PHILADELPHIA -- A year ago, the Red Sox' contract extension with catcher Christian Vazquez was looking like a costly mistake.
Vazquez hit just .207 with three homers in 80 games during an injury-plagued 2018 season, when Vazquez's fellow Puerto Rico native Alex Cora began favoring the defensive specialist, Sandy Leon, behind the plate.
A year later, it looks like the Red Sox have their franchise catcher.
Vazquez hit two home runs, including a grand slam in the third inning, to lift the Red Sox to a 6-3 win over the Phillies on Sunday.
It was the first two-homer, five-RBI game by a Red Sox catcher since Jason Varitek, a neat bit of symbolism as Vazquez begins to look more and more like the Varitek-like backstop behind the plate.
"I'm always tough on him," Cora said. "We're from the same country so he better play well. I know he works hard. We got closer, family wise and we have a great relationship. He's a player, but I see him as a little brother. ... I know what he can do. He had some high goals and we have to push him. When he relaxes, then his game suffers."
The Sox were tied 1-1 when Vazquez stepped up with the bases loaded and sat back on a low curveball from Jason Vargas and lifted it over the left-field fence for his 20th homer of the season. Vazquez was so excited he held the bat in the air with a one-handed pose as he ran down the first-base line.
In the sixth inning, he got a 91-mph fastball inside and rifled it over the left-field seats for No. 21.
Asked how much he was thinking about hitting No. 20, he said, "a lot. It's tough to see that No. 19. Now it's 20."
Vazquez never envisioned hitting more than 10 home runs in a big league season, he said. But he spent all off-season working on hitting the ball in the air, a popular trend around the game.
He entered the year with nine career homers over four seasons but was determined to play better to prove worthy of the remaining $20 million over the final four years of his contract, including this year.
"It was tough for me last year to get hurt," he said. "But thank God we won the World Series because it was a tough year offensively. This year I'm having more fun."
Stuck on 19 homers entering this series, Vazquez had lunch with Carlos Delgado in Toronto and received some advice from the two-time All-Star, a Puerto Rico native who hit 473 career home runs.
"He's been swinging hard and we feel like his swing is getting long," Cora said. "The last day in Toronto we had lunch with Carlos Delgado and we're talking about trying to reach milestones and all that. Carlos was like, 'Dude, the less you try, the better it's going to be. Just hit the ball the other way the way you do it. You will hit one home run in a month and if it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen. Don't put pressure on yourself.'"
Vazquez, making about $3 million this year, is the eighth catcher to cross the 20-homer mark this season. He's the first Red Sox catcher to hit 20 since Jarrod Saltalamacchia hit 25 in 2012. He's just the seventh catcher in franchise history to do it.
It was Vazquez's 36th multi-hit game this season, most by a Red Sox catcher since Varitek had 47 in 2004.
Varitek has been working closely with Vazquez this season to clean up his defensive game. While he has four catcher pickoffs, one away from the most in franchise history (Rich Gedman had five in 1974), he's struggled blocking balls in the dirt and has occasionally looked slow behind the plate.
"He was dropping pitches and that can't happen," Cora said. "When he signed everybody was talking about him defensively. All of a sudden he's swinging the bat well and, it's not that he didn't take care of his defense, but he wasn't as sharp as he usually is. All of a sudden he starts doing a few things mechanically and you see the results."
Cora's tough-love approach has worked on Vazquez, whose career 37.2 caught stealing percentage leads all active catchers.
"We're good, I listen to him a lot," Vazquez said. "We call him 'Google' in Puerto Rico. It's fun to hear his stories about baseball. He knows what kind of player I am. He saw me in winter ball playing. He knows what I can do in the game."