Only in Haverhill and Woonsocket are they smiling


Local Boy, Rocco Baldelli puts the nail in the coffin as Rays take 2-1 series lead

(October 13, 2008) – Growing up a Red Sox fan in Woonsockett, RI during the 90s, Rocco Baldelli had dreams of hitting a homerun in the playoffs over the Green Monster at Fenway. Back when he was his brother, Dante’s, age (10) that is all they were but 17 years later those fantasies turned into reality with a three-run homerun that took the air out of the 38,031 fans that flocked to the Back Bay to witness Game 3.

The Red Sox appeared to have been mounting another late inning comeback with a lead-off walk by Jason Varitek in the bottom of the seventh followed by a base hit down the first base line by Alex Cora, sending Varitek to third with no-outs. Jacoby Ellsbury lifted a sacrifice fly to deep right field to score the Sox captain for the first Sox run of the game.

Baldelli was compared at one-time to Joe DiMaggio but after suffering numerous injuries that landed him on the disabled list many times in his four year career, then being diagnosed with a mitochondrial disorder, he never thought he would be play baseball again. But here he was, defying all the odds, on the Fenway Park field and in the playoffs and hitting the homerun that deflated the rejuvenated the Fenway crowd.

“It was real special to me,” Baldelli told Craig Sager after the game with the expression of shock still written all over his face. It is something that he will remember for the rest of his career.

With help from the top of the Rays line up, Jon Lester cruised through the first inning without breaking a sweat. A polar opposite of Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis, who was already sweating profusely when he stepped to the plate in the bottom half of the frame. The Sox southpaw only needed four pitches to retire the Rays in the first. Lester got Akinori Iwamura to ground out to second on two pitches before getting Saturday night’s hero, B.J. Upton and Carlos Pena to ground out and fly out, respectively, on first pitches.

One thing about Lester is that as the game progresses, he grows stronger so when he retired the first three batters of the game, Lester looked as if he brought his A-game to the table. But the Rays made adjustments against the Sox left hander, starting in the second inning.

Most of Lester’s 2008 post-season dominance came from his ability to not let the lead-off batter of the inning to reach. It is actually the most important thing a pitcher can do in a game. But in Game Three of the ALCS, Lester’s streak of 15 innings without the lead-off batter reaching came to an end in the top of the second inning.

Evan Longoria battled his way back from a 0-2 deficit to work a seven pitch walk against the Sox lefthander. Lester was able to catch Carl Crawford staring at strike three but not before another seven pitch at-bat. Before the game, Joe Maddon replaced Cliff Floyd in the line up with Willy Aybar, who is 2-for-6 against Lester, and the utility infielder made Maddon look like a genius with a base hit up the middle. Longoria and Aybar advanced on to second and third, respectively, on a first pitch fastball to Dioner Navarro that crossed up Varitek and went as passed ball. Navarro hit a slow ground ball to second to drive in Longoria with the first run of the game.

Lester faced more trouble in the third when shortstop Jason Bartlett lined a 0-2 pitch into left field to lead-off inning for the second consecutive inning. Jason Bay did his best Carl Yastrzemski impersonation trying to hold Iwamura to a single on rocket line drive off the Green Monster. But Bartlett had none of Bay’s decoy and advanced to third on the double. With Lester clearly not at the top of his game, Upton added insult to injury as he deposited a 2-1 pitch into the second row of the Monster seats for a three-run homerun to put the Rays up 4-0. After Pena struck out Pena, Longoria put the Rays up with his fourth homerun of the post-season. So far in the playoffs, Upton and Longoria have combined to hit nine homeruns.

After getting hit around hard in the first three innings, Lester settled down throughout the next 2.2 innings by minimizing the damage and keeping the Rays from crossing the plate. He was also aided by superb defense from Youkilis and some mental mistakes from Upton, possibly changing the momentum of the game.

But not quite. Matt Garza proved to be too much for the Sox offense. The Tampa Bay starter allowed just one run while scattering six hits, walking three and striking out five in six-plus innings of work.

"My job was to get their hitters out," Garza told Sager when asked about being matched up against Lester. "My guys were to get to Lester and they got to Lester."

In the top of the fifth, Upton led-off the inning with base hit, literally, off Lester. Pena beat the over-shift with a bunt down third base but the always alert, Youkilis caught Upton wandering too far past the second base bag and threw to Cora for the first out of the inning. Good play on Youkilis’s part. Bad on the part of Upton. Lester went on to finish the fifth and get the first two outs of the sixth before being replaced by Paul Byrd after allowing five runs – four earned – on six hits while walking two and striking out seven.

With Tampa Bay taking the 2-1 series advantage, the Sox will look to perform some more of their October magic fans have been accustomed to seeing in the playoffs, as the Rays Daddy, Tim Wakefield takes the mound tomorrow night, trying to even up the series. In his career against the Rays, Wakefield is 19-5 with a 3.52 ERA and 145 strike outs in 31 starts. He will be opposed by right hander Andy Sonnanstine, who was 13-9 this year with a 4.38 ERA and 124 strike outs. Against the Sox this year, Sonnanstine was 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA.


WIN: Matt Garza

LOSS: Jon Lester


The 3 Stars of the Game:

1. B.J. Upton, TAMPA BAY --- 2-5 HR, 3 RBIs, Run-Scored

2. Rocco Baldelli, TAMPA BAY --- 1-3 HR, 3 RBIs

3. Mark Kotsay, BOSTON – 2-4

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