Sunday, October 12, 2008

Rays Sacrifice to Stay Alive

It's difficult to say a team has their backs to the wall after the first game of a seven game playoff series, but that was really the case for the Tampa Rays last evening. Going back to Boston down two games to none, would have created a nearly impossible feat even for an experienced playoff team. But the Rays won't have to worry about that situation. Last night they pulled out a see-saw battle with the Red Sox on B.J. Upton's sacrifice fly in the 11th inning.

If Terry Francona has made a mistake in this playoff, it's keeping Mike Timlin on the post-season roster. While the thinking was probably not use Timlin in a big situation, Francona had no choice last night after having used five relievers, including his closer Jon Papelbon for 1.1 innings.

Timlin walked Dioner Navarro and light hitting Ben Zobrist to start the inning. Jason Bartlett's sacrifice bunt moved the runners up a base, forcing the Red Sox to intentionally walk Aki Iwamura to load the bases. That brought up B.J. Upton, who hit a fly to shallow right. The Rays gambled that J.D. Drew, running hard on the play, would not be able to set himself for an accurate throw home. The gamble paid off when speedy pinch-runner Fernando Perez slid home with the winning run ahead of an off the target throw by Drew.

The Rays would not have been in position to win if not for the relief work of veteran Dan Wheeler and rookie David Price. Wheeler had to bounce back after his wild pitch allowed the Red Sox to tie the game in the eighth inning. But he tossed a scoreless ninth and tenth before leaving with one man out in the 11th and runner on a first. Price, the number one overall pick in the 2007 amateur draft, walked Drew, but struck out Mark Kotsay looking and got Coco Crisp to bounce into an inning ending ground out.

Neither starter pitched well, with Boston's Josh Beckett fighting a strained oblique and Tampa's Scott Kazmir continuing his '08 struggles against the Red Sox. Boston struck first against Kazmir, who was 0-2, 9.00 in four starts against the Sox this season. Kazmir's control problems came up to bite him in the first inning when he issued a two out walk to David Ortiz. Kevin Youkilis followed with a single and Jason Bay brought them both home with a double. Kazmir walked Jed Lowrie, but struck out Jason Varitek to escape further trouble.

The Rays came right back though when Evan Longoria smacked a 2-run home run, his third of the post-season, in the bottom half of the first. The tie only lasted until the third when Dustin Pedroia smashed a solo home run to left. That lead would last an even shorter amount of time when Upton crushed a 424-ft solo shot in the bottom of the third. Longoria stroked a one out double and came home on Carl Crawford's single for a 4-3 Rays lead.

Tampa extended their advantage to 5-3 when Cliff Floyd led off with a solo home run to straight away center field. But Kazmir wouldn't stick around to try to get the win. Pedroia's second solo shot of the game and Youkilis' own solo blast one batter later knocked Kazmir from the box and tied the game at 5-5. Bay greeted Grant Balfour with another solo home run to put the Red Sox ahead 6-5. Balfour then walked Lowrie and Varitek before J.P. Howell came on to work out of the jam.

Upton led off the fifth with a walk and promptly stole second base. Carlos Pena singled off of Beckett to tie the game and came home on Longoria's second double, and third extra base hit, of the ball game. Fracona finally yanked Beckett from the game, but Crawford laced reliever Javier Lopez's delivery to right for an RBI single and an 8-6 Rays lead. Manny DelCarmen was next out of the Boston pen and he finally quelled the fire.

Pedroia drew a one out walk in the sixth, but Howell struck out Ortiz looking. Joe Maddon went to the pen again for right-hander Chad Bradford, but Bradford gave up back to back singles to Youkilis and Bay to cut the Rays lead to 8-7.

After a scoreless seventh, only the second scoreless inning of the game, Pedroia singled off of Bradford to start the eighth. Maddon sent for lefty Trevor Miller to face Ortiz, but Big Papi drew a walk as well. Wheeler came on and got a big double play grounder from Youkilis, but then threw a fastball a mile over Navarro's head to allow Pedroia to score the tying run.

Box Score

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