Extremes reached, ALCS scene shifts
Rays follow Game 1 duel with slugfest win to keep hope alive
ST. PETERSBURG -- They've stripped away Josh Beckett's veil of October invincibility, answered the Red Sox's best shots and now the Rays take confident aim at Boston's fortress.A funny thing has happened in the American League Championship Series on the way to a Boston cakewalk. It turned into a Tampa Bay walk-off, at the end of a free-for-all in which the Rays beat the Red Sox, 9-8, in Game 2 at their own heavy-handed game.
So all bets are off, and anything can happen. Actually, most of it already did during the Rays' Game 2 survival through one of the most action-filled postseason games in recent memory.The foresightful schedule calls for a day off before the series resumes on Monday at Fenway Park. Both teams will spend it in oxygen tanks; their pitchers may spend it in shock. Day off? B.J. Upton's game-winning sacrifice fly off Mike Timlin -- on the 433rd pitch thrown in a five-hour, 27-minute roller coaster -- came at 1:36 a.m. ET. So Grant Balfour may need to rethink his instant postgame analysis. "We threw everyone at them," the Rays reliever said, "but we'll have a day off to rest and crank it up again." When they do crank it up on Monday at 4:37 p.m., what new wrinkles could the Rays and Red Sox possibly come up with? The games have changed, and now so has the direction of this ALCS. Pitchers' duel on Friday, long-ball duel on Saturday -- a win apiece. Now, they will change the scenery, from sun-bathed beachfront to brisk New England autumn. Of paramount concern to the Rays is that the multicolored leaves will come with Fenway Park. That is where the Cinderellas will try to keep their chariot from returning to pumpkin mode when Tampa Bay right-hander Matt Garza meets lefty Jon Lester, the gatekeeper of Fenway Park. With the Rays down, 2-0, Garza might have been overwhelmed. At 1-1, he is eager. "A huge difference -- like a pitcher's count," Garza said. "0-and-2 would be in the hitter's favor. Now, it's a fair ballgame. So that was a huge win for us -- you can't stress that enough." Concurring, Rays manager Joe Maddon said, "Obviously, [the Game 2 win] puts it in much better shape going into Fenway Park." The Rays aren't yet on the downhill. A second successive home loss would have made them feel miserable, so going into Fenway Park at 1-1 makes them feel only nervous. Between the Rays' past two series wins at The Fens -- in 1999 and a month ago -- the Red Sox engineered 10 home series sweeps, two of which came during the recent regular season.
GAME 3: JUST THE FACTS
|Rays starter: RHP Matt Garza|
|2008: 11-9, 3.70 ERA|
|2008 on the road: 4-6, 4.53 ERA|
|2008 vs. Red Sox: 1-1, 4.50 ERA|
|Career vs. Red Sox: 3-1, 3.86 ERA|
|2008 postseason: 0-1, 7.50 ERA|
|Career postseason: 0-1, 7.50 ERA|
|Red Sox starter: LHP Jon Lester|
|2008: 16-6, 3.21 ERA|
|2008 at home: 11-1, 2.49 ERA|
|2008 vs. Rays: 3-0, 0.90 ERA|
|Career vs. Rays: 4-0, 3.38 ERA|
|2008 postseason: 1-0, 0.00 ERA|
|Career postseason: 2-0, 0.77 ERA|
|Series tied, 1-1. It marks the 19th time in 39 American League Championship Series that it has been tied at a game apiece.|
|Game 1: Red Sox 2, Rays 0|
|Game 2: Rays 9, Red Sox 8 (11 innings)|
|Did You Know? The 37 players used by both teams in Game 2 tied an ALCS record for a game of any length, last matched by the Red Sox and Indians in Game 2 of the 2007 ALCS.|
In the clubs' 2008 Fenway Park battles, the Rays held a lead after only eight of 86 innings.Yet two of those innings were at the end of their past two nights there, consecutive wins on Sept. 9-10 that have them returning in an entirely different mind-set. "Those were huge momentum shifts," Garza said. "We needed those two in Boston -- it let us know there is no curse, that we can play there and win." Garza has held his own in that park, even as a member of the Twins' rotation prior to his offseason trade to the Rays. The right-hander's 3-1 record is notable in a park where not many visiting pitchers are on the upside of .500. "All the dimensions are the same," said Garza, alluding to the baselines and from the rubber to the plate. Then he amended that impression.
"There is the big monster wall," Garza said of the famed Green Monster. "I just have to keep guys from banging on that wall, and we'll be all right."But Garza's numbers still pale next to those of Lester, whose home record this year is 11-1. That is one big reason the Red Sox's chins weren't dragging as they left The Trop in Sunday's wee hours. "We would've loved to get two here," said Red Sox catcher Kevin Cash shortly after he had to move up the third-base line for right fielder J.D. Drew's throw as Fernando Perez slid past him for the game-winner. "But we didn't. So now we got three at home." As the series shifts seasons, Evan Longoria and Upton will resume their little postseason home run derby in the shadow of the Green Monster. Both left Tropicana Field for Game 3, keeping Upton in the lead, 4-3. Saturday night's give-and-take could have been ominous for the next phase of this ALCS, which does not figure to calm down at Fenway Park, the scene of countless games that try pitching coaches' patience. "You could tell the hitters were on and that it would be back-and-forth the whole game," noted Longoria. "You knew you had to keep pressure on them, because a one-run lead would not be enough." Well, not until they couldn't answer.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.