‘Green’ Rays aim at Monster during drubbing of Red Sox
Posted: Tuesday, October 14, 2008 5:51 pm
By: By HOWARD ULMAN, AP Sports Writer
BOSTON (AP) — The young Rays aimed for the old Green Monster and made their own history in legendary Fenway Park.
Tampa Bay’s four home runs over the iconic left-field wall tied an AL championship series single game record and powered a 9-1 win Monday that gave the Rays a 2-1 lead over the Red Sox in the best-of-seven matchup.
Clearing the 37-foot high fence like former Boston sluggers Ted Williams and Manny Ramirez, left fielders who played in front of it, Tampa Bay scored eight of its nine runs on homers. Boston’s only run came home on a sacrifice fly by Jacoby Ellsbury.
“Solo home runs are good,” B.J. Upton said, “but three-run homers mean so much more.”
The Rays hit two of those, by Upton in the third inning off an unusually shaky Jon Lester, and by Rocco Baldelli in the eighth against Paul Byrd.
Add that to solo homers by Evan Longoria in the four-run third and Carlos Pena in the ninth, and Tampa Bay won the first blowout of the ALCS after two tight games.
Winners of the AL East this year after posting losing records in their other 10 seasons, the Rays are two wins away from eliminating the defending champions who won two of the last four World Series.
“We don’t want to be the team that waits for later. We want to win now,” said winning pitcher Matt Garza, who allowed one run in six-plus innings. “After June and we were sitting in first place, we were like, this thing works. Let’s keep doing it.”
Tonight, Boston tries to even the series behind 42-year-old knuckleballer Tim Wakefield. He’ll face Andy Sonnanstine, who was 6 when Wakefield turned pro in 1989.
It will be the first start in 16 days for Wakefield, who hasn’t pitched in any of Boston’s six postseason games.
Only seven AL pitchers allowed more than Wakefield’s 25 homers and he lost his two decisions against the Rays after entering the season at 19-3 against them.
Upton, just 24, has five postseason homers after hitting nine in the regular season. Longoria, who turned 23 the day after the Rays won their first-round series over the Chicago White Sox, tied the record for most homers by a rookie in a single postseason set by Miguel Cabrera with Florida in 2003.
The Red Sox have overcome bigger deficits. They won last year’s World Series after trailing Cleveland 3-1 in the ALCS. And they won the championship in 2004 after losing the first three games of the ALCS to the New York Yankees.
“We’ve been here before,” Dustin Pedroia said. “Obviously, they came out and kicked our butt tonight, 9-1, whatever it ended up. They played great. We didn’t.”
Lester started the game with a streak of 222/3 postseason innings without allowing an earned run, including 14 this year.
Garza was the only losing pitcher in Tampa Bay’s series with Chicago.
But Lester misplaced two pitches — one that Upton sent far over the Green Monster and the three billboards beyond it and the other that Longoria hit into the seats over the wall.
“Some people come to expect you to go out there every single day and be a robot and do it,” outfielder Jason Bay said of Lester. “Unfortunately, that’s not the case.”
This was Garza’s day to shine. Traded last November by Minnesota, the right-hander wondered about the prospects of the perennial losers he was joining.
“When I first got traded, yes, there was a doubt. But walking into the clubhouse in spring training, it was like, ’We could actually pull this thing off,”’ he said.
Lester was 11-1 with a no-hitter at Fenway Park this season and 16-6 overall. But he was gone after allowing five runs and eight hits in 52/3 innings.
Upton’s homer “put us up 4-0 and gave us all the confidence in the world,” the centerfielder said. “We feel the sky’s the limit for us all year. To beat (Lester), and to beat him at Fenway, hopefully it’ll have a snowball effect.”
After 10 seasons of failure, the Rays are two wins away from the World Series.
Baldelli has seen much of that, one of a few players who have been with them since 2003.
“To start at the bottom and say that you were there those years and work your way all the way back up to where we’re at now,” he said, “that’s about as rewarding a feeling, I think, as you can get.”
Notes: The Rays’ four homers tied the ALCS single-game record last matched by Boston in Game 2 against Tampa Bay on Saturday. … Byrd made his first relief appearance since the 2004 playoffs, when he was with Atlanta. … Upton hit three homers against Chicago in the first round and one against Boston on Saturday. Longoria also homered in Game 2, when the Rays evened the series.