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Chris Sale lit up, but Tanner Houck plays hero as Red Sox steamroll Rays, 14-6, to even American League Division Series

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Chris Sale lit up, but Tanner Houck plays hero as Red Sox steamroll Rays, 14-6, to even American League Division Series

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — “The starting pitcher sets the tone” is a phrase that’s growing extinct.

There aren’t too many starting pitchers anymore. Just pitchers.

Chris Sale started Friday’s game for the Red Sox and allowed five runs in the first inning, never to return. By the end of the back-and-forth slugfest at Tropicana Field, the starting pitchers were a distant memory.

Instead, it was Tanner Houck who played the role of hero, throwing five magnificent innings out of relief while the Red Sox bats mounted a snowballing comeback as the Sox escaped Tropicana Field with an 14-6 win, evening the American League Division Series at one game apiece.

“What this guy did was unbelievable,” Kiké Hernandez said of Houck.

His performance on just two days of rest brought back memories of Nathan Eovaldi, who threw six strong innings out of relief on one day of rest in Game 3 of the 2018 World Series.

But unlike Eovaldi’s heroic act three years ago, the Red Sox actually won this game.

Houck entered with his team in a 5-2 deficit, then promptly retired the first 11 batters he faced. Including his five perfect innings against the Nationals last weekend and a perfect inning against the Yankees on Tuesday, Houck had retired 27 batters in a row while striking out 15 of them.

“I had no idea, to be honest,” Houck said of his perfect run. “I was just focused on getting outs and putting the team in position to win.”

He finally allowed a single to Wander Franco in the fifth inning, and Ji-Man Choi took him deep for a solo shot in the sixth, but Houck finished with five innings of one-run ball allowing two hits, no walks and striking out five. He threw 61 pitches, 44 for strikes.

And most importantly, he walked off the mound with an 8-6 lead.

“It truly is a surreal night of being able to actually put things fully together,” he said.

Being optioned back and forth to Triple-A Worcester, shuffled in and out of the starting rotation, Houck was fighting imperfect conditions all year. But the results never faded. In parts of two big league seasons, he’s struck out 31% of the batters he’s faced, the second-highest mark of any Red Sox pitcher in that span.

And though Eduardo Rodriguez and Sale combined to throw just 2 2/3 innings while allowing seven runs in two starts this series, Nick Pivetta and Houck piggy-backed with lengthy outings that saved the Sox’ pen and gave them a chance to win.

“He’s been amazing,” manager Alex Cora said. “He doesn’t panic. He stays in the moment. He just wants to keep going and get people out. He’s obviously going to be down for a few days but today was huge for us. It was huge.”

The Red Sox actually had an early lead in this game. They were aggressive against Rays’ rookie right-hander Shane Baz in the first inning and jumped ahead 2-0 on a pair of RBI singles by Xander Bogaerts and Alex Verdugo.

But Sale had neither his best stuff nor his best command. Most of his pitches were simply not competitive. And he generated just three whiffs, all three coming on sliders, while his mid-90s fastball was knocked around. The knockout blow was a grand slam to Jordan Luplow on an 0-2 fastball just above the zone to put the Sox behind, 5-2.

At that point, Verdugo said Cora went up and down the dugout screaming, “it’s all right, we got a whole game, eight more innings, keep going.”

“I felt like that really set the tone,” Verdugo said.

After Houck came in to settle the game down, the Red Sox offense showed no signs of injury, despite two of their best hitters, J.D. Martinez and Rafael Devers, clearly hurting.

Devers, who appears to be nursing an arm injury but Cora has been vague about diagnosing it, looked to be in pain all night as he drew two key walks in the middle innings, then added a two-run homer to straightaway center in the eighth to put the Rays to bed.

Martinez, who hadn’t played since exiting Sunday’s series finale with a sprained ankle, had a 4-for-5 night with the decisive three-run homer in the fifth inning.

The Red Sox combined to hit five home runs, including one each from each of their hitters from No. 2 through No. 6 in the lineup: Hernandez, Devers, Bogaerts, Verdugo and Martinez.

It was the most homers the Red Sox have ever hit in a playoff game.

“We’ve been behind plenty of times,” Cora said. “We hit the ball hard yesterday. Offensively, we’re getting to who we are.”

Hernandez has been cold at the dish but busted out with a 5-for-6 performance. With three doubles and a home run, he became the first Red Sox player ever to have four extra-base hits in a playoff game.

Verdugo had three hits and made a pair of great catches, including one where he reached over the wall in foul territory down the first-base line and made a fully-stretched grab through a handful of fans.

In front of a fairly split crowd of 37,616 fans who were having dueling chants amid the steady sound of cowbells all night, the Sox managed to overcome the momentum from Luplow’s first-inning grand slam and looked like a much different team from the one that didn’t do much of anything one night earlier.

They finished with 20 hits, including nine extra-base hits, while going 8-for-17 (.471) with runners in scoring position.

“We have a lot of good hitters on this team,” Martinez said. “Hitting is contagious. And these guys came out today raking right out of the game. Everybody had a great night tonight. It wasn’t just one person.”

Eovaldi will be on the bump for Game 3 on Sunday afternoon at 4:07 p.m. ET as the series moves back to Fenway Park.

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Step aside, Banksy and Van Gogh: An immersive Frida Kahlo exhibit is coming to Denver

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Step aside, Banksy and Van Gogh: An immersive Frida Kahlo exhibit is coming to Denver

A new exhibit featuring the work of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo is coming to Denver in 2022 and, in the spirit of recent art trends, it will be an “immersive” experience that engulfs visitors in animated projections that highlight the painter and many iconic pieces and portraits from her storied career.

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One dead as police investigate homicide in Arvada

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Estes Park police officer found dead following domestic violence investigation

One man is dead, and another man is in custody as police attempt to figure out what happened in Arvada on Monday.

Police are investigating a homicide inside a townhouse on 11500 West 70th Place.

The man who was killed is in his early 20s, police say.

Officials said there is no ongoing safety concern related to this incident.

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Broncos Week 13 Talking Points: Defense key in Kansas City’s climb to AFC West lead

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Broncos Week 13 Talking Points: Defense key in Kansas City’s climb to AFC West lead

First-place Kansas City returns from its bye week break to host the Broncos Sunday night. Here are three Week 13 talking points for the Broncos (6-5) and Chiefs (7-4):

1. Defense leads turnaround

When Kansas City was routed 27-3 at Tennessee in Week 7, the Chiefs were 3-4 and leaking oil defensively. In Weeks 1-7, they allowed 203 points (third-most), had only eight sacks (fewest) and seven takeaways (tied for 18th). But the turnaround has been startling, keying a four-game winning streak and a climb to first place in the AFC West. In Weeks 8-11, the Chiefs allowed 47 points (second-fewest) and had eight takeaways (tied fourth-most) and 11 sacks (fourth-most). Their plus-46 point differential during that span was third. A key was getting defensive lineman Chris Jones back (3 1/2 sacks in the Chiefs’ last game).

2. Playing keep away

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