BOSTON – B.J. Upton, Evan Longoria and the rest of the Tampa Bay Rays have quickly become a playoff monster.
Upton hit a three-run home run and Longoria also homered off a suddenly shaky Jon Lester, then Rocco Baldelli and Carlos Pena cleared the Green Monster later Monday to give the Rays a 9-1 victory over the Boston Red Sox and a 2-1 lead in the A.L. Championship Series.
Matt Garza held Boston scoreless through six innings as Tampa Bay put the defending World Series champions in a postseason hole for the first time since they overcame a 3-1 deficit in last year’s ALCS against Cleveland. Now the Rays right-hander, who thought he was sent to baseball purgatory when he was traded from Minnesota to Tampa Bay last off-season, has brought them within two wins of their first A.L. pennant.
“When I first got traded, yes, there was a doubt. But walking into the clubhouse in spring training, it was like, ‘We could actually pull this thing off,’ ” said Garza, the only Tampa Bay pitcher to lose in the first-round series against the White Sox.
“Everybody was on that one mission, and that was to win. We want to win now. We don’t want to be the team that waits for later, we want to win now,” he added.
Andy Sonnanstine will try to win Game 4 for the Rays when he faces knuckleballer Tim Wakefield in Game 4 of the best-of-seven series tonight.
Fenway Park has batting practice baseballs older than the Rays franchise, and the 37-foot wall that looms over left field is the signature feature of the major leagues’ oldest ballpark.
But Tampa Bay, which climbed past the Yankees and Red Sox in the regular season, treated the Monster like just another old-fashioned obstacle to overcome.
Upton, whose shallow sacrifice fly in the 11th inning won Game 2, hit a three-run homer in the third that sailed completely out of the park. Longoria added a solo shot later in the third – also off Lester, who pitched a no-hitter at Fenway in May and was 11-1 at home this year.
Baldelli added a three-run shot in the eighth and Pena made it 9-1 in the ninth, both off Paul Byrd. A lifetime Ray, Baldelli had never appeared in the postseason; Pena is well-traveled – this is his fifth team, including the Red Sox – but he somehow managed to avoid appearing in a playoff game until arriving in Tampa Bay.
The four homers tied the ALCS record for most home runs in a game, last matched by Boston in Game 2 against Tampa Bay on Saturday.
“Solo home runs are good, but three-run homers mean so much more. It put us up 4-0 and gave us all the confidence in the world,” said Upton, who has five homers in the playoffs after hitting just nine during the regular season. “We feel the sky’s the limit for us all year. To beat (Lester), and to beat him at Fenway, hopefully it’ll have a snowball effect.”
The Rays also hit hard on the basepaths. Carl Crawford bowled over Boston catcher Jason Varitek on a play at the plate. There was no immediate reprisal in a matchup between teams that have tangled in the past.
The Red Sox put two on with nobody out in the seventh to chase Garza, then J.P. Howell gave up a sacrifice fly. Howell pitched two innings and Edwin Jackson closed out the victory.
Lester, who hadn’t allowed an earned run in four previous postseason outings – including last year’s World Series clincher against Colorado – gave up four earned runs on eight hits in 52/3 innings. He gave up an unearned run on Varitek’s passed ball in the second, then caused his own problems in the third.
“I think some people come to expect you to go out there every single day and be a robot and do it,” outfielder Jason Bay said. “Unfortunately, that’s not the case.”
Jason Bartlett singled and Akinori Iwamura doubled off the Monster before Upton hit a towering shot that cleared the wall and the Monster Seats atop it. One out later, Longoria hit his fourth postseason homer, tying a rookie record set by Miguel Cabrera in 2003.
“They come equipped with all the bells and whistles,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “They feel like they belong here, and that’s a big reason why they’ve been able to perform with calm and permit everybody to see how good they are. … Knowing them on a daily basis, it does not surprise me.”
Local journalism is essential.
The journalists of The Spokesman-Review are a part of the community. They live here. They work here. They care. You can help keep local journalism strong right now with your contribution. Thank you.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.