From Worst to First


From worst to first, the Tampa Bay Rays go to their first World Series after 10 losing seasons

(October 20, 2008) – With their first ALCS series loss since 2003, the Red Sox sent dozens of college seniors flocking to the library to get a head start on their 30-page Senior Seminar paper that is due at the end of the semester. Why? Because the Sox taught them that procrastination can be costly and for the first time in four years the Sox were unable to rally from a 3-1 deficit.

“We battled a lot of adversity the whole year,” B.J Upton told Craig Sager after the game. “But we stuck together as a team.”

Congratulations to the new American League Champion, Joe Maddon and the Tampa Bay Rays as well as ALCS MVP Matt Garza. Garza pitched an incredible 13 innings, allowing just two runs on eight hits while walking four and striking out 14 Sox batters in the Championship series. Minnesota and New York are kicking themselves for trading away the pitcher the best pitcher in the series, Garza, and the pitcher gave the Rays home field advantage in the All-Star Game, Scott Kazmir.

You could almost feel it. 2008 was the year of turn-a-rounds and there was this aura in the air that the Rays were going to pull out the victory. And, although, they have been a pain in Boston’s rear-end all year you have to tip your cap to them. They played like a team all year and have a similar story line to another 2008 championship team.

In April 2007, the Celtics the only thing they and their fans were thinking about were ping-pong balls. After a 24-58 record that season and the fifth pick in the NBA Draft, the Celtics had no shot at acquiring Greg Oden or Kevin Durant and it looked like another sub-.500 year and another wasted year for Paul Pierce. But thanks to a draft day move by Danny Ainge, the Celtics acquired Ray Allen and then later that summer they brought the Big Ticket, Kevin Garnett, into town. The trio of Pierce, Garnett and Allen turned around the second worst team the previous year and turned them into the best team in the league with a 66-16 record and bring Championship number 17 back to Boston.

The Red Sox were in the driver’s seat heading into Game Seven and they had their best pitcher of the year on the hill for the biggest game of the series in Jon Lester. The Sox Southpaw was trying redeem himself from a horrible performance in Game Three, where he allowed five runs – four earned – on eight hits in 5.2 innings of work.

Before Lester stepped on the mound in Game Seven, he already had a 1-0 lead thanks to “The Little Pony” Dustin Pedroia. After getting Coco Crisp to hit a week chopper back to the mound, Garza gave up line drive homerun that just barely made it over the left field wall to the Sox second baseman. But that was the only run the Red Sox would get against the Rays right hander. Garza settled down and retired the next six Boston batters before hitting Pedroia on the right elbow in the top of the third.

For the first three innings Lester was unhittable, retiring the first nine batters of the inning before relinquishing his first hit to Akinori Iwamura to lead off the bottom of the fourth inning. The Rays took advantage of their first base runner against Lester. After Upton struck out to for the first out of inning, Carlos Pena hit a weak grounder to Pedroia. As slow as the ball was rolling everyone at The Trop thought he was going to go to first with the out but he turned and got the lead runner, Iwamura at second. Nice heads up play by the Sox gritty little second baseman. In those instances you could really tell Pedroia reverted back to his Little League roots by already determining where he was going to go with the ball should the ball be hit to him. A lesson to all the second and third graders out there playing after-school ragball: think about where you are going with the ball if it is hit to you.

Lester was close to getting out of the inning unscathed but Evan Longoria would come through once again with two outs. The rookie third baseman laced a ball doubled down the first baseline and scored the hustling Pena from first base to tie up the score in the bottom of the fourth.

The next inning Tampa Bay would get to Lester again as designated hitter Willy Aybar led off the top of the fifth with scorching line drive double that just barely missed being a homerun. Catcher Dioner Navarro hit a slower roller to Alex Cora at shortstop who bobbled the ball and had no play at either second or first. With no outs, the pride of Woonsocket, RI, Rocco Baldelli, gave the Rays their first lead of the game with a base hit to left scoring Aybar from second. It was the second time this season that the former Sox fan broke the hearts of current Red Sox fans.

Since giving up the homerun to Pedroia in the first, Garza settled down and at one point retired eight consecutive Sox hitters between the top of the third and sixth innings. Throughout the Championship Series, Garza was the Rays top pitcher and was nothing less than spectacular in Game Seven. He went seven strong innings and took the mound for the eighth before he was taken out after Cora reached on bouncing ball to shortstop that ate up Jason Bartlett. In seven innings, Garza allowed just one run on two hits while walking three and striking out nine before turning the game over to Dan Wheeler in the bullpen.

Once Garza left the game it took for Tampa Bay four pitchers to get three outs in the top of the eighth inning. Wheeler came on and gave up a base hit to right field off the bat of Crisp and then retired Pedroia on a fly ball to left field before handing the ball over to the left hander J.P. Howell to face Sox slugger David Ortiz. Known for his notorious clutch play, Sox fans were praying Big Papi would come through once again but Howell got the clutchest player in MLB history to ground into a fielder’s choice, second to shortstop. Maddon went out with the hook once again and elected to bring in the submariner Chad Bradford to face the right handed Youkilis and would walk the Sox third baseman to load the bases. In a tough situation, Maddon elected to go to the rookie left hander, David Price, to get the final four outs of the ALCS. In dramatic fashion, Price caught Game Five’s hero, J.D. Drew trying to check his swing for the final out of the inning and stranding three inherited runners.

Lester pitched a remarkable game but unfortunately, Garza just pitched better even after giving up a first inning homerun to Pedroia. Once again, Lester was a work-horse for the Red Sox by pitching seven strong innings allowing three runs on six hits while striking out eight – yes Teddy eight – Tampa Bay batters. This young left hander has his whole career in front of him, something he can say this year as opposed to two years ago, and he will only get better. The next Mark Mulder when he was with the Oakland Athletics in 2003.


WIN: Matt Garza (2-0)

LOSS: Jon Lester (0-2)

SAVE: David Price


The 3 Stars of the Game:

  1. Matt Garza, TAMPA BAY --- 7.0 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 9 K
  1. Willy Aybar, TAMPA BAY --- 2-3, HR, RBI, Run-scored
  1. Jon Lester, BOSTON --- 7.0 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 0 BB, 8 K

No comments: