10/13/08 10:28 PM ET
Sox pitching must step up
Wakefield's knuckleball needs to take sting out of Rays' bats
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
If the Red Sox are to convincingly rebound from Monday's 9-1 pasting in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, there are three imperatives.Besides, that is, scoring. Which would involve lighting a fire under both Jacoby Ellsbury, who sets the table, and David Ortiz, who busses. Andy Sonnanstine, the Rays' starter Tuesday night, doesn't come off like a match: Ellsbury, 0-for-20 following Monday's collar in three at-bats, and Ortiz, without a homer in his last 41 at-bats, are a combined 6-for-28 (.214) against the right-hander. But on the other side, to ice Tampa Bay's crafty and opportunistic hitters, Red Sox pitching: Has to keep making first-pitch strikes and follow those up by ... ... getting breaking balls over to prevent the Rays from sitting on fastballs; B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria both mashed high fastballs after laying off Jon Lester sliders in the dirt. Mostly, needs to go over its scouting reports on Upton, which appear to be outdated. The mercurial center fielder already has hit more than half as many homers in 31 postseason at-bats (five) as he had in 531 regular-season hacks (nine). Those were all ingredients of a stunningly one-sided drubbing that silenced the Fenway faithful before the dinner hour.
What a twist. The Rays are haunting the house, not the other way around.
Wakefield vs. Rays in 2008
The assault also left the Red Sox's fates in the hands of a 42-year-old right-hander who will be going on 16 days' rest and who hasn't beaten the Rays since they had the Devil in them.But if Boston wants to change things up, Tim Wakefield certainly is the man to do it. He'll never hang an 80-mph slider, or leave a 95-mph fastball up in the zone. Wakefield's knuckleballs could be the perfect wrench in the Rays' timing. Although Tampa Bay handled him with ease all three times the two met during the 2008 regular season, any of their players with even average memory do not approach this date with overconfidence. "For a long time, he hurt us," said Rays manager Joe Maddon. "Wasn't he something like 17-2 in Tropicana Field?" Close enough. Until this season's troubles, Wakefield was 19-3 against Tampa Bay, and 9-1 in the Trop.
ALCS Game 3 road success a key indicator
|The Rays became the ninth team to win Game 3 of a best-of-seven ALCS on the road after entering the game tied 1-1 in the series. Six of the previous eight teams advanced to the World Series.|
|Year||Won G3 on road||G3 home team|
|ALCS-winning teams shown in bold.|
That also means he is 10-2 against the Rays in Fenway Park, where the light autumn air can only make his pitches flutter more.The same conditions, of course, also help batted balls carry farther, a possibly volatile combination for Boston. After hitting four long balls in each of the last two games, the Rays now can take aim at the pitcher who gave up more of them than any other Boston pitcher, by far. Wakefield surrendered 25 home runs, or seven more than runner-up Daisuke Matsuzaka. And if they can't hit him far, the Rays are prepared to run Wakefield to ruin. Maddon was quite outspoken about the potential to exploit Wakefield's pitching style. "He can be quick to the plate, but, from a catcher's perspective, you've got to stay back for that last little moment because [the ball] can do absolutely anything," said Maddon, speaking from the perspective of a former catcher. "I think the advantage goes to the running game sometimes because of that." However, Maddon must also know that Wakefield's catching caddy, Kevin Cash, is fully capable of roping a running game. Cash's overall percentage of runners thrown out -- 16-of-54, or 30 percent -- is above average, and he was even more effective with Wakefield on the mound. So by dropping those hints of putting his baserunners in the blocks, Maddon could have been laying a trap. Sort of like the Rays have done, since this entire ALCS began.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.