Rays ace test again; BoSox turn to past
Posted: Wednesday, October 15, 2008 3:11 pm
By: By HOWARD ULMAN, AP Sports Writer
BOSTON (AP) — History is on the Red Sox side as they try to climb out of another huge AL championship series hole.
They’d rather have solid pitching.
The defending champions have today off to ponder the past and prepare for Thursday night’s fifth game after their second consecutive blowout loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. Tuesday night’s 13-4 pasting came one night after a 9-1 loss and left the Rays with a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven ALCS.
That’s the same lead the Cleveland Indians had in last year’s ALCS before Boston won the next three games and swept the Colorado Rockies in the World Series. It’s an even smaller lead than the New York Yankees had in the 2004 ALCS, when they won the first three games before the Red Sox won the next four and captured their first World Series title in 86 years with a sweep of St. Louis.
“We were down in a situation like this last year where we were behind,” Red Sox catcher Kevin Cash said. “We need our starters to come up big for us these next couple of ballgames.”
But do any of those past comebacks really matter now?
Not enough for Rays manager Joe Maddon to talk to his players about them.
“It’s a whole different set of circumstances right now, and I don’t want to compare it to a past experience,” he said. “I just want our guys to be themselves and play our game.”
Red Sox manager Terry Francona wishes past were prelude, but he’s certainly not counting on it.
“I hope it’s relevant,” he said. “Every year is different. But rather than burden ourselves with what we look at four days from now, we’ll set our sights on our next game and we’ll come packed.”
They hope to take their bags on a flight to southwest Florida for a sixth game Saturday in St. Petersburg.
“We’ve been here before,” second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. “It’s definitely not easy to come back with the way the last two games went. But I think you really find out what your team is made of when your back’s to the wall.”
So the Red Sox are depending on Daisuke Matsuzaka to come through again Thursday night against James Shields. Matsuzaka allowed four hits in seven innings in Boston’s 2-0 win over Shields in the series opener.
But in the last two games, Tampa Bay has pounded seven homers — four on Monday and three more on Tuesday. That’s a history the Red Sox can’t afford to relive.
And one the Rays hope doesn’t change.
“Right now it’s kind of contagious,” Maddon said. “I don’t want to see us do anything different.”
Evan Longoria hit his rookie-record fifth home run of the playoffs, and Carlos Pena and Willy Aybar also homered off 42-year-old knuckleballer Tim Wakefield to give Tampa Bay a 5-0 lead after the top of the third.
Carl Crawford tied an ALCS record with five hits, Aybar had four hits and five RBIs, and Andy Sonnanstine pitched 7 1-3 sharp innings.
“We know we’re real close now to going to the World Series,” Crawford said. “A lot of guys won’t say it: There’s a nice vibe right now.”
Tampa Bay had never even approached a .500 record during its first decade in the majors before going 97-65 and edging wild-card Boston for the AL East title by two games.
But the Rays were poised and powerful against thee Red Sox.
Wakefield, the oldest pitcher to start an ALCS game, left with two outs in the third. The Rays scored another run in the fifth and five more in the sixth when seven straight batters reached base to make it 11-1.
Sonnanstine retired 12 consecutive batters after Cash’s leadoff homer in the third had cut the lead to 5-1. The right-hander, who pitched 13 shutout innings against Boston in two September no-decisions, allowed just two hits before David Ortiz’s leadoff triple in the seventh.
Ortiz, who had been hitless in his first 12 at-bats in the series, scored on a groundout to make it 11-2, and Boston chased Sonnanstine while adding two more runs in the eighth.
But the Red Sox were much too far behind to overtake the Rays.
Is their 3-1 deficit also too big to overcome?
“It’s a little bit of a tough situation,” Ortiz said. “You’ve still got to believe. We’ve been there before and we need to play the way we played before. It’s simple.”
And, with the way the Rays have been hitting, very difficult.
Notes: Only three of the previous 15 teams to trail 3-1 in the ALCS have come back to win. Boston did it twice. … Pena and Longoria homered for the second straight game. … Cash became the first Red Sox player to homer in his first postseason at-bat since pitcher Jose Santiago in the opener of the 1967 World Series against St. Louis. … Boston reliever Mike Timlin made his record-tying 25th appearance in the ALCS. … Longoria committed two errors at 3B on a single play in the second inning, bobbling Jason Bay’s grounder and then throwing it away. Those were the first two errors committed by the Rays in the postseason. … Tampa Bay, which won the second game 9-8, is the first team in LCS history to score at least nine runs in three straight games.