Rays exhausted, happy after Game 2
Long night worthwhile for weary travelers with ALCS tied
BOSTON -- It was fitting for a team that rallies around the slogan "9=8" that the final score of the most meaningful game of the year was 9-8 in favor of the Rays, which is the way the scoreboard at Tropicana Field read at the conclusion of Game 2 of the American League Championship Series, five hours and 27 minutes after it started Saturday night.
A handful of tired Rays met with the media Sunday at Fenway Park, shortly after arriving in Boston.
Game 2 ended when speedy pinch-runner Fernando Perez scored on B.J. Upton's sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 11th. Tampa Bay's victory tied up the series at one game apiece as the series shifts to Boston for the next three games at Fenway Park, which has historically been tough on the Rays. With the win, Tampa Bay avoided having to win two at Fenway Park in order to stay alive in the best-of-seven series.
Since the best-of-seven format was adopted in 1985, the team that has won Game 2 of the ALCS has advanced to the World Series 16 times in 22 series, including seven of the past nine.
And what a unique drama Game 2 turned out to be.
"It went back and forth so much ... we were winning, we were losing, it stayed tied for awhile, it went into extra innings," said Evan Longoria, who had a home run and two doubles. "[We] played until 2 o'clock in the morning, it doesn't happen all the time."
For the winners, the price paid in terms of effort and sleep depravation was worthwhile, according to Rays manager Joe Maddon.
"It was really a bizarre night," Maddon said. "The way the game started so late, the length of the game, we have to travel the next day ... And there was no rest, no sleep last night at all. But when you win that kind of game, you find the energy, man. If you don't win that day, today is like the worst travel day of your life. That is a tough loss. When you get blown up, you just walk away. When you lose games like that, you wear it a little bit longer."
The reality of the Rays' predicament hit home in the fifth inning Saturday with starter Scott Kazmir struggling, when the lead flip-flopped back in favor of the Red Sox. Tampa Bay knew that if it lost Game 2, it would be down 0-2 and would have to face Boston ace Jon Lester in Game 3 at Fenway Park, which explained why Maddon used Grant Balfour and J.P. Howell in the fifth inning, long before they normally take the mound.
GAME 3: JUST THE FACTS
|Rays starter: RHP Matt Garza|
|2008: 11-9, 3.70 ERA|
|2008 on the road: 4-6, 4.53 ERA|
|2008 vs. Red Sox: 1-1, 4.50 ERA|
|Career vs. Red Sox: 3-1, 3.86 ERA|
|2008 postseason: 0-1, 7.50 ERA|
|Career postseason: 0-1, 7.50 ERA|
|Red Sox starter: LHP Jon Lester|
|2008: 16-6, 3.21 ERA|
|2008 at home: 11-1, 2.49 ERA|
|2008 vs. Rays: 3-0, 0.90 ERA|
|Career vs. Rays: 4-0, 3.38 ERA|
|2008 postseason: 1-0, 0.00 ERA|
|Career postseason: 2-0, 0.77 ERA|
|Series tied, 1-1. It marks the 19th time in 39 American League Championship Series that it has been tied at a game apiece.|
|Game 1: Red Sox 2, Rays 0|
|Game 2: Rays 9, Red Sox 8 (11 innings)|
|Did You Know? The 37 players used by both teams in Game 2 tied an ALCS record last matched by the Red Sox and Indians in Game 2 of the 2007 ALCS.|
"You definitely don't want to be 0-2 facing Lester," Carl Crawford said. "You could see it in us last night. We were fighting because we were trying to get that win. Because we definitely didn't want to come here 0-2 the way Lester's been pitching. It's a good chance he can pitch a good game and we'd lose, you don't want to go 0-3. It was just important for us to get one of those wins at home."
Balfour said he and Howell enjoyed a chuckle about how strange it felt to have already pitched with the game in the sixth inning.
"Usually it's a little later in the game," Balfour said.
Fifteen runs were scored before the seventh inning. After that, just two scored. Dustin Pedroia tied the game in the eighth on a wild pitch by Dan Wheeler, and the other came via Perez's winner in the 11th.
"It was early in the game and runs were coming pretty easily, and it was cat-and-mouse, back and forth," Balfour said. "And then towards the end of the game, runs started being hard to come by, we were begging for a run any way we could get it. I mean, 5 1/2 hours -- I'm not going to lie, it was dragging on a bit. You see people in the stands falling asleep. And it's a playoff game and you've got people falling asleep in the stands."
After leaving the game, Balfour sat in the clubhouse and waited, and waited, and waited.
"The [food] spread was sitting there for about two hours getting cold," Balfour said. "So you had to zap that in the microwave."
Regardless of the tension and the high stakes, playing in the postseason is everything it's cracked up to be, particularly Game 2, according to Longoria.
"Yeah, it was fun, it was fun," Longoria said. "It was long and I know everybody was tired, but [when] you come out on top of those kind of games, it's very enjoyable.
"This is a special time of year. Now there are only four teams left. It doesn't really matter how long the game is, it doesn't matter what you do, it's all about winning. And it's all about being a team and doing it together, and I think we do that better than any club."
For Perez, he enjoyed the moment Saturday night, but he didn't spend any time afterward watching the highlights of sliding home with the winning run.
"If I did watch it, it would be very, very cool," Perez said. "But I'm really trying not to get too happy yet, there's so much more ahead. There will be time after the last game of the season to kind of look back on all of the achievements and the games and the big games and stuff like that, because all of the great moments will sort of turn into bittersweet ones if you don't win the last ones."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.