Rays feel momentum back in their corner
AL East champions confident as they prepare for Game 5
ST. PETERSBURG -- Workers at Tropicana Field worked diligently Monday afternoon to expose some 5,000 canvas-covered seats that will be available for Game 5 of the American League Division Series on Tuesday night.
Bunting adorned the perimeter of the upper and lower levels, lending a regal feeling to the building. Clearly, anticipation is in the air for Tuesday night's winner-take-all finale to the Rays-Rangers best-of-five series.
Most of the talk focuses on the starting pitchers -- David Price for the Rays and Cliff Lee for the Rangers -- almost as though they were heavyweights ready to enter the ring to vie for the title. All the trappings are in place to experience postseason baseball at its finest.
"Yeah buddy, it doesn't get much bigger than that," Carl Crawford said.
Given the fact the Rays managed to stave off elimination on Saturday and Sunday in Texas, they find themselves in a good place.
"Under the circumstances, yeah, obviously, you would have liked to have won it by now -- getting off to an 0-2 start then playing as well as we did on the road," manager Joe Maddon said. "That's all you can ask for right now, have David tomorrow night -- a [well] rested David. ... It's kind of comforting to know that he's ready to go [and is] well-rested."
Most figure the Rangers have suffered an emotional setback by having the Rays take two over the weekend while playing in front of a two-game gate surpassing 100,000 at Rangers Ballpark. But Maddon said, "I'm sure they're going to be fine."
"I do believe, to some extent, the momentum has shifted back to us a little bit, winning two over there," Maddon said. "Then them having to sit on it for a day and then having to play at 8 o'clock -- there's a lot of time to sit on it. And that could wear on them a little bit, too. Whereas I think us sitting on it is more of a positive, [an] anticipatory kind of thing."
While the Rays twice played elimination games over the weekend, the Rangers will arrive to the ballpark Tuesday for the first time with the knowledge that if they lose, they go home. Not only has Tampa Bay survived two elimination games during this postseason, but it has been in that situation before. During the 2008 postseason, the Rays faced an elimination game against the Red Sox in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series and survived. Then they faced elimination in Game 5 of the World Series against the Phillies and did not live to play another day.
"If you remember that whole thing, we were up in Boston prior to that and had a pretty good chance at putting things away," Maddon said. "We had like a seven-run lead, I think, in that particular game and gave it up, and then they win another game and all of a sudden we've got to go seven [games]. I do remember that we were confident regardless of what was going on."
Evan Longoria felt like the experience of playing in a pressure-packed environment was the biggest thing gleaned from 2008.
"Playing when everything is on the line, and it's win or go home," Longoria said. "We were pretty much in command of that series, lost it a little bit in that Game 5 in Boston, but other than that, you know, we had played a good series up to that point.
"But this time was a little bit different [over the weekend in Texas]. But we've been able to regain control somewhat, so to speak, and put the ball a little bit back in our court, and again, still have the opportunity to continue playing October baseball. ... We're not going home yet, and we've got one more chance to continue playing."
Given the circumstances of the huge pitching matchup, Maddon said it's likely both managers will call the shots a little differently than normal.
"As a manager, you're thinking low scoring," Maddon said. "You're thinking take chances. You're thinking you take chances to prevent runs -- like you bring your infield in earlier. In different circumstances you're thinking take chances maybe offensively, because you're not going to get many. For me, games like this, it's all about taking chances. If we played really conservatively, sometimes it will bite you -- because guys like this just don't normally give it up big."
Carlos Pena is back and contributing to the offense, hitting .400 for the ALDS, which could be a big factor not only for what he might do at the plate, but also for the impact he has on the way the Rangers pitch to Longoria.
"It's a big impact," Longoria said. "You know, obviously we've seen throughout the course of the year when Carlos does get hot, usually it affects the whole lineup, the way that they approach everybody, not just me. I mean, you don't want to put guys on in front of him when he has the ability to drive guys in or hit the ball out of the ballpark. He's getting hot at the right time. It's good to see."
Maddon will likely employ the normal lineup he uses against left-handers, including right-handed-hitting catcher Kelly Shoppach rather than Game 3 hero John Jaso. Cliff Lee has seen the Rays plenty of times this season and they have seen him, so there will be no surprises.
"Throughout the course of the year, we've had some good battles against him," Longoria said. "Obviously he's had good postseason success, but at the same time, I mean, we're in a good spot. We've been able to bring the series back home, and we have our horse [David Price] on the mound, too, and that's the biggest thing for us -- is giving Dave another chance to go out there and do what we know he can do."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.