Jackie Bradley Jr. again delivers for Red Sox with 8th-inning grand slam

Bradley knew grand slam was gone off the bat (1:11)

Jackie Bradley Jr. recollects his grand slam and hopes to carry the momentum into Game 4. (1:11)

HOUSTON -- The American League Championship Series is only three games old, but it might already have found its MVP.

Jackie Bradley Jr., the Boston Red Sox center fielder who at one point was batting .161 in the regular season, has turned the ALCS with two clutch, bases-clearing swings of his bat.

One game after smacking a key go-ahead, three-RBI double to spark a Game 2 Red Sox win, Bradley uncorked an eighth-inning grand slam that broke open Game 3 on Tuesday, propelling Boston to an 8-2 win over the Houston Astros. The Red Sox now lead the ALCS 2-1.

"It's huge," Bradley said of his homer off Astros closer Roberto Osuna that landed in the right-field seats. "We're playing a really good team in Houston. Runs are at a premium. We never feel like enough runs [are] going to be enough.

"So it was very, very special for us."

Chimed in fellow Boston hitter Steve Pearce, while he and Bradley spoke from the podium in a postgame news conference: "His teammates loved it. I'll tell you that."

They certainly appeared to. While Bradley was being interviewed on the field at Minute Maid Park just after the final out, Red Sox outfielders Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi came from Bradley's blind side and dumped a pair of mostly full Gatorade coolers into his back and onto his head.

During the game, a couple of innings prior, their manager found it tough to contain his own joy when he saw Bradley throw open his right leg and hammer a 94.4 mph four-seam fastball that touched the top of the strike zone before landing 386 feet away.

"I think I threw my hands up," manager Alex Cora said. "As soon as he hit it we knew that ball was gone."

At TD Garden in Boston, where the NBA's Celtics were opening their regular season with the Philadelphia 76ers, fans chanted "JBJ! JBJ!" in recognition of Bradley's heroics.

"That's awesome," said Red Sox designated hitter J.D. Martinez.

Added shortstop Xander Bogaerts: "That's what happens when you get a big hit in a big situation."

There were plenty of times during the regular season when Bradley didn't deliver in big spots and otherwise. After dropping to .161 in late May, his average hovered close to the Mendoza Line for much of the year until he went on a late-season surge through mostly August and September.

Before the All-Star break, Bradley batted .210 with a .642 OPS. Since then, across the regular season and postseason combined, he has batted .260 with a .815 OPS.

"It's all him," Cora said. "Because at this level, when you're hitting .180 after two months, or three months, it's hard. He kept showing up. He kept working. He kept working his craft. Now you see the results.

"I'm happy for Jackie. It was a struggle early in the season, but he's been very consistent at the end."

Bradley's two postseason bases-loaded drives came after he went 1-for-17 in similar scenarios during the regular season. He had only four RBIs in bases-full situations then. This postseason, he already has seven.

"Apparently he's the guy we want up now with the bases loaded," Bogaerts said.

Perhaps luck -- and hitting away from shifts -- is a reason for that.

"I felt like I was hitting balls hard right at people at the beginning of the season," Bradley said. "Second half of the season, I got some balls to fall in. So it's just, I guess, that big of a switch.

"You're going to go through it. I guess the thing is, I'm not afraid to fail. I just don't want to fail a lot. I want to fail less."

With the grand slam, Bradley also entered some rarefied postseason air.

As Boston's 9-spot hitter Tuesday, he became the first position player in postseason history to start a game in the 9-hole and hit a grand slam. Only two other starting 9-hole hitters had ever hit postseason grand slams before this game, but they were pitchers. Mike Cuellar and Dave McNally both accomplished the feat in 1970.

Bradley also became the fourth Boston outfielder, regardless of hitting order, to hit a grand slam in the ALCS after not hitting one that regular season. Shane Victorino (2013), J.D. Drew (2007) and Johnny Damon (2004) came through in the postseason that way, too.

Victorino's, Drew's and Damon's teams also went on to win the World Series those seasons.

"It's all him. Because at this level, when you're hitting .180 after two months, or three months, it's hard. He kept showing up. He kept working. He kept working his craft. Now you see the results."
Red Sox manager Alex Cora on Jackie Bradley Jr.

Then there's this. The only other time in postseason history when a player had multiple bases-clearing hits in the same series, he was named that series' MVP.

Graig Nettles pulled off the feat in the 1981 ALCS for the Yankees.

While Bradley's teammates and coaches unabashedly showcased their enthusiasm over his clutch grand slam, the man who hit it expressed very little emotion as he rounded the bases. After extending his bat for a moment following contact, Bradley put his head down and started running. Other than a little high-five hop at the end of his trot, it was hard to tell he was excited about what he had just done.

"I heard this saying from one of my [high school] coaches back in the day. He said: 'No one should ever know whether you're winning or losing. Kind of keep the same temperament. That way, it will allow you to put some perspective into things,'" Bradley said. "I kind of took that to heart."

There were only two times during his postgame news conference with Pearce when Bradley even broke into a smile. Neither instance had to do with him, either.

The first came when Bradley grinned while he was answering a question about the unsung nature of Pearce, Boston's first baseman and a fellow University of South Carolina product who hit his own deep solo shot in the sixth. At the end of what he was saying, Bradley turned to Pearce and gave him a Gamecock salute, offering a fist bump while extending his thumb and pinkie finger.

Just as Bradley was doing that, his wife, Erin, was standing on a wall holding their young daughter, Emerson. Erin was teaching the little girl how to do the same gesture.

Moments later, the biggest smile of Bradley's night covered his face, as with the news conference over, Emerson teetered over to the podium, calling for her "Daddy" before he picked her up and let her speak into the microphone, bidding farewell to the remaining reporters in the room.

ESPN's Dave Schoenfield contributed to this report.