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Tanner Houck supplies the real power in Red Sox’s win

The reliever set down the first 11 batters he faced, giving Boston a chance to take control of the game.
Boston Red Sox pitcher Tanner Houck delivers a pitch in the fourth inning. He retired the first 11 batters he faced in relief of starter Chris Sale.
Boston Red Sox pitcher Tanner Houck delivers a pitch in the fourth inning. He retired the first 11 batters he faced in relief of starter Chris Sale. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Oct. 9
Updated Oct. 9

ST. PETERSBURG — The Red Sox slammed the Rays with a five-homer, 20-hit assault Friday night in Game 2 of their American League Division Series at Tropicana Field.

But if you want the pivotal story behind the Red Sox’s 14-6 victory, it was right-hander Tanner Houck. He slammed the brakes on the Rays’ offense and helped to even the series.

Houck entered in the second inning and retired the first 11 batters he faced — giving him a streak of 30 up, 30 down (a perfect game and then some), covering four appearances dating to Sept. 28 — and that inspired a Red Sox rally.

“It was a surreal night of putting everything fully together and helping this team,” Houck said.

“He has been amazing,” manager Alex Cora said. “He doesn’t panic. We’ve been using him a lot. (Friday) was a perfect day for him to help us win the ballgame. What he has done this week has been amazing.”

By the time the Red Sox had roared back from a 5-2 deficit, Chris Sale’s failed start was just a footnote. Sale lasted just one inning and was rocked by Jordan Luplow’s grand slam, which put Tampa Bay up 5-2 and sent Tropicana Field into a frenzy.

What happened after that?

“What happened was Tanner Houck,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “He was really tough. He kept us off-balance. He came in and did a tremendous job for them.”

Houck inherited an ear-splitting Trop atmosphere and made things relatively quiet.

“Having momentum in this game was huge,” Houck said. “To be put in that spot and have the trust of my teammates, it was so gratifying. I saw the look in their eyes that said, ‘We’re not out of this yet. It’s only three runs. That’s nothing.’

“It was such a big spot. We were backed into a corner. You can roll over and die, or you can show your teeth a bit. We responded very well.”

Who knew the Red Sox would respond in that manner after Sale, a noted Rays killer (10-6 career record against them), was knocked out? But after the first inning, the Red Sox outscored the Rays 12-1.

Houck earned the victory with five dominant innings, allowing just two hits, one a two-out, solo homer by Ji-Man Choi in the sixth.

“Tanner picked us up,” Red Sox centerfielder Enrique Hernandez said. “He gave us a chance to win. He was tremendous.”

The Red Sox managed an ALDS split with just 2⅔ innings of work from their starters, including 1⅔ from Eduardo Rodriguez in Game 1.

“The plan was for Eddie and Chris to go deep into the game, then mix and match,” Cora said. “It didn’t work out like that, but we have a lot of good pitchers, a lot of capable guys.”

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Houck said he has felt locked in during the past week, including five perfect innings as a starter Saturday at Washington when he was lifted. That perfection rolled into Tuesday’s wild-card victory over the Yankees and 11 straight batters Friday night.

Houck probably didn’t expect to enter in the second inning with Sale as the starter, but he was ready for that adjustment.

“It’s about showing up every day and not taking a day off,” Houck said. “It’s easy for a reliever to say, ‘Chris has it for six innings’ and shut it off. But it’s about supporting your teammates, staying locked into the game and always being ready.

“I live for these moments, being in a different stadium and having people yell at you. I love that environment. It’s very satisfying to come out of this with a big victory.”

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