blasts off the bats of Bogaerts and Verdugo cut Tampa Bay’s deficit down to one run at 5-4. Houck, in return, kept the score just like that by putting up two more zeroes in the third and fourth innings.

In the top half of the fifth, Hernandez provided some power, as he led the frame off by taking McHugh 393 feet deep to left field on a hanging slider to pull his side back even with the opposition at 5-5.

Hernandez’s homer was only a precursor of what was to come in the fifth, though, with Devers and Bogaerts each reaching base before J.D. Martinez made his impact felt in his return to the lineup by tattooing a go-ahead, three-run home run over everything in center field.

Martinez’s three-run blast, which came off Matt Wisler and traveled 412 feet off his bat, broke a 5-5 stalemate and gave the Sox their first lead since the first inning at 8-5 going into the halfway point.

Houck, meanwhile, was in the process of stringing together an impressive run of his own. Going back to his final start of the regular season against the Nationals last Saturday, the righty sat down 29 straight hitters before allowing a two-out single to Wander Franco in the bottom of the fifth.

From there, Houck got through the fifth before serving up a solo shot to Ji-Man Choi an inning later, though he wrapped up his evening on a high note and — in the end — gave up just that one run while scattering two hits, zero walks, and five strikeouts in his five innings of relief.

Christian Vazquez, who had been catching Houck, got one of those runs back when he drove in Verdugo on a ground-ball RBI single in the top of the seventh before being behind the plate while Ryan Brasier punched out the side in the bottom half.

Devers, sore right arm and all, added on to Boston’s lead in the eighth inning when he — while matched up against Michael Wacha — scored Hernandez and demolished a 425-foot two-run home run over the center field wall.

The Red Sox went up 11-6 on Devers’ home run. It was also Boston’s fifth homer of the night, which sets a new franchise record for the most hit in a single postseason game.

Hansel Robles took over for Brasier and preserved an 11-6 lead with a scoreless bottom of the eighth, while Vazquez tacked on one more on another RBI single.

Hernandez, meanwhile, capped off his stellar night by putting the finishing touches on his first-ever five-hit game (in the regular and postseas0n). He plated both Hunter Renfroe and Vazquez on a two-run single that made it a 14-6 game.

Given a sizable cushion to work with now, Matt Barnes — who was just added to the ALDS roster in place of Garrett Richards on Friday — slammed the door on the Rays in the bottom half of the ninth to lock up a 14-6 victory.

With the win, the Red Sox pull even with the Rays in this best-of-five series and now have the opportunity to win it back at home.

Red Sox lineup breaks out in a tremendous way

Out of the No. 2 spot on Friday, Enrique Hernandez went 5-for-6 with three doubles, one home run, three RBI, and three runs scored. He becomes the first Red Sox player to ever record four extra-base hits in a postseason game.

Xander Bogaerts, Alex Verdugo, and J.D. Martinez (Boston’s Nos. 4, 5, and 6 hitters) went a combined 10-for-15 with one double, three home runs, seven RBI, and five runs scored.

Verdugo, starting in left field, also made a nice catch in foul territory to prevent Nelson Cruz from extending his at-bat against Tanner Houck in the sixth inning.

Houck earns win

Tanner Houck earned his first career postseason win in Friday’s win. He has essentially been lights out since the calendar flipped to October.

Next up: Eovaldi on tap for Game 3

The Red Sox will board a flight to Boston, enjoy an off day on Saturday, then resume this ALDS with the Rays at Fenway Park on Sunday afternoon.

Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi is slated to get the ball for Boston in Game 3, while fellow righty Drew Rasmussen will do the same for Tampa Bay.

First pitch Sunday is scheduled for 4:07 p.m. eastern time on MLB Network.

(Picture of Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts: Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

Eduardo Rodriguez lasts just 1 2/3 innings as Red Sox come out flat in 5-0 shutout loss to Rays to open ALDS

Just two days after it looked like all the momentum was on their side after eliminating the Yankees in the Wild Card Game, the Red Sox came out flat against the Rays on Thursday night.

Boston dropped Game 1 of the American League Division Series to Tampa Bay by a final score of 5-0 at Tropicana Field, meaning their backs are now somewhat against the wall moving forward.

