Rays Take Homefield Advantage From Red Sox
What is that old saying, “It felt like deja vu all over again.” You have to feel that way if you are either a Red Sox or Rays fan right now. Homefield advantage is suppose to be worth at least an opening game victory in a short series. But what happened tonight might have set the whole ball rolling down the hill for the Red Sox in the ALCS against the upstart Rays.
These Rays had the gumption to take the American League East title from the Wrold Champions in 2008. And they also showed alot of energy and national spirit in holding off the Red Sox in the last month of the season to claim that prize. But the straw that might have broken the Red Sox Nation’s back might be hitching your wagon to the young sensations’ shooting star.
Who do these Rays think they are coming into the hallowed grounds of Fenway Park and winning the last 3 games in this landmark. And how dare these upstarts come in and take that fantasy of a secure 2-1 Red Sox series win away by defeating the unstoppable Jon Lester in his domain. Do we think we might have forgotten that homefield advantage did not work for the Rays, then why could we be sure we might be immune to the same ailment in Boston?
Did the Red Sox forget to tell us we are suppose to be belly-up by now and just treading water before we go down for the last count. This series took a major turn tonight. Not just becuase of a loss by the home team, but that the statistics point to a break for the Rays. In 8 of the last 12 ALCS, if the road team won Game 3, they went on to the World Series that season. Could the Red Sox have put all their eggs in one basket, and their newly annointed superstar just become human for one night……
Coming into tonight’s game, Rays starter Matt Garza went back to his season superstition of not talking to the media the day before his start. He did that the entire season before balking from that tradition and talking to the media before his first playoff start against the Chicago White Sox .
He then went out and had a whale of a time not only with the fowl in the stadium, but with the mound and with the White Sox hitters and had one of the most unusual starts of his career. So he went back with some familiarity and went into media black-out before this start.
Garza was coming into this start as the underdog, and was being considered inferior to the Red Sox starter, Jon Lester. The enitre week Garza heard all the hype and the drama surrounding Lester before seeing it all implode in front of him, and the stage was set for Garza to make his national debut as a true fireballer.
Garza threw his fastball and curve with such control that it made Dioner Navarro’s job east tonight. He had no pressure on himself since the local pundits decided even before the first pitch that the Rays would bow down to Lester by the 5th inning. Garza did nothing more than shut down the powerful offense and leave the game after 6 innings of work with 116 pitches, and 5 strikeouts while earning his first Postseason win.
Coming into this contest, the Rays had won 3 straight in Fenway Park since their last series victory in September. The win tonight took the homefield advantage from the Red Sox and firmly put the emphsis on the Tampa Bay Rays right now. Coming into this game, when the Rays had at leats 5 runs in a contest, they are a combined 36-0 on the year. In this game, every member of the starting 9 got at least 1 hit in this contest.
Consider that with the fact the Rays also tied the Boston Red Sox for the total homers in a single game in the ALCS series with 4 tonight. The Red Sox set their record last Saturday night at the Trop.
With their 9 homers, B J Uptron and Evan Longoria now have the most homers by teammmates under the age of 25 in ALCS history. They beat the previous record held by Darryl Strawberry and Lenny Dykstra of the 1986 New York Mets. Longoria is also currently tied with Miguel Cabrera for the most homers by a rookie in the AL Playoffs with 4 homers. Cabrera set his record during the Florida Marlins run at the title in 2003.
Since the advent of the best-of-7 series, the Game 3 winner has gone onto the World Series in 8 of 12 past ALCS series. In ALCS and NLCS, if the road team won Game 3, they have moved onto the Championship in 8 out of 10 series.
The BJ and Longo Show
One thing the Rays have been great at this season is timely hitting out of every member of this team. In tonight’s game, the duo of Upton and Longoria went a combined 3-9 at the plate, but accounted for 3 runs scored, and 4 RBI’s. They are both hitting .308 in the ALCS, and playing inspired defense for the Rays.
Longoria got the scoring going tonight by getting a lead-off walk off Red Sox starter Jon Lester. In this contest, Lester let the lead-off man on in 4 of his 6 inning tonight. Longoria moved to second on Willy Aybar’ single to right, then moved to third base on a passed ball by Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek. Longoria then came into score on Navarro’s grounder to second to put the Rays up 1-0 in the 2nd inning.
