The Boston Red Sox showed in their series against the Tampa Bay Rays that they are no one to mess around with in this year’s playoffs. The Rays came in on a hot streak, winning three straight elimination games on the road, first in the final game of the regular season, then in the tiebreaker game, then in the AL Wild Card Game. Did the Rays run out of gas or are the Sox just that good? Let’s look at how the series played out, game by game.
Game 1: Red Sox 12, Rays 2. The tone for Game 1 was set when Red Sox P Jon Lester struck out the side in the top of the 1st. The 2 Rays runs actually came before the Red Sox scored, on Sean Rodriguez and Ben Zobrist solo homers in the 2nd and 4th innings. At the time, going to the bottom of the 4th, Matt Moore of the Rays had not allowed the hit, but in the bottom of the 4th, the floodgates opened. Jonny Gomes hit a 2-RBI double, Steven Drew had an RBI on an infield hit, Will Middlebrooks had an RBI double, and Shane Victorino had a 2-RBI single, and the score was suddenly 5-2, Boston. In the 5th, Jarrod Saltalamacchia doubled in 2 more, and Jacoby Ellsbury hit an RBI single, and the score was 8-2. Neither side had even a hit until the bottom of the 8th, when Shane Victorino hit an RBI single, Mike Napoli drew a bases-loaded walk, a Jonny Gomes double-play groundout scored Dustin Pedroia, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia hit an RBI single, making the score 12-2, where it would remain, and the Red Sox had a 1-0 series lead.
Game 2: Red Sox 7, Rays 4. The Red Sox picked up in Game 2 right where they left off, as Dustin Pedroia had an RBI sacrifice fly, followed by a David Ortiz solo homer, in the first off Rays P David Price. The Rays countered off of the Red Sox John Lackey with a Dmitri Young sacrifice fly that made the score 2-1. The Red Sox answered in the 3rd with a Jacoby Ellsbury RBI double and a Dustin Pedroia fielder’s choice that scored Ellsbury and gave the Sox a 4-1 lead. In the 4th, Steven Drew hit an RBI triple to make the score 5-1. The Rays showed in the 5th, however, that they wouldn’t go quietly, when James Loney cut the lead in half with an RBI double, making it 5-3. In the ensuing half inning, a Dustin Pedroia double plated Jacoby Ellsbury, making the score 6-3. The Rays, once again, countered with a Yunel Escobar RBI single in the top of the 6th that made the score 6-4, Red Sox. David Ortiz led off the bottom of the 8th with a solo homer to give the Red Sox a 7-4 lead. As much as he had struggled, Price was in the game for the Rays all the way until just after the Ortiz homer, starting the 8th. Tampa Bay went quietly in the top of the 9th against Red Sox closer Koji Uehara, and the Red Sox had taken each of the first two at home and led the series, 2-0.
Game 3: Rays 5, Red Sox 4. The Rays came home facing elimination, and they found a way to win an instant classic to stay alive in the series. The Red Sox scored first, on an error by Ben Zobrist that allowed Jacoby Ellsbury to give Boston a 1-0 lead. After that, both Rays P Alex Cobb and Red Sox P Clay Buchholz settled in for the first few innings. Ellsbury scored again on a wild pitch in the 5th, followed by a David Ortiz RBI single to make the score 3-0. As he has so many times over the years, in the bottom of the 5th Evan Longoria answered. His 3-run homer tied the game at 3 a piece. The bullpens for both sides pitched nearly perfectly, before the Rays got out of a jam in the 8th when the Red Sox got 2 on with 1 out before Jarrod Saltalamacchia struck out and Stephen Drew popped out. In the bottom half, a Dmitri Young groundout with the bases loaded scored Sam Fuld and gave the Rays a 4-3 lead with 3 outs to get. In the top of the 9th, a Dustin Pedroia groundout scored Xavier Bogaerts to tie the game at 4-4. Jacoby Ellsbury reached third in the inning, but didn’t score. In the bottom of the 9th, the Red Sox brought in closer Koji Uehara to try to get the game into extra innings. After Ben Zobrist grounded out and Evan Longoria lined out, Rays backup catcher Jose Lobaton stepped to the plate. Two pitches later the game was over. Lobaton hit an 0-1 pitch into the center field seats for a walk-off home run, and the Rays won the game, 5-4. Tampa Bay still trailed the series, 2-1, but they now had some momentum.
Game 4: Red Sox 3, Rays 1. Both pitchers threw a perfect first inning, but Rays P Jeremy Hellickson loaded the bases with nobody out in the 2nd and was relieved. Jamey Wright got out of the jam to keep the game scoreless, which is how it stayed for 5 innings. In the bottom of the 6th, Yunel Escobar scored when David Dejesus singled, giving the Rays a 1-0 lead. In the next half inning, the top of the 7th, Xavier Bogaerts tied the game on a Joel Peralta wild pitch, then Jacoby Ellsbury scored the go-ahead run on a Shane Victorino infield hit, making the score 2-1, Boston. In the 9th, Dustin Pedroia hit a sacrifice fly with the bases loaded to extend the Red Sox lead to 3-1. Koji Uehara retired the side in the 9th, and the Red Sox had claimed the series with a 3-1 victory.
With the exception of Game 3, this series was a complete domination by the Red Sox, who have home-field advantage throughout the ALCS and the World Series, should they advance that far. They have proven themselves as the sure favorite to win the American League, and they may now be the favorites to win it all.
Dustin Pedroia had an outstanding series. The odd part is that most of his RBIs came on infield hits, fielder’s choice groundouts, or sacrifice flies. It seemed that whenever he made contact it benefited the Red Sox.
The Red Sox will begin the next chapter of their quest for their third championship in ten years when they host Game 1 of the ALCS on Saturday against the winner of the Tigers-Athletics series, which is going to a Game 5 on Thursday night.