Thursday, October 16, 2008

One for the ages...

If any other team completes a 7-run comeback with seven outs remaining in their season, it's chocked up as an amazing, possibly miraculous rally. And then you move on.

That's why I can't imagine ever wanting to root for a team other than the Boston Red Sox.

This game was all but in hand. Tampa, after destroying the Sox in the previous two games at Fenway, was on the verge of a third consecutive blowout.

They had chased Daisuke Matsuzaka from the game, then tagged the 'pen for another pair of runs, to take a 7-0 lead into the bottom of the seventh inning at Fenway Park.

The crowd had nothing to spark them to epic proportions...some of them had actually left.

Even after a leadoff double by Jed Lowrie, the next two Sox hitters failed to even move him over to third base.

Runner on second, two out, Coco at the dish, 7-0 Tampa, bottom seven. Game over, eh?

Well by now, it's cliche, but never count out the Sox. Ever.

Base hit Coco, Lowrie to third.

Base hit Pedroia, Lowrie scores, 7-1 Rays, Big Papi striding to the plate.

Now, David Ortiz still isn't back. Something is wrong. But for one AB, the perfect remedy was a 97-mph heater by Grant Balfour.

Home run, Crisp and Pedroia score. 7-4.

Bad news for the Rays? Cue Sweet Caroline, this game is over. And the series is going back to Tampa.

Bottom eight, Bay leads off with a walk. Tying run on deck with Drew up.

0-1 pitch? Crushed. 7-6 Tampa, nobody out, bottom eight.

Two out? No big deal, we've been scoring runs in the ALCS with two out for a whole inning.

Kotsay, double. Coco, 10-pitch AB... the Wheels come off. Thanks Dan, tie game.

After a productive inning by Masterson, the inevitable slowly becomes a reality to the Rays.

Of course, it starts with two out.

Youk with a full count...nice play by Longoria... the throw, not so much. Runner in scoring position. Pick your poison, Tampa.

Not Bay? Alright.

Oh, it's JD Drew. Hey Tampa...future advice. Do not throw JD a 3-1 fastball with the game on the line like you did tonight. You'll lose every time.

Game over. 8-7 Sox.

Now, the Sox are far from immortal and this win may just be delaying Tampa's first celebration. However...

By the numbers...

0- Times the Rays had blown a lead of at least 4 runs in the regular season.
1- Times the Rays have lost a 1-run game to the Sox including tonight.
2- Number of monster hits by the resurgent Drew in the last two innings of Thursday's game.
3- Number of innings it took the Sox to come up with the largest rally in ALCS history.
4- Number of games it takes to win the ALCS. 3 6/9 doesn't round up, Tampa.
5- Game the Sox won in historic fashion to force...
6- Game the Sox have to win to force...
7- Game the Sox have to win to face Philly.
8- Inning that the Sox tied the ballgame...relieving themselves of the pressure of a do-or-die...
9- Inning the Sox won the game, allowing themselves the luxury of NOT PITCHING MIKE TIMLIN.
10- Times the Sox have beaten Tampa, including the regular season. They've done if before, they can do it again.

To borrow a phrase from Kevin Millar...

Don't let us win tonight, cause we've got Beckett in six and anything can happen in game seven.

You let us win tonight, Rays. Now, you've got Beckett in game six. That Texas bastard is going to be amped for this better hope Shields throws a no-no, cause if he doesn't, you get Lester in game seven.

And I promise you, you won't see the game three Lester. And you won't see the game three Garza.

Recap/analysis aside, this is nothing short of amazing from a Sox fan's perspective.

I told my parents watching this game, down 5-0 in the fifth...I'm not ready to stop cheering for this team. Think about these guys who have made a huge impact and weren't with the team for a good portion of the season:

Jason Bay- What more can you say? He's been everything anyone thought he would be in Beantown and more. Is he Manny Ramirez? No...but he wasn't trying to be. And being Jason Bay has worked out pretty well in its own right.

Justin Masterson- This kid didn't pitch above AA before being called up to the Sox during the season. Now, not only is he on the playoff roster, but Terry Francona is throwing him into the fire during some HUGE innings. And except for a performance against Anaheim, has been amazing. Tonight, with two on and one out, he got one of the Rays' most dangerous hitters, Carlos Pena, to ground into the 4-6-3 twin killing to get the Sox to their half of the ninth unscathed. Love this kid's moxie.

Jed Lowrie- I was Julio Lugo's biggest supporter...I wanted him to play and do well. But now, the shortstop position is for this kid and nobody else. No more revolving door of Orlando Cabrera, Edgar Renteria, Alex Gonzalez and Lugo. That's his job and he's been huge in the postseason... just as Scot Shields.

