What an incredible night in Boston. Scott Kazmir got the starting nod for Tampa ahead of James Shields for some reasons relating to James Shields pitching at home and Scott Kazmir avoiding a particular home plate umpire. The switch caused some doubt in the minds of a few media members, but Joe Maddon would come up aces with the decision. Kazmir’s performance is likely to be forgotten with the late game fireworks, but his six shutout innings allowing just two hits and three walks while punching out seven.
Daisuke Matsuzaka who has walked a tight rope of good fortune all season long slipped off the edge tonight surrendering home runs to B.J. Upton, Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria and saw himself out of the game after four frames trailing 5-0. As good as those three hitters were for the Rays tonight, along with Bartlett and Iwamura before them, the five through eight hitters for Tampa went 0-15 with just a lone walk. The lack of balance in the lineup hurt Tampa’s ability to sustain rallies later in the game when their lead started to slip away.
On Boston’s side, they were held scoreless as previously mentioned through six, but a long top of the 7th for Tampa, which saw Boston bring in Jonathan Papelbon, ensured that Kazmir wouldn’t come back out for the bottom half. It did give Tampa a pair of runs, making it 7-0 and at one point during that inning, Tampa’s win expectancy stood at 99.4%. Grant Balfour seemed like the right choice for the seventh, but a single-single-homerun stretch with two outs and one on netted four runs for the Red Sox and brought the game to 7-4.
There were four key mistakes that I think swung this game to Boston. One, Maddon’s choice of Dan Wheeler. Wheeler had pitched 3.1 innings back in game 2, when he had only four outings all season longer than four outs and the last one of those was on May 6. Wheeler simply didn’t have anything tonight and with the off day yesterday and one tomorrow, Maddon had pretty much his whole bullpen at his disposal. When J.D. Drew came up, I thought at the time that you had to have J.P. Howell or David Price ready for that situation. Secondly with two outs, none on and a one run lead in the bottom of the eighth, why isn’t Upton playing deeper in center field? You have to be playing back to avoid doubles there.
Third and this one is much more minor, but Carlos Pena swinging at a 1-0 low slider that lead to an inning ending double play. It’s hard to second guess a hitter choosing to swing at a pitch that was probably a strike, but in that situation, with a huge platoon advantage in Pena facing Masterson , knowing that the biggest event you want to avoid is a pulled groundball and a count already in your favor, I think you should be more selective there for a ball more up in the zone or else dropping your bat lower to make sure you get under the ball.
Finally, and the eventual killer for the Rays, Evan Longoria made a fantastic stop on Kevin Youkilis‘ groundball, and he had all kinds of time to even stop his momentum, plant and throw to first. His terrible throw there was completely avoidable and especially in that situation with the Rays really needing some deep breaths, would have done much to settle them down heading to extra innings.
All that being said, this loss obviously hurts the Rays deeply. They had seven outs to get and a six run buffer to clinch the AL pennant and lost. That will hurt. However, let us not act like Boston just won the series. All they did was stay their execution for now. Games six and seven are in Tampa, where the Red Sox were just 1-8 during the regular season and the Rays overall were 57-24. Boston has an injured Josh Beckett going in game six, while Tampa gets to counter with James Shields. This series still greatly favors the Rays, dramatic comeback or not.
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