Now or maybe never for Rays
Tampa Bay needs a win in the worst way soon against Sox
ST. PETERSBURG -- Hello, Rays, this is your American League Championship Series wakeup call. Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched up to his reputation, if not up to his pattern, Friday night. If the next two Boston pitchers lined up to face you also obey their history, your ALCS debut could become a cameo.
Never an offensive juggernaut but a team that all season has turned the proverbial inch into a mile, the Rays misfired in Game 1 of the ALCS.Tampa Bay's superior dome record was trumped by a couple of goose eggs, as Matsuzaka pushed his own perfect road record to 10-0 by pitching the bulk of the Red Sox's 2-0 victory -- the Rays' first shutout loss in Tropicana Field since April 20. To get there, the Rays left seven men on base, and whiffed on three golden scoring chances. "You're not going to beat that team missing opportunities," said veteran Cliff Floyd, whose single in the seventh created one of the first-and-third, none-out openings the Rays couldn't exploit. "We've gotta figure it out, and go back to the drawing board." Waiting there will be Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, two other arms preceded by lustrous track records. Beckett will bring his golden postseason reputation into Saturday night's Game 2 start. He has made five playoff starts for Boston, with the Red Sox winning all of them. Even before that, of course, he was an October stud for Florida's other team -- the Marlins.
|National League: 15-7|
|American League: 12-10|
Lester, due to lead off the Fenway Park portion of what Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon calls "this whole event," was brilliant all season against the Rays, allowing them only two earned runs in 20 innings while going 3-0.Lester had also been responsible for the previous shutout of the AL East champs, going 7 2/3 innings in a 3-0 win on Sept. 8 in Fenway Park -- where the young lefty went 11-1 overall this season. If the Rays keep their date with Lester in a 2-0 hole, this ALCS could be over, because the only way they would then be able to bring it back here would be by taking two of the three games in Fenway Park -- a place they had been winless in 25 straight series until rallying on their last visit in early September. And that means having to handle Beckett in Saturday's Game 2. "No matter who is pitching, he can make mistakes. Beckett's had some problems," Floyd said, "so hopefully he'll make some mistakes and we can capitalize and we'll be OK. "If he's on, it'll be a tough night. But we'll try to buckle down and get one game under our belts. I'll take my chances against anyone." The Rays were next-to-last in AL team hitting with a .260 average, so getting key hits has been their offensive M.O. all season. Friday night, they went 1-for-7 with men in scoring position, that one being a seventh-inning infield single by B.J. Upton that could move Akinori Iwamura only from second to third. "We've had timely hitting all year," said catcher Dioner Navarro. "Tonight, we didn't. It's part of the game, that's all." Tampa Bay third baseman Evan Longoria -- who set a sour tone by striking out with two on and one out in the first, then ended the seventh by grounding into a double play with men on first and third and one out -- felt as out of sorts as anyone in his lineup. "He had me off-balance all game," Longoria said of Matsuzaka. The one time Longoria had the right idea, he took the wrong swing: Given the green light on a 3-0 pitch with two outs in the sixth, Longoria popped it meekly into short right to prolong Matsuzaka's no-hit bid. "I guessed fastball, and I was right. I just didn't swing right," said Longoria, who gave a lot of credit to a guy who will also be teaming with Beckett. "The guy behind the plate [Jason Varitek] keeps putting down the right fingers," Longoria said. If the Rays appeared to be playing backward baseball on Friday night, that was because Matsuzaka was pitching backward. Tampa Bay hitters all echoed that Dice-K began the game with his usual pattern, leading with breaking and change-of-speed stuff, then switched into fastball mode after the second inning. "I'd never seen him do that," Maddon said. Now it's time for the Rays to plow ahead. "We have to make sure these guys throw strikes," Floyd said, thinking primarily of Beckett, "and take advantage when they do. If they're missing the zone, we have to take the pitches. "We have no doubt that we can do that," Floyd added. "We've been a pretty even-keeled team all year."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.