But as the Red Sox showed against the Los Anaheim Angels in the first round, the regular season don't necessarily mean squawwwt come playoff time.
The Bostons took back home-field advantage in the ALCS thanks to a 2-0 victory in Game 1 at the Trop, with the Rays appearing to show some jitters for the first time in a long time. Here's a few thoughts from the game:
Rolling: Dice-K put up phat numbers (18-3, 2.90 ERA) in the regular season and had 200 Ks in '07, but this was the first time I ever remember him doing anything worth a darn in a game that mattered this much. After he walked the bases loaded in the first, Matsuzaka was spectacular, taking a no-no into the seventh, and finishing with 9 Ks over seven IP. Hideki Okajima was shaky in the eighth, but Jonathan Papelbon went an easy 1-2-3 in the ninth.
Flailing: The game had the look of a neo-classic Rays comeback, but the Sawx just wouldn't let 'em. Or maybe it was a little jumpiness by the home team. T-St. P put the first two men on base in the seventh (Carl Crawford broke up the no-hitter and Cliff Floyd followed with a gapper to put runners at the corners) but they were stranded. T-St. P did likewise in the eighth (singles by Akinori Iwamura and Bossman J. Upton) but Carlos Pena flied out weakly on a 3-0 pitch and Evan Longoria finished a poor at-bat with a weak double play grounder.
Efficiency experts: Boston, meanwhile manufactured a 1-0 lead in the fifth. Jed Lowrie (who apparently ain't been around long enough to merit a mugshot on Yahoo GameChannel) brought home JayBay on a sac fly. In the eighth, Yook doubled in Pedroia — on a ball Crawford should have caught/usually catches — for insurance. That's all they got. It was all they needed. That's why they're world champs, folks.
Fright night: If you watched the game on DirecTV, you saw a recurring commercial for "Friday Night Lights," the TV series about high school football in West Texas. Except the commercial, I swear, should have been for the stylish new HBO show about vampires, or the old one about the traveling carnival from hell. There was ne'er a football thrown in the spot. And it looked like they all wanted to suck some blood. WTH(eck)?
Kitchen: Grant Balfour went up and in and hit brittle J.D. Drew with a pitch in the eighth, and the announcers speculated a little bit about bad blood still left over from the regular-season pugilism between the two clubs. However, Balfour looked spooked by the HBP and emotions never boiled over.
Menu: Josh Beckett has a chance to put the Rays in a big ol' hole in Game 2 with what would be his first strong performance in a long time. Conversely, Scott Kazmir has been struggling with command and confidence. Not a good combo for the ALCS.