Tyler Esplin had only a small cup of coffee with Class A Advanced Salem during the regular season, but he came through in a big way in the playoffs on Thursday.
The Red Sox outfielder homered twice and drove in three runs to back eighth-ranked Thad Ward's six-inning outing as Salem rolled to a 5-2 win over Wilmington, taking a 2-0 series lead in the best-of-5 Carolina League semifinals at Haley Toyota Field. Ward allowed one run on three hits and four walks while posting seven strikeouts.
Esplin spent 100 games with Class A Greenville this season and earned a promotion to Salem on Sept. 1, notching one hit over five at-bats across the final two regular season games.
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The 2017 seventh-round pick didn't suit up in Salem's Game 1 victory, but wasted no time making productive use of the lumber in his first opportunity. After top Red Sox prospect Triston Casas doubled against No. 16 Royals prospect Jonathan Bowlan (0-1) in the second inning, Esplin followed with a smash over the right-field wall to put the game's first two runs on the board.
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In the eighth, the 20-year-old capped the scoring with a solo roundtripper to right against righty Andrew Beckwith. With seven professional home runs coming into the game, Esplin had never recorded a multi-dinger effort before Thursday night.
Video: Esplin homers twice
Casas finished 2-for-4 after being held hitless in Wednesday's series opener.
On the hill, the Red Sox were buoyed by a stellar effort from Ward, who threw 90 pitches -- 49 strikes. He worked around runners in five of his six innings, but continually thwarted Wilmington threats with a mix of punchouts and key groundouts (five).
Video: Ward's three-pitch whiff
The only run on his line came in the seventh, when Dennicher Carrasco walked to start the inning and end Ward's night. Carrasco scored on No. 10 Royals prospect Nick Pratto's two-run homer against lefty Logan Browning.
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The right-hander started the year in the South Atlantic League but moved on to Salem on June 20 and proved to be invaluable to the rotation. He sported a 2.33 ERA and 1.30 WHIP over 54 innings down the stretch.
Andrew Schwaab earned the save, working around two walks and fanning three over 1 1/3 innings.
Game 3 will be held on Friday night in Burlington.