Eduardo Rodriguez, making just his second career postseason start for the Sox and first overall appearance since Sunday, was not at his sharpest in Thursday’s series opener.

Over just 1 2/3 innings of work, the left-hander allowed two runs — both of which were earned — on two hits and two walks to go along with one strikeout in what will go down as one of his shortest outings of the year.

Right out of the gate, Rodriguez ran into trouble when he issued a leadoff walk to Randy Arozarena in the bottom of the first inning. He then yielded a line-drive double to rookie sensation Wander Franco, one in which Enrique Hernandez struggled to come up with cleanly in center field.

As a result of Hernandez bobbling the ball as he made the transfer from his glove hand to his throwing hand, the speedy Arozarena scored all the way from first base to give the Rays an early 1-0 lead.

Nelson Cruz proceeded to move Franco up to third base on a fly out to left field, and Yandy Diaz doubled his side’s advantage by plating him on a softly-hit infield single down the third base line.

That sequence put the Sox in an almost-immediate two-run hole. And while Rodriguez was able to get through the first, his day came to an end after he surrendered another leadoff walk and got the first two outs of the second.

Finishing with a final pitch count of 41 (24 strikes), Rodriguez may very well have made his final start in a Red Sox uniform on Thursday. The 28-year-old is about to become a free agent for the first time later this winter.

With the Rays lineup flipping over for the second time in the second inning, Sox manager Alex Cora turned to Garrett Richards out of the bullpen in relief of Rodriguez. Richards retired the lone batter he faced in Arozarena before making way for Nick Pivetta beginning in the bottom of the third.

Pivetta, who was considered as a candidate to Start Game 1, at the very least provided Boston with some length. In his 4 2/3 innings on the mound, the right-hander gave up three runs (all earned) on four hits, two walks, and four strikeouts.

Cruz took Pivetta deep off the C-Ring of Tropicana Field’s roof with the bases empty and two outs in the third inning. After facing the minimum in a scoreless fourth, the righty again yielded a towering solo shot to a red-hot Arozarena to lead off the fifth, thus increasing his side’s deficit to four runs.

Arozarena stole the spotlight once more in the seventh inning after drawing a two-out walk. Following a double from Franco that advanced Arozarena up to third base and a pitching change that saw left-hander Josh Taylor replace Pivetta, the Rays’ speedster took advantage of the Red Sox’ shifted infield by stealing home.

In catching Taylor and Christian Vazquez off guard, Arozarena used his wheels to make it a 5-0 contest in favor of Tampa Bay.

Up until that point in the night, the Boston lineup had been held in check by an impressive opposing pitching staff.

Rays rookie starter Shane McClanahan kept the Sox off the scoreboard in the process of scattering five hits and zero walks over five scoreless frames, while relievers J.T. Chargois and David Robertson combined to do the same in the top half of the sixth and seventh.

Going into the eighth inning with right-hander J.P. Feyereisen on the mound for the Rays, Christian Arroyo led off with a single and moved up to second on a one-out knock off the bat of Kyle Schwarber.

Both runners then advanced an additional 90 feet when Xander Bogaerts blooped another single to shallow center field, filling the bases with one out for the heart of the order.

The heart of Boston’s order, however, could not deliver, as Rafael Devers fanned on a foul tip and Hunter Renfroe popped out into foul territory to extinguish the threat.

Adam Ottavino was able to hold the Rays at five runs with a clean bottom of the eighth, but it went for naught after Feyereisen put up another zero in the top half of the ninth and final inning.

All in all, the Sox went 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position while leaving eight runners on base as a team in the process of getting shut out in a postseason game for the first time since Game 2 of 2016 ALDS against the Indians.

With the 5-0 loss, the Red Sox now trail the Rays one game to nothing in this best-of-five series.

Next up: Sale vs. Baz in Game 2

The Red Sox will turn to ace left-hander Chris Sale as they look to even this division series against the Rays at one game apiece on Friday night. Tampa Bay will counter by sending another rookie in right-hander Shane Baz to the hill.

First pitch from Tropicana Field on Friday is scheduled for 7:02 p.m. eastern time on FS1.

(Picture of Eduardo Rodriguez: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)