Mark Kotsay- I loved this acquisition during the year. Then hated it when he struggled. But against the Rays, including his clutch double in the eighth to set up Coco's tying single, he's been a guy who, when at the plate, you're confident in. Hopefully he sticks around as a utility guy next season.

As a fan, this win, in the grand scheme of things, means so much more than it should. If they lose, you move on for four months and get ready for spring training. But if they win, especially in this fashion, you...

-Make phone calls to family, hastily recapping the game and asking, "DID THAT JUST HAPPEN?" only to have them ask you the same question in response.

-Send and receive texts to and from friends who aren't even Sox fans and sometimes, not even baseball fans. This has been the case this postseason...people who don't even follow baseball sending messages like "Come on Sox!" and people who follow the Mariners saying "Pedroia walk off and I'm running down regal bare naked." No, I didn't make either of those up.

-Listen to "Dirty Water," "Tessie," "Shipping Up to Boston" and, of course, "Sweet Caroline" over and over, while dancing like a drunk and barefoot Jonathan Papelbon, in your living room with your roommate sleeping down the hall.

-Watch hours and hours of highlights on ESPN, seeing the same Ortiz/Drew homers, Coco single, Drew walkoff time and again and GETTING CHILLS EVERY TIME. This doesn't happen with other teams, does it? The chills are just as much due to the rally as they are seeing the crowd celebrate. I would have given my first born to be there (first two children for good seats).

Finally, and this is going to sound borderline crazy, but when Ortiz homered to cut it to 7-4, I KNEW Sweet Caroline was coming on in a half inning. I texted three people saying "When Sweet Caroline comes on next inning, the rally will officially be on." And as a Sox fan, when there's a truly big moment at that ballpark and that song comes on, with EVERYBODY behind it, you just know what's about to happen. And it happened. The crowd shook Wheeler on the first two batters, cutting the lead to 7-6. Kotsay doubled and the crowd was as alive as ever (note: that isn't a saying, that's fact). Sure enough, Coco's hit was bound to happen.

And the rest is history. Hopefully like the Rays' season come Sunday night.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Dear Manny Ramirez,

Well haven't you had quite the postseason thus far? Two homers in two games against the team most people expected to win the whole darn thing... quite impressive.

You're 4 for 8 in the first two games of the series with 3 RBI's and have had a dramatic impact on a lineup that couldn't hit a ball if Carlos Silva was pitching before you got there. Furthermore, you seem to be completely healthy for the first time in years (it's been so long after watching you in Boston, I didn't think I'd ever see your knees back at 100 percent) and have hustled under your favorite manager, Joe Torre (I'd have bet on your knees coming back to full health before I saw this). Way to be!

Funny story, though. Upon your departure, the Sox got some guy named Jason Bay who played in virtual anonymity in Pittsburgh. This guy had similar stats to yours, but I don't think Red Sox Nation was expecting that this kid could contribute like you down the stretch of the regular season and into the playoffs.

Ah, but he filled your shoes quite nicely, homering in just his second game with the BoSox and continuing to smash the ball like it had a Yankee logo on it throughout the last two months of the season.

But there's no way he could live up to your legacy in the postseason, surely. I mean, he had played zero games in October prior to this fall, whereas you're the all-time leader in the HR category among playoff ballplayers. Surely, he couldn't carry the team you carried to two World Series before quitting on us. Surely, we were left for the dead for the Angels to do away with in the ALDS.

Then again, Manny, this is all he's done in his very first two playoff contests.

Game one: 2-for-4 with a game-winning two run home run in the sixth and a double later in the game.

Game two: 3-for-5 with a three-run shot in the first inning to stake the Sox to a 4-0 lead.

Let's compare the two of you for just a sec to make sure I've got this right.

Batting Average:

Ramirez- .500
Bay- .556

Advantage: Bay

Home Runs:

Ramirez- 2 (solo, solo)
Bay- 2 (2-run, 3-run)

Advantage: Bay

Total Bases:

Ramirez- 10
Bay- 12

Advantage: Bay

SLG percentage:

Ramirez- 1.250
Bay- 1.250 (but in one more AB)

Good luck getting a double or better in your first AB vs. Harden

Advantage: Bay

Anyway, hope you read this between now and the last week of October. Should be fun for you to come home to Boston and have to play in the shadow of our new left fielder, who has outperformed your very good numbers through two games (even against better pitching).

Take care (of that knee),