Bats goes quiet, Sox in 2-1 ALCS hole
Lester hits postseason pothole, Boston offense held in check
BOSTON -- Fenway Park was quiet -- eerily quiet for a postseason game. The reason? The Tampa Bay Rays and the 9-1 thumping they gave the Red Sox in Monday's Game 3 of the American League Championship Series.
Also quiet were the Boston bats, which produced just two extra-base hits all game.
The only substantial noise to be heard? The crack of the Rays finding the barrel against Red Sox lefty Jon Lester, who picked an inopportune moment time to go from Mr. Automatic to an untimely pothole.
Tampa Bay leads the best-of-seven series 2-1. This after Boston won Game 1.
Just like in 2003, '04 and '07, the Red Sox are trailing the ALCS after three games. In all three of those previous instances, the series went seven games, with Boston rallying back from a 3-0 deficit in '04 and 3-1 last year.
Red Sox in Game 3s
|The Red Sox have now lost seven consecutive tiebreakers in series tied at a game apiece.|
|Series||Opponent||Game 3 Outcome||Series Outcome|
|1903 World Series||Pirates||Lost, 4-3||Won, 5-3 *|
|1915 World Series||Phillies||Won, 2-1||Won, 4-1|
|1918 World Series||Cubs||Won, 2-1||Won, 4-2|
|1946 World Series||Cardinals||Won, 4-0||Lost, 3-4|
|1967 World Series||Cardinals||Lost, 5-2||Lost, 3-4|
|1975 Reds||Reds||Lost, 6-5||Lost, 4-3|
|1986 ALCS||Angels||Lost, 5-3||Won, 4-3|
|1998 ALDS||Indians||Lost, 4-3||Lost, 3-1|
|2003 ALCS||Yankees||Lost, 4-3||Lost, 4-3|
|2007 ALCS||Indians||Lost, 4-2||Won, 4-3|
|2008 ALCS||Rays||Lost, 5-0||???|
|-- * World Series was best-of-9|
"We've been here before," said Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. "We have to come out and play better baseball. There's no excuses, obviously. They came out and kicked our butts tonight. They played great. We didn't. That was the bottom line of the game. There was no, 'Oh, we should have done this.' None of that. It was a straight up [beating]. We have to play better."
The reason this loss came with considerable sting is that Lester had been nearly unhittable (14 innings, no runs) in the AL Division Series against the Angels. In fact, Lester had posted a 24 2/3-inning scoreless streak in the postseason dating back to last year. And in 2008, Lester had been a force at Fenway Park, going 11-1 with a 2.49 ERA in 17 regular-season starts.
Nothing silences a home crowd faster than a substantial early deficit.
B.J. Upton unloaded for a three-run homer over the Green Monster and onto Lansdowne Street in the third. Evan Longoria added a solo shot later in the inning to put the Red Sox in an early 5-0 hole.
"I had the big inning and that broke the back a little bit. You've got to tip your hat to them," said Lester. "They did a good piece of hitting. B.J. turned on a ball I left over the plate, and I hung a cutter to Longoria. When you do things like that to good hitters, they're supposed to do what they did."
Lester lasted 5 2/3 innings, giving up eight hits and five runs, one of which was unearned. He walked two and struck out seven, throwing 96 pitches.
"They came out and swung the bats great," said Pedroia. "They pitched good, played great defense and we didn't do anything. We're going to have to find a way to come out tomorrow and play better."
In order to do that, the Red Sox, barring a near perfect performance from Game 4 starter Tim Wakefield, are going to have to hit better.
"We put up eight runs the other night," said Red Sox left fielder Jason Bay. "It's not the end of the world. And we won the first night [scoring two runs]. I think that definitely we live and die by scoring runs. At the end of the season, we scored almost more than anybody. It's a big part of our game, but ultimately, right now, we're not getting it done."
Some key players have struggled in the series, including Jacoby Ellsbury (0-for-14), David Ortiz (0-for-10) and Jason Varitek (0-for-10).
2-1 lead in LCS play
|With the Rays' victory in Game 3, an ALCS stands at 2-1 for the 19th time since it became a best-of-seven series in 1985. Thirteen of the previous 18 teams went on to win its ALCS.|
|Year||Team up 2-1||Opponent||Final|
|1993||Blue Jays||White Sox||4-2|
"We're one of the best offenses in baseball," Pedroia said. "We've shown that all year. I don't see why we hit the panic button and start doing things out of the ordinary. We just have to swing the bats better."
After being stifled by Tampa Bay righty Matt Garza in the first six innings, the Boston bats finally got the crowd back in the game in the seventh. Varitek led off with a walk and Alex Cora followed with a single, putting runners at the corners with nobody out.
That was all for Garza, as Rays manager Joe Maddon went to left-hander J.P. Howell. Ellsbury lined a sacrifice fly to right, putting the Red Sox on the scoreboard. But Pedroia hit into a 5-4-3 double play, and the rally was over just like that.
What made Garza so tough?
"He kept us off-balance, he made his pitches effectively," said Red Sox first baseman Mark Kotsay. "We just couldn't get anything going. We couldn't get any momentum offensively. A lot of offense is about momentum and putting good at-bats together, and he kept us off-balance."
And after that slight glimmer of hope by the Red Sox's bats in the seventh, the Rays then went for the jugular in the top of the eighth, as Rocco Baldelli -- the Rhode Island native -- belted a three-run homer against Paul Byrd to make it an 8-1 game.
Byrd was the only reliever used by Francona, which is one silver lining heading into Game 4.
"I went out there and battled," Byrd said. "I did my best. I'm a little frustrated with the number of runs I gave up, but hopefully maybe it means something to the guys in the 'pen."
Since the ALCS adopted a best-of-seven format in 1985, five of the 18 teams that have trailed 2-1 have gone to the World Series, including the Red Sox of 1986 and 2007.
"Somebody was going to be down 2-1," said Kotsay. "This team's got a lot of character and I don't think anybody in here is panicking or worried about it. We're at home, we're in Fenway. We'll come out tomorrow and play hard and hopefully tie this thing back at home."
Perhaps by Tuesday, the familiar roar will be back at Fenway.
"If you're getting beat that bad, it's gonna be strange," Pedroia said of the silence. "They swung the bats great. Jon had great stuff. They just put good at-bats together. You tip your hat sometimes. That's the way it goes."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.