ALCS: Tampa Bay on the Brink of It All
Sorry Tampa Bay, but I've seen this before.
Here we stand, or sit, depending on your preference, one year later. It was around this time in 2007 that the Cleveland Indians were up on the mighty Boston Red Sox in the ALCS.
A two-game advantage, with their two best pitchers ready to try and put the Red Sox down for the count.
Then something happened.
Now here we are, one year later, and Boston is finding themselves in that oh-so familiar territory of being down in the series by more than one game.
Here am I, trying to coach Tampa Bay and its fanbase through the dangers of this situation. I've been through it one year; let's hope I'm not some sort of curse.
Cleveland didn't look nervous, or play tight. They didn't worry about the pressure or crumble at the fact that they were on the brink of going to the World Series.
No, it was the Red Sox, because it always is the Red Sox. Boston is all too familiar with this situation and what was once their doom is now their specialty.
I wouldn't pay any attention to that if I were the Rays.
Boston has the ability to turn it on in one instant and make this a series. Tampa Bay just needs to play their game.
Their Game Four win was just more of the same in terms of their offense. Not only have they been swinging the bats well, they ran into the pitcher that can be brilliant or be awful.
They got the awful side and took advantage. Terry Francona said there are a lot of skewed career lines when you look at Tim Wakefield. Last night, there weren't many. Every Ray hitter pretty much got into the action.
It was like a barrage of baseballs raining on top of the green monster. Fans didn't know whether to cover their heads or just flat out leave.
The Rays look like a calm bunch at the plate with a focused starter on the mound. Like James Shields and Matt Garza before him, Andy Sonnanstine went out and pitched his game.
We all know by now that James Shields thrives on these moments, so what better guy to have on the mound?
Problem is, Joe Maddon has switched his rotation up, and he'll put a shaky Scott Kazmir on the mound against Boston's most consistent starter, Daisuke Matsuzaka
Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria, who went a combined 0-for-6 against Matsuzaka, have hit four home runs combined in the last three games.
The one hitter to be on the lookout for is Akinori Iwamura, the Rays' leadoff hitter. Matsuzaka has faced Iwamura more than any other hitter in his career. Iwamura has gotten the best of the meetings, with a .375 average.
Boston's hitters have just plain-out not hit, at least not when most of the nation was watching. Francona will probably continue to tweak his lineup to find a spark. Maybe the familiarness with batting around Kazmir in Game Two will flip the switch?
A lot of Boston's heavy hitters, Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz, have struggled in their careers against Kazmir. Ortiz is in an ALCS funk, with just one hit, so things will not get easier for him.
This game is more than just matchups though.
The key for Tampa is to play their game. Don't worry about "Cowboy Up," let's play like idiots, Kevin Millar, the 2004 ALCS, the 2007 ALCS, David Ortiz, the ghost of Babe Ruth, the Cubs, Wade Boggs, Josh Beckett, and certainly not Bartman.
All of that is the past or it simply doesn't matter to these wide-eyed newcomers to the postseason.
Or at least in terms of history goes. The Rays have played with a relaxed confidence, that feeling that tells you they aren't capable of giving up a lead like this one.
Games Two through Four were pretty awesome. They scored a lot or runs and had some great individual pitching performances.
Who cares? It’s a new game and they’ll act like it. They might lose one, Matsuzaka has pitched well this postseason, but what’s the big deal? They are in the position of power right now, and it won't bother this team.
Josh Beckett isn't staring them in the eyes, and he certainly wasn't the pitcher he was last year. Plus, this is the Rays! We are talking about a team who has pretty much defied every odd given to them this year.
Remember when I said I've seen this before?
Well, the Rays haven't. Sometimes it pays to be young and dumb. But a few home runs from Longoria wouldn't hurt the cause either.
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