Although the Rays have a 3-2 lead as the AL championship series heads back to St. Petersburg, the Red Sox appear to have the momentum after staving off elimination with the biggest postseason rally in nearly 80 years.
In Game 6 on Saturday, defending World Series champion Boston tries to build off yet another victory in an ALCS elimination game, while Tampa Bay again looks for its first World Series berth in franchise history.
After outscoring the Red Sox 22-5 in winning Games 3 and 4 at Fenway Park to take a 3-1 series lead, the Rays were up 7-0 with two outs in the seventh inning of Game 5 on Thursday. Boston, though, was not about to go down easy.
The Red Sox rallied for four runs in the seventh and three in the eighth to tie the score, and J.D. Drew’s two-out RBI single in the ninth drove in the winning run to force a Game 6. It was the largest comeback in a postseason game since the Philadelphia Athletics trailed by eight before a 10-run seventh inning helped them beat the Chicago Cubs 10-8 in Game 4 of the 1929 World Series.
“Everybody knew that we needed to win the ballgame,” said Drew, who also hit a two-run homer in the eighth. “It doesn’t matter how you do it. We didn’t want to go down 7-0, but there’s a lot of fight in that dugout, and a lot of guys knew as soon as we got some runs on the board, we could get something going.”
The Red Sox, who rallied from a 3-1 deficit against Cleveland in last year’s ALCS and came back from a 3-0 deficit to beat the New York Yankees in the 2004 ALCS, have won eight consecutive ALCS games when facing elimination. Boston went on to sweep the World Series last year and in 2004.
“Hopefully, there’ll be time when we can sit back and think ‘This is what got us over the hump,’” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. “But we’re still climbing.”
The ALCS now shifts to Tropicana Field, where Boston won the series opener 2-0 before losing 9-8 in 11 innings in Game 2.
“We’ve got to go out there and win ballgames,” Drew said. “It takes a certain amount of ballgames to get past this level, to win, and then in the World Series, as well. We’ll take it a game at a time, try to rack up some wins and see how it goes.”
Despite the painful manner in which they lost Game 5, the Rays aren’t feeling too discouraged.
Tampa Bay needs one more victory to win its first AL pennant and is returning to Tropicana Field, where it went a major league-best 57-24 in the regular season.
“Obviously, we’re in a pretty good position to move on,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “Of course we’re upset. Of course we don’t like losing that game, of course. But to dwell on it does no good whatsoever.
“If we had won it, we’d be in the World Series by now. We’ll just have to wait one more day, hopefully, to get that done.”
In Game 6, Maddon will give the ball to James Shields (1-1, 3.29 ERA), who has been his best at home. Boston will counter with Josh Beckett (0-0, 11.57), who is trying to shake off his postseason struggles.
Shields was originally scheduled to pitch Game 5, but Maddon decided to push him back for a possible start at Tropicana Field.
Shields posted a 1.17 ERA in winning his two regular-season starts against the Red Sox in St. Petersburg, compared to a 21.21 ERA in losing his two regular-season starts at Boston.
In Game 1 of this series at Tropicana Field, the right-hander allowed two runs and six hits with six strikeouts in 7 1-3 innings.
Including that outing and his division series start against the Chicago White Sox, Shields is 10-3 with a 2.66 ERA in 19 starts at Tropicana Field with the Rays winning 15 of those games.
“I feel more comfortable at home, obviously,” he said.
Boston slugger David Ortiz, who broke out of his 1-for-17 ALCS slump by hitting a three-run homer in the seventh inning Thursday, was hitless in three at-bats against Shields in Game 1. Ortiz entered the postseason 7-for-14 with two home runs and four doubles lifetime against Shields.
Beckett entered the postseason 6-2 with a 1.70 ERA in nine career playoff starts, but he’s been knocked around this October.
He was tagged for eight runs and nine hits - including home runs by Evan Longoria, Cliff Floyd and B.J. Upton - in 4 1-3 innings of the Red Sox’s extra-inning loss in Game 2. Beckett gave up four runs in five innings of Boston’s 5-4, 12-inning loss to the Los Angeles Angels in Game 3 of the ALDS.
The right-hander suffered an oblique injury during a bullpen session on Sept. 26, but the MVP of the 2003 World Series for Florida is not using that as an excuse.
“I’m fine,” Beckett told the team’s official Web site.
Beckett needs to try and shut down Longoria and Upton, who are the first teammates in AL history with at least six homers apiece in the postseason.
Longoria, who went 3-for-3 with two doubles against Beckett in Game 2, homered in his fourth straight game Thursday.
Upton went 3-for-4 with a homer, double and four RBIs in Game 5, and is 8-for-20 with three home runs, 10 RBIs and seven runs in this series.
While the Rays have scored 38 runs in the last four games, they’ll need their bullpen to bounce back after yielding eight runs and nine hits in 2 2-3 innings on Thursday. Tampa Bay’s relievers had allowed four runs in 24 2-3 innings over the first eight playoff games.
“That’s been one of our biggest strong points all season,” Maddon said. “You feel pretty good about a seven-run lead at that part of the game. We just have to go back home and get it going again.”