10/17/08 11:01 PM ET
Rays hoping to thwart a Red Sox roll
ALCS returns to St. Petersburg after Boston's dramatic victory
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
We may never have seen it like this -- no one had ever erased a seven-run deficit in an LCS game until the Red Sox turned 0-7 into their 8-7 win in Thursday night's Game 5 at Fenway Park.Boston outfielder Jason Bay put that comeback into modest perspective: "The consolation is that maybe we get to play two more games. Had it been Game 7, it would have been astronomical." But we have seen the phenomenon. And the agent of change Thursday night was also familiar. J.D. Drew, an inning after swatting a two-run homer to reduce the Tampa Bay Rays' long-gone 7-0 lead into a one-run Game 5, lined the game-winning single with two outs in the ninth. It was the same Mr. Drew whose grand slam in Game 6 of the 2007 ALCS smoked the Cleveland Indians, who were in the process of blowing a 3-1 series lead over the Red Sox. So, instead of Friday being a write-them-off day, it was just an off-day, period. With Tampa Bay's own edge now down to 3-2, we'll see if the Red Sox will continue to repeat history or if the Rays will reverse it on Saturday night, when the boys reconvene for this series' Game 6. Boston's erstwhile October ace, Josh Beckett, will get his makeup start, opposing James "Big Game" Shields. "That's his nickname in here," Rays reliever J.P. Howell said of the 26-year-old right-hander who has a career record of 20-8 inside Tropicana Field, where this season he went 9-2. "He lives for moments like this. It'll be Christmas morning for him." Beckett has had an uncharacteristic October, and Boston pitching coach John Farrell knows there is only one way for him to end all the rhetoric about whether injury or rust has been behind his struggles.
TALE OF THE TAPE
|James Shields||Josh Beckett|
|2008 regular season|
|Overall||33 GS, 14-8, 3.56 ERA, 40 BB, 160 K||27 GS, 12-10, 4.03, 34 BB, 172 K|
|Key stat||4.00 SO/BB ratio (6 AL)||8.8 SO per 9 IP (2nd AL)|
|2008||2 GS, 1-1, 3.29||2 GS, 0-0, 11.57|
|Career||2 GS, 1-1, 3.29||11 GS, 6-2, 2.85|
|At Tropicana Field|
|2008||17 GS, 9-2, 2.59||3 GS, 0-1, 4.66|
|Career||43 GS, 20-8, 3.23||5 GS, 1-2, 3.90|
|Against this opponent (including ALCS)|
|2008 season||5 GS, 2-3, 4.98||6 GS, 2-1, 4.12|
|Career||9 GS, 2-5, 4.81||11 GS, 5-3, 4.06|
|Loves to face||Jacoby Ellsbury (1-for-16)||Carl Crawford (2-for-12)|
|Hates to face||Dustin Pedroia (6-for-13)||Evan Longoria (7-for-15)|
Beckett has thrown a total of only 15 1/3 innings in the last month, since firing eight innings of three-hit ball on Sept. 16 -- right here, against the Rays. He pitched to a no-decision in that game, leaving him winless since Sept. 5."Positive results will put all the talk to rest," Farrell said. "Josh knows to just focus on executing pitches, and the results will follow. He's well aware of what he needs to do." At some point late in Thursday's game, a new motto was adopted on the Red Sox's bench. They went from "one game at a time" to "one pitch at a time." The next hundred-or-so of those pitches will now be made by Beckett, whose prior gilded postseason work (5-1 with an ERA of 1.16 reverting to the 2003 World Series) has turned into this October's fool's gold (12 earned runs in 9 1/3 innings). "We haven't done anything yet," Beckett cautioned. "[Thursday] night was really, really special. Obviously for one day, that's about as good as it can get. But the big picture is still out there. The goal is still to win the last game." And by Shields, who will test Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon's decision to delay his scheduled Game 5 start because of his superior performances inside Tropicana Field. "I know he's eager to get out there," Maddon said. "I feel very good about him being out there, I know he's up for the challenge of, possibly, the biggest game in the history of this franchise." Could the rest of this series possibly have become rhetorical? Have the Red Sox -- outscored in their own house, 29-6, until David Ortiz rang the bell with two outs in the seventh inning Thursday night -- gotten over the hump with such force that they no longer can be stopped? Paul Byrd would vote yes. The 11th man on Boston's pitching staff was the Cleveland right-hander who'd pitched the Red Sox into that 3-1 hole a year ago. And then the prime Beckett showed up in Game 5 to change everything and ... "We couldn't get them out," Byrd said. "They needed someone to change the momentum, and Beckett did it." Dave Roberts would also vote yes. His stolen base when all seemed lost set up Boston's Game 4 win over the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS, after which the Red Sox couldn't be stopped. Dave Henderson, too, would vote yes. Hendu's two-run homer in the ninth and subsequent sacrifice fly in the 11th stunned the Angels in Game 5 of the 1986 ALCS, after which only a shell of the Halos showed up in Fenway Park to lay down in the last two games of Boston's first comeback from 3-1. Maddon, already on the Angels' staff at the time, winced when that subject was broached. "[That Game 5], I was sitting behind the first-base dugout area underneath the overhang [in Angel Stadium]," he recalled, "and everything was going swimmingly, and all of a sudden [Henderson's] one-handed home run to left-center, and things changed. "But," Maddon quickly added, lest someone run too far with the parallel, "every situation is unique unto itself, and it always depends on how you react to the moment. ... And this time we're coming home, a big difference." Did Drew vote yes? "Nobody thinks of it as an advantage, or a disadvantage," he said. "We've just got to go out there and win games. We're just trying to rack up wins, and see if we can get enough of them to get to the next level." For now, the Rays have already been leveled. On Thursday night, they had a seven-run lead with seven outs to go to reach the World Series. "Definitely, you realize how close you are. It plays on your mind," said Tampa Bay first baseman Carlos Pena, who the day after was still wide-eyed over "feeling fortunate to just be part of that game." As you might gather, Carlos was blown away a little fiercer than Bay. "That had to be one of the best games in history," Pena said, "and to be a part of it was cool. It was amazing. Don't get me wrong, we wish it would've come out differently, but I was happy to be able to participate in it. I'm grateful. "After the game, we were even laughing about it in the locker room, 'What a crazy game.'" The Rays are counting on The Trop's enthusiastic fans to help wash their mouths of the bitterness of Thursday's defeat. And if you think the Hoo-Ray crowd won't be able to match the Fenway faithful, Pena wants to set you straight. "Fenway Park was electric, loud," he said. "But I think the Trop gets louder."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.