10/13/08 1:38 AM ET
Elements at issue in pivotal Game 3
Sox have Fenway, with its late-day shadows, on their side
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
There are your ingredients for today's Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, which carries high stakes.The Red Sox will try to put the Rays back in their place in, well, their place. Conversely, by instantly answering the question of whether they can win a clutch game in Fenway, the Rays could take command of the best-of-seven ALCS, currently tied at a win apiece. The tiebreaker game pitting Garza of Tampa Bay and Lester begins at 4:37 p.m. ET -- perhaps another reason to call, "Advantage, Boston." As Lester's 11-1 record here attests, he doesn't need any environmental help. But the twilight conditions, which in mid-October New England will prevail until about 6:15, or midgame, will be on the left-hander's side. "He's definitely a positive for us, especially with the starting time," Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia said during the teams' light workout at Fenway Park on Sunday. "It'll be tough to see at the beginning of the game with a left-hander on the mound. So it'll definitely be an advantage for us." Lester, as serious and as focused a 24-year-old as you will find in any walk of life, scoffed at that element being influential. "If you are going to worry more about the shadows than about getting hitters out, you'll have problems," he said. "Tough pitcher, one of the best in the league," Rays third baseman Evan Longoria said of the lefty, who has already defeated Tampa Bay three times this year. "It makes you a little more comfortable knowing how he has worked you in the past, but at the same time, he's always adjusting his approach."
Lester vs. Rays in 2008
Following two diverse games in Central Florida -- the Game 1 pitchers' duel to Boston, 2-0, and the Game 2 swing show to Tampa Bay, 9-8 in 11 innings -- more change is in the air.Both lineups will change slightly. For Boston, Alex Cora stands to start at shortstop, Jed Lowrie's province the first two games. Against a lefty, Willy Aybar will step in as Tampa Bay's DH in place of Cliff Floyd, and Rocco Baldelli is expected to spell Gabe Gross in right field. They have already changed the scenery, from sun-bathed beachfront to brisk New England autumn. Of paramount concern to the Rays is that the multicolored leaves come with Fenway Park. Two days after the nominal headliners of the respective staffs -- Josh Beckett of Boston and Scott Kazmir of Tampa Bay -- faltered to leave Game 2 in the arms of the bullpens, Lester and Garza feel the need to work deep into Game 3.
Garza vs. Red Sox in 2008
"I'm ready to go," Garza said. "Lester's had a great year ... but my year wasn't that bad either. I'm going in confident."That is where the Cinderellas have to try to keep their chariot from returning to pumpkin mode. Saturday night's escape lightened Garza's load. At 0-2, he might have been overwhelmed. At 1-1, he is eager. "A huge difference. Like a pitcher's count," he said, explaining that "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." 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 -- if hopeful. "Wouldn't that be something if we could actually wrap it up here?" said first baseman Carlos Pena, carried away with thoughts of dancing on Boston's hallowed turf. Between Tampa Bay's last two series wins in The Fens -- in 1999, then a month ago -- the Red Sox engineered 10 home series sweeps of the Rays, two of them during the recent regular season. In their 2008 Fenway Park battles, the Rays held a lead after only eight of 86 innings of play.
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 last matched by the Red Sox and Indians in Game 2 of the 2007 ALCS.|
Yet, two of those innings were at the end of their last two nights there, consecutive wins on Sept. 9-10 that has them returning in an entirely different mind frame."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 Fenway, even as a member of Minnesota's rotation prior to his offseason trade to Tampa Bay. His 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 pitching rubber to the plate. Then he qualified that impression.
"There is the big monster wall," he said. "I just have to keep guys from banging on that wall, and we'll be all right."Garza has his team's confidence that he will do just that. "When he's on, he's one of the nastiest pitchers around," Pena said. "He can be really focused, really tough. We'll feel real good behind him." They, in turn, could make him feel good by providing the backing of some clutch hits, a regard in which the Rays do not match up very well with the Red Sox's pitching staff. "Timely hitting is the biggest key in a postseason series," noted Boston outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, ruing his own lineup's misfires in Saturday's extra-inning loss. But that shortcoming has been a bigger recurring problem for the Rays. Not only did Tampa Bay rank next to last in the AL in club batting with a .260 average, the Rays were also dead last with men in scoring position with a .246 average (Seattle was next at .257). Tampa Bay's clutch index really bottomed out here: In the nine Fenway Park games, the Rays were 9-for-83 with men in scoring position, an average of .108. Such numbers only heighten the awe over the Rays' ability to win 101 games, including four already in the postseason. "They just find a way to come back and give themselves an opportunity to win," Ellsbury said. "It's no different for us."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.