An Incredible Finish

When the American League Championship Series began I didn’t hold out much hope for a good series. Although the Tampa Bay Rays had the better regular season record, the Boston Red Sox had the momentum and the experience that I felt they would triumph over the series. After Game 1 of that series I felt confident that my prediction was accurate. Then something strange happened. In Game 2 of this series Tampa Bay showed resilience and overcame a miscue by the bullpen to win the game and tie the series. Still, the Red Sox now had home field advantage as they headed back to Boston with their ace Jon Lester on the mound. During the off day between Game 2 and Game 3 I think the consensus was that the Red Sox had the upper hand. The problem was no one told the Rays that.


In Game 3 Tampa Bay starter Matt Garza held the Red Sox hitters to 6 hits and 1 run despite walking three. The Rays bullpen which had looked suspect in Game 2 was lights out in Game 3 allowing only 1 hit in 3 innings of work. Lester on the other hand struggled not getting through the sixth inning allowing 5 runs on 8 hits including 2 home runs. Boston relief pitcher Paul Byrd didn’t fare much better allowing 4 runs on 5 hits in 3 innings of work. The result was a 9-1 win by the visiting Rays.

Game 4 seemed like a continuation of Game 3 with the Rays hitters devouring Boston pitching scoring early and often in a 13-4 rout over the defending World Champions. Knuckleballer Tim Wakefield lasted only 2.2 innings before being lifted. The Red Sox used 5 pitchers this game and only former Diamondback Javier Lopez was able to keep the Rays from scoring. Suddenly the team that had the worst record in baseball just a season ago was one win away from the World Series.

In Game 5 the Tampa Bay Rays built up a 7-0 lead after the first 6 ½ innings. It looked as though they were on the verge of going to their first World Series in franchise history. They roughed up Game 1 winning Matsuzaka for 5 runs and chased him from the game after just 4 innings. But the struggling Tampa Bay bullpen again showed its ugly head allowing 8 runs in the final 2 innings to give the Red Sox a 8-7 win forcing the series back to Tampa Bay.

We were constantly reminded of the Red Sox ability to overcome a series deficit and win. This was never more evident than in Game 6 when Boston got a strong effort from Josh Beckett who allowed 2 runs on 4 hits leaving the game tied 2-2. The Red Sox bullpen showed its dominance by shutting down the Tampa Bay offense not allowing a hit in the final 4 innings of the game. Meanwhile Rays starter James Shields gave up 2 runs in the sixth inning to give Boston a 4-2 win and set up a deciding Game 7.

At this point I would almost have guaranteed a Boston repeat trip to the World Series. They were playing very well and everything seemed to be aligning for them. The Rays on the other hand had given away their best opportunity in Game 5 and I thought with a team this young that would be the difference. Game 7 began validating my assessment. Second baseman Dustin Pedroia hit a home run in the top of the first to give the Red Sox the early lead. The Tampa Bay hitters seemed to be pressing and I began to wonder if that one run may be enough to win this game especially with Jon Lester on the mound.

Tampa Bay showed why they were the American League Eastern Division champions. They scored in the home half of the fourth to tie the game then scored again in the fifth inning to pull ahead. Rays pitcher Matt Garza threw a gem of a game keeping the Red Sox hitters guessing over seven innings of work. Lester settled down and with the exception of a home run in the seventh he had kept the potent Tampa Bay hitters in the ballpark. But the Rays were not to be denied and in perhaps the best game in the history of their franchise they came out victorious to gain a spot in the World Series to face the Philadelphia Phillies.

I sat and watched the fans and the Rays players as they poured out onto the field and I remembered a similar scene seven years ago when the Arizona Diamondbacks had a celebration near the pitcher’s mound after Game 5 against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field. So now the World Series is set in what should be an entertaining series between a team that has never won a world championship versus a team that has won exactly one championship in over 100 years. This truly has been a post season to remember.


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