In the 3rd inning, Jason Bartlett got his only hit of the night on a single to center to lead off the inning. Akinora Iwamura then hit a ball off the Green Monster for a double and the Rays had men on second and third with no-outs in the inning. Upton then came up and hit a ball out over the Green Monster and onto Lansdowne Avenue to put the Rays up 4-0.
After Carlos Pena struck out, Longoria then came up and hit his solo shot out into the seat in the Green Monster that a Rays fan luckly caught to put the Rays up 5-0, still in the 3rd inning.
Upton then hit a ball off Lester’s glove for a single, and moved to second on Pena’s bunt down the third baseline. Upton then tried to gauge Kevin Youkilis’s position on the field and over ran second and was tagged out on the quick toss by Youkilis to Alex Cora for the first out of the inning.
C.C. Express on Track 1
In the 8th inning, with the Rays up 6-1, the Rays might have made their biggest statement to date on their agrressive stayle on this series. Carl Crawford lead off the inning with a blooper single to center to start the inning. Crawford moved to third on Aybar’s single to leftfield and set up a first and third situation with no one out in the game.
Dioner Navarro hit a grounder to Dustin Pedroia that he quickly gloved and threw to home to get the speeding Crawford at the plate. Crawford braced for a collision with Varitek and brought his elbows up to block and hopefully force the ball from Varitek’s glove.
Crawford came in and with total force got Varitek just under the mask and his equipment flew a good 6 feet away from the catcher. Varitek took the force of the collision with his upper body and rolled over and then showed the ball to home plate umpire Brian Onora, who signaled Crawford out at the plate. It was a bold move by Crawford, but showed that the speedy leftfielder was back in shape and ready to take on all comers in the Playoffs.
J P Howell and Edwin Jackson
The Rays Bullpen then took over the game in the 7th inning for Garza. Becuase of the number of relievers used in Saturday’s game, Garza was under the gun to go at least 7 innings tonight to give the Bullpen some time to refresh and he performed perfectly to plan for the Rays.
J P Howell came on and threw 2 scoreless innings on 20 pitches and gor two more strikeouts to raise his total to 10 in the postseason. Howell had the first earned run charged to him since August 30th against the Orioles, snapping a string of 20 inning (15 game ) regular and postseason without an earned run.
Edwin Jackson, the only pitcher in the Bullpen not used on Saturday night, came on in the 9th inning and closed out the game for the Rays. In his 1 inning of work, Jackson threw 8 strikes in his 14 pitches in the inning. He got both Mark Kotsay and Varitek to ground out to Iwamura, who easily threw out both men at first base. He then got Cora to hit a fly to Crawford in left to end the chances for the Red Sox in the game.
Rocco Baldelli grew up about an hoyr from Fenway Park and dreamed of playing in the stadium in the playoffs. Little did he know back then it would be for the Tampa Bay Rays, and that his 3-run shot would hit the Sports Authority sign above the Green Monster and drop back onto the field. His 3-run blast came right after the play at the plate featuring Crawford and Varitek and Rocco took the 3rd pitch he saw from Red Sox reliever Paul Byrd and popped it into the twilight.
In April, at a news conference in the bowels of Progress Energy Field, Baldelli could not have imagined this day would happen for him this year. At that press conference he announced that he was going on the disabled list to combat his fatigue situation and he began his hard road back to the Rays 25-man roster.
Everyone had to admit that Baldelli’s rise from the depths of not even knowing if he might ever play a inning of baseball again, to hitting a 3-run shot over the Green Monster is the thing of movies and fantasies. I can personally say that it could not have happened to a better guy.
He has been a total team mate since his past injuries and excepting his limited role on this team as a specialist against left-handed pitchers in the seond half of the season. I will have to ask him who will play Rocco Baldelli in the movie about his life. They guy who scouts once touted as “Joe DiMaggio’s twin” got to have his childhood fantasy moment after fighting to just get back on the field at all…………..Classic, simply classic.