ST. PETERSBURG -- The Red Sox got into their happy place as an offense in a crucial Game 2 of the American League Division Series on Friday night at Tropicana Field and battered the baseball to places that even the well-aligned Rays defenders couldn't track down.
The Sox belted five homers to set a club record in the postseason, and the biggest was a three-run rocket off Martinez's bat that snapped a 5-5 tie in the top of the fifth. From there, Boston cruised to the finish.
Kiké Hernández, part of last year's World Series-winning Dodgers, had a monster night, going 5-for-6 with a homer and three doubles. His four extra-base hits tied the record in a postseason game. It is the fifth time that feat has been accomplished in postseason history and the first since Albert Pujols in Game 2 of the 2011 NLCS.
In fact, Hernández became the third player all-time with at least five hits, three RBIs and three runs scored in a postseason game, joining Pujols (Game 3 of the 2011 World Series) and Hideki Matsui (Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS).
Backed by their batting barrage, the Red Sox immeasurably improved the vibe for their flight back to Boston.
"Huge," said Verdugo. "Obviously, being down 0-2 in a five-game series would be tough. We know the odds to that wouldn't be good. I think realistically we wanted to come in here and split it. I'm very excited. I think we're all happy, man. Riding high right now."
In Division Series with the current 2-2-1 format, teams that have split the first two games in their opponent's home ballpark, before returning home for Game 3, have gone on to win the series 23 of 36 times (64%). This excludes 2020, when the Division Series were played at neutral sites.
The presence of Martinez in Boston's lineup makes a big difference, and he wasted no time proving why, tallying four hits.
"I think when I'm in there, I kind of just stretches the lineup out a little bit more," Martinez said. "We have a lot of good hitters on this team, and you extend the middle of the order just a little bit longer. It makes a big difference."
Martinez sprained his left ankle in the definition of a freak accident, tripping over the second-base bag Sunday while going out to right field on the final day of the regular season.
Finally, the swelling had gone down enough for Martinez to play, though manager Alex Cora waited until about an hour before game time to officially put his designated hitter in the lineup.
"Hats off to our athletic training staff, because they did miracles," said Martinez. "You know, it's just everybody -- from the massage therapist guys to the strength coaches to the hitting coaches, everybody. Everybody was involved in doing what they could do to help to try to get me back, and we kind of just came up with a plan of what we were going to do."
With Martinez back in tow, what the Red Sox did was rake all night to the tune of 20 hits.
The surge of offense came just a day after the Sox were shut out despite getting nine hits and a barrage of barreled-up outs in a Game 1 loss.
"Obviously it was huge," Hernández said. "We didn't have a good night [Thursday] night, and with our lineup, it's just kind of a matter of time. And having J.D. back, even if he didn't do what he did tonight, just having his presence there in the lineup. He is not just one of our best hitters, but he has been one of the best hitters in baseball for a few years now."
The Red Sox are truly dangerous when they are riding high as an offense, and they came out swinging from the jump in Game 2.
With Sale done after 30 pitches, the Sox were down, 5-2. It was an eerily similar spot to five days earlier, when a shaky Sale got just seven outs in Game No. 162, but Boston roared back from a four-run deficit to win, 7-5, and clinch a playoff berth.
Cora, who has a postseason record of 13-4, again proved what a dugout leader he is, making sure the offense stayed on the attack on Friday, even after the deflating bottom of the first by Sale.
"So it was definitely a little deflating at first," Verdugo said. "But I just remember going into the dugout and A.C. is coming up and down the dugout just, 'It's all right, we got a whole game, eight more innings. You know, keep going.' I felt like that really set the tone. And the hitters, they just didn't stop."