BOSTON — If the Red Sox are nervous about the possibility of being swept out of the playoffs for the second straight year, they were trying hard not to show it on Saturday.
A year after losing in David Ortiz’s final game and being eliminated 3-0 by the Cleveland Indians in the AL Division Series, Boston returns to Fenway Park again on the cusp of another early postseason exit.
The Houston Astros picked apart Boston’s top two starting pitchers in Games 1 and 2, roughing up Chris Sale and Drew Pomeranz in back-to-back, 8-2 victories at Minute Maid Park.
With a victory in Game 3 on Sunday, Houston can advance to a league championship series for the first time since 2005, when it made it to the World Series. Brad Peacock starts for the Astros.
Back on its home field, Boston will try to stick around for at least another game, this time pinning its hopes with right hander Doug Fister, a June waiver signing who became a regular in the starting rotation only because of injuries.
Though Fister might not be the marquee name that Boston would ordinarily peg to be on the mound in his position, he isn’t a stranger to it. In eight postseason starts, Fister has gone 4-1 with a 1.78 ERA. His teams were 7-1 in those games, winning each of the last three. Two of his seven victories also came with his team facing elimination.
“Now is not a time to change up our game plan or our execution. It’s a matter of going out there, staying with what we do and do what we do best,” Fister said.
Meanwhile, the Astros have thus far avoided a postseason letdown after clinching the AL West crown in mid-September.
Manager A.J. Hinch said he’s gotten exactly what he hoped to out of his young core. His top four hitters — George Springer, Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa — have all come through, combining to go 12 of 32 with six home runs and 10 RBIs through two games. Altuve had three home runs alone in Game 1.
“The strength of this team will continue to be not only those big names . . . but the depth of his lineup,” Hinch said.
It’s a group that has baffled Boston’s pitchers thus far, but Fister said his experience in these situations has allowed him to avoid overthinking the moment now that he has the ball. He said he told a friend during conversation Friday night that the stakes of Sunday’s game in some ways helps him to focus.
“There’s nothing to lose, with everything to lose,” he said.
That may very well also be the case for Red Sox manager John Farrell, who could again find himself under the microscope if his team is eliminated from the first round of the playoffs after winning back-to-back AL East titles for the first time ever.
Farrell said everything is on the table for Game 3, including the possibly using Sale as a reliever. He also said David Price is available to be used in any capacity if need be.
Farrell said he will worry about a potential Game 4 starter after ensuring that there is another game to play.
Hanley Ramirez said the prospect of not winning a single playoff game for two straight years is a label no one in Boston’s clubhouse wants to wear.
“No, no. Not two years in a row,” he said. “We got to find a way. That’s why we’re pros. We got to find a way to win.”