After almost a three-game hiatus, almost their entire stay in Fenway for this ALCS, the Red Sox offense returned and with a vengeance, pillaging the previously sparkling Rays bullpen for eight runs in three innings (actually 2-2/3 since they never did get that final out) as the Sox overcame a seven-run deficit to win, 8-7, tonight. The series now returns to St. Pete with the suddenly momentum-challenged Rays leading three games to two.
Joe Maddon will be questioned for his staff maneuvers. First, he pulled Scott Kazmir, who had thrown 111 pitches, to start the seventh, but Kazmir had just completed a 1-2-3 inning with two strikeouts.
Then his bullpen moves were utterly puzzling. He had nine outs to get and, one would assume, the entire staff (besides game 3 starter James Shields) available. Maddon kept right-hander Grant Balfour to groove a pitch to lefty David Ortiz, that scored three of the four runs he allowed.
Next, Maddon turned to Dan Wheeler, who still seemed tired from pitching 3-1/3 in the 9-8 game two win. After Wheeler ended the inning 7 rally, he walked Jason Bay on four pitches to lead off the 8th. Then, again, Maddon left his righty in to face a lefty, and J.D. homered to cut the lead to one. Even though Wheeler looked like he was pitching BP, Maddon left him in to soak up the final, tying run. Also, to set up the tying run, Mark Kotsay hit a double over B.J. Upton's head even though Maddon should have had his outfielders playing back to prevent exactly that.
The Rays look like they were in disarray from Ortiz's home run on. And when Papelbon pumped his fist upon completing a 1-2-3 inning in the top of the eighth, you would have thought the were ahead by three runs instead of trailing by three.
So the Red Sox and Rays start up again Saturday in that baseball purgatory, Tropicana Field, and as a Phils fan, I revel in these two teams bludgeoning each other. If the Rays fold, I would welcome them into the fold of teams whose tradition is to torture their fan base.
However, I have to point out that if the Red Sox had lost, it would not have been their worst three-game stretch (as far as run differential) in the playoffs. They were beaten by the Indians in last year's ALCS by 25 total runs in games 3-5 of a series, you might recall, the Red Sox won. It would have ranked as the third worst three-game stretch in playoff history, however: