Red Sox 8, Rays 7
Rays lead series 3-2
J.D. Drew laced a J.P. Howell offering over the head of Rays right fielder Gabe Gross with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to drive home Kevin Youkilis with the winning run and complete one of the most remarkable comebacks in postseason history as the Red Sox staved off elimination with an 8-7 victory in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series. The Red Sox came to bat trailing 7-0 in the bottom of the seventh but tallied four in that frame and three in the eighth before pushing the winning run across in dramatic fashion in the ninth.
The seven-run deficit Boston overcame was the largest since the Philadelphia Athletics dug themselves out of an eight-run hole to take Game 4 of the 1929 World Series against the Chicago Cubs. Boston’s win sends the series back to Tropicana Field, where right-hander Josh Beckett - who is 7-0 with a 2.85 ERA during his postseason career but allowed eight earned runs in 4 1/3 innings in his Game 2 no-decision - will face off against Tampa Bay’s James Shields Saturday night in Game 6.
The Rays jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first against Red Sox starter and Game 1 winner Daisuke Matsuzaka. After Akinori Iwamura led off with a single, B.J. Upton - who hit just nine home runs during the regular season - launched his sixth longball of the postseason over Fenway Park’s famed Green Monster. Tampa Bay’s series-long power surge continued in the third inning. Upton singled to center with one out, and Carlos Pena followed with a line shot that snuck just inside Pesky’s Pole to put the Rays up 4-0. They extended their lead to 5-0 when the next hitter, Evan Longoria, matched Upton by depositing his sixth homer of the playoffs into the Monster Seats.
Matsuzaka lasted just one more inning and left with a disappointing line of five runs on five hits and a pair of walks in four innings pitched. Left-hander Hideki Okajima kept the Rays off the board in the fifth and sixth innings before departing in favor of righty Manny Delcarmen to open the seventh. After Delcarmen walked the first two Tampa Bay hitters, Jason Bartlett and Iwamura, Red Sox manager Terry Francona summoned closer Jonathan Papelbon from the bullpen in hopes of keeping the game from getting out of hand. However, Bartlett and Iwamura pulled off a double steal to advance to third and second respectively and then came home on a double off the Green Monster by Upton to put the Rays up 7-0.
On the other side, Kazmir cruised through the first six frames, allowing just two hits while fanning seven. But with the lefty fireballer’s pitch count at 111, Joe Maddon opted for right-handed reliever Grant Balfour to open the seventh. Jed Lowrie greeted him with a double to right, but Balfour got the next two Red Sox hitters, Jason Varitek and Mark Kotsay, to fly out. Coco Crisp extended the inning with a single to left-center that pushed Lowrie to third. Dustin Pedroia worked the count full and then dropped a single in front of Rays right fielder Gross to score Lowrie with the first Sox run and get the Fenway crowd excited for the first time since the first pitch. With the fans on their feet, David Ortiz stepped up and crushed a 1-0 offering from Balfour into the seats in right to pull the Sox within three at 7-4. Dan Wheeler came on and retired Youkilis on a fly ball to right, but the momentum had clearly shifted.
Papelbon came back out for the eighth and retired the Rays in order, fanning two in the process. Wheeler also stayed in the game and opened the bottom of the eighth with a four-pitch walk to Jason Bay. Drew stepped to the plate, took a fastball for a strike, and then blasted Wheeler’s next offering into the right field stands to pull the Red Sox within a single run at 7-6 as the Fenway crowd went wild. Wheeler bounced back from the gopher ball to retire Lowrie on a fly ball to left, and followed by fanning Sean Casey, who had pinch-hit for Varitek. Kotsay reignited the Fenway crowd by driving a 2-0 offering deep to left-center and just out of the reach of the speedy Upton for a double. Wheeler and Crisp then engaged in a battle of wills that ended with the Red Sox center fielder lining Wheeler’s 10th pitch of the at bat to right. As Kotsay raced around with the tying run, the Rays cut the ball off and tagged out Crisp as he slid into second - a trade-off the re-energized Red Sox were more than happy to make.
With Papelbon well above his usual pitch count at 38, Francona handed the ball to rookie righty Justin Masterson for the ninth. No. 9 hitter Bartlett led off with a single to left-center, but Masterson got Iwamura to fly to left for the first out. Distracted somewhat by the presence of the speedy Bartlett at first, the slide-stepping Masterson walked the dangerous Upton on five pitches to put runners on first and second with one out for Pena. The left-handed hitting slugger had incredibly grounded into just two double plays all season, but grounded a 1-0 offering right at Red Sox second baseman Pedroia, who tossed it to the shortstop Lowrie covering second. Lowrie completed the double play with a strike to first baseman Kotsay to keep the score tied at seven heading into the home half of the ninth.
Maddon went to arguably his most reliable reliever in the bottom of the ninth. Left-hander J.P. Howell posted a 2.22 ERA in 64 regular season appearances, and looked the part as he got the two most dangerous Boston hitters, Pedroia and Ortiz, to ground out to third and strike out respectively. With two outs and nobody on, Youkilis worked the count full before dribbling Howell’s 10th pitch of the at bat toward Rays third baseman Longoria. The All-Star rookie made a great pickup, but his attempt to throw on the run short-hopped first baseman Pena and bounded into the stands. Youkilis, who was credited with an infield single, advanced to second on the throwing error. Maddon ordered an intentional walk of Bay in order to set-up a lefty-lefty matchup between Howell and Drew. Howell fell behind 3-0 before grooving an 80-mile per hour changeup over the heart of the plate to make it 3-1. Drew laced his next offering just over the outstretched glove of retreating right fielder Gross to score Youkilis with the winning run. The Fenway crowd partied like the Sox had just won the World Series as the players raced out of the dugout and celebrated in similar fashion on the infield.
The Red Sox’ historic rally puts the momentum back on their side as the series shifts back to St. Petersburg. They’re still trailing three games to two and have taken just two of 10 from the Rays at Tropicana Field this season, but many Red Sox players have first-hand recollections of Boston’s unprecedented comeback against the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS, when they went down in the series 3-0 before taking the next four. Boston will need a big outing from Beckett, who is battling injuries and has pitched poorly so far this October. The Rays’ key hitters continued to swing hot bats in Game 5 and the reliable Shields will make the start, but many of the core components of the Rays’ bullpen choked in the crushing defeat and will need to forget about those failures quickly if Tampa Bay is to rebound in Game 6. First pitch is scheduled for 8:07 p.m. EST.
Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times and mayor of the National Pastime web community. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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