ALCS: Tampa Bay Haunted by the Ghosts of Fenway
Here we go again!
A lead large enough to pack it in proved to be not large enough.
With nine outs to go, those fabled ghosts of Fenway found a way to haunt the Rays.
It used to be the ghosts of Yankee Stadium, where Boston couldn't go in there and avoid the nightmare. Over the past few years, those ghosts have floated their way over to Fenway, where it seems like they pop up at the most opportune time.
Peter Gammons called David Ortiz one of those ghosts. If that's the case, the Rays are better off calling the Ghostbusters to get rid of him. That would be the last person I'd want haunting my baseball team.
They're alive; they really are alive.
What can you say as a coach, player, fan, follower, supporter, or just flat out Red Sox hater? Tampa, I guess it's official, welcome to the postseason, where the road does inevitably go through Boston.
Upton, Pena, Longoria, ballgame, right? In the first three innings, the Rays seemingly put the ALCS to bed with that continued barrage of long balls. Scott Kazmir was brilliant ,and he could safely, or so it seemed, turn the game over to that reliable bullpen.
Just when you thought you figured it out.
Now you turn to Game Six at Tropicana Field.
Joe Maddon has probably his most daunting task yet. Make the Rays forget about Boston's ghosts, the past, Josh Beckett, and of course all that other stuff I've mentioned already. Forget the Game Five tragedy and move on.
Maddon has done a great job all year, but can he really do it again?
That would be the one and only thing that matters for the Rays. James Shields is on the mound, great. The series is shifting back to Tampa Bay, sweet. None of it really matters if the Rays can't put the past behind them.
You wonder if the off-day let's it soak in and eat away at the psyche of Tampa's young group. Maddon can preach all he wants; there comes a point where it just doesn't click anymore.
If this isn't that point, then it probably will never come, Tampa is a mental monster, and we can witness the birth of the league's best manager.
Balfour, Wheeler, Howell, game back on. The Colorado Rockies rode their bullpen to the World Series in 2007. The Rays have done a lot of the same in 2008. Cleveland's bullpen was stellar up until a point of, the Red Sox.
Momentum is a dangerous part of baseball. Just as quickly as Ortiz's home run sailed into the crowd, momentum shifted, Paplebon came alive and at that point you could feel it. What looked to be a last-ditch foolish move by Terry Francona proved to be another stroke of brilliance.
Does Joe Maddon have a counterpunch? Can he go toe-to-toe with the man who is 8-1 in elimination playoff games? Like I said, it's his toughest task yet.
Shields on the mound for Tampa Bay back at home. He lost the first game of this series but the Rays have to feel incredibly confident with him on the mound. I'm sure they'll take a two-run, seven-inning performance out of him any day of the week.
Then again, a two-hit, six-inning shutout from Kazmir was all for naught.
We haven't even talked about the man on the mound for Boston. All of a sudden, Beckett has become the sideshow, once a great postseason pitcher, now a hurler out of juice. His postseason ERA went from an immortal one-point something something, to a slightly less immortal 2.85.
His 16.62 ERA in this year's ALCS is a far cry from his 1.93 effort in 2007. So, when do we see Josh Beckett?
We certainly won't see a bloody sock or anything like that, but would it shock you to see one more last gasp for one of the greatest postseason pitchers of our era?
It wouldn't shock me, but it also wouldn't shock me to see Tampa completely roll.
In the regular season, Evan Longoria has four hits in 12 at-bats against Josh Beckett. In Game Two of the ALCS he had three hits in five at bats, including three RBI coming off Beckett.
Flip side, in Game One of the ALCS, Kevin Youkilis collected three hits with James Shields on the mound. For his career he had been a woeful 0-for-17 with two walks.
Statistics only take you so far. At least for the Rays, who find themselves trying to "get the devil out" once again.
A team that found themselves separating from one type of ghost is now battling another. He leads a group of others, one with a precisely trimmed beard and armbands up to his elbows. Another has a menacing postseason record, and he inevitably might give way to one with a menacing face and even tougher fastball.
Ortiz, Beckett, Papelbon, series back on.
Get the devil out and call the Ghostbusters.
We're in for a wild ride.
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