The Washington Times - October 7, 2008, 12:42AM

By JAY LeBLANC
October 7, 2008

Red Sox 3, Angels 2
Red Sox win series 3-1

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Jed Lowrie singled in Jason Bay with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to lift the Red Sox to a dramatic 3-2 American League Division Series-clinching victory over the Angels last night at Fenway Park. Boston’s win sets up an American League Championship Series showdown between the defending World Series champs and their division rivals from Tampa Bay, who closed out their series with the White Sox with a 6-2 win earlier in the day.

Red Sox starter Jon Lester - who earned the victory in Game 1 of the series - was stellar once again last night, blanking the Angels on four hits in his seven innings of work. The 24-year-old left-hander departed with a 2-0 lead, courtesy of a two-run fifth-inning Red Sox rally against Angels starter John Lackey that was capped by an RBI double by A.L. MVP candidate Dustin Pedroia. However, Lester didn’t factor into the decision after the Boston bullpen allowed the Angels to tie the game in the top of the eighth.

Mark Teixeira started the Angels rally by drawing a two-out walk off Sox lefty Hideki Okajima, who was then pulled in favor of Justin Masterson. The rookie right-hander got two quick strikes on Vladimir Guerrero, but Guerrero managed to work a walk to put runners on first and second for Torii Hunter. Masterson then crossed up Jason Varitek and the ball sailed to the backstop, allowing Teixeira and Guerrero to move up. Hunter followed with a single to right to score both runners and tie the game at two.

After Angels reliever Scot Shields retired the Red Sox in order in the home half of the eighth, Kendry Morales pinch-hit for Juan Rivera and opened the top of the ninth with a double off the Green Monster. Speedster Reggie Willits ran for Morales and advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt by Howie Kendrick. Manny Delcarmen relieved Masterson and Angels manager Mike Scioscia opted for the suicide squeeze, but Erick Aybar whiffed on his bunt attempt and Willits found himself caught halfway between third and home. Varitek chased Willits back toward third base bag and applied the tag just before Willits reached the bag. The ball popped out of Varitek’s glove as his momentum caused him to tumble to the ground, but the umpires ruled that he was in possession of the ball when he tagged Willits.

Shields fanned Game 2 hero J.D. Drew to open the bottom of the ninth. Jason Bay then hit a sinking soft liner to right that landed just out of the reach of the diving Willits and bounced into the stands for a ground-rule double. The next Red Sox hitter, Mark Kotsay, laced a bullet of a line drive down the first base line, but Gold Glover Teixeira made a diving snare for the second out. Lowrie then stepped to the plate and grounded a Shields curveball just past the dive of second baseman Kendrick and into right field. Willits charged the ball and fired to catcher Mike Napoli, but Bay slid home head-first with the winning run before catcher Napoli could apply the tag. The Red Sox charged out of the dugout to mob Bay at home and Lowrie at first as the Fenway crowd went wild.

Boston’s win sets up what promises to be an intense and highly competitive series against Tampa Bay. The teams engaged in a bench-clearing brawl earlier this season that was sparked when the Rays’ James Shields hit Coco Crisp with a pitch, prompting him to charge the mound. These teams didn’t like each other even when the Rays were bad, but now that Tampa Bay has turned the corner, the rivalry has intensified significantly.

Bad blood aside, the teams bring arguably the two best pitching staffs in the American League to the table, and while the Red Sox’ lineup is superior on paper, Tampa’s is dangerous and came through big-time in the team’s first-round matchup against the White Sox. The Rays’ home field advantage in the ALCS could prove to be a major factor, as the Rays took 10 of the teams’ 18 meetings this season but won seven of nine at Tropicana Field and just one of nine at Fenway. The series kicks off Friday night at the Trop, with a likely pitching matchup of Daisuke Matsuzaka for Boston and Shields for Tampa Bay.

 

Rays 6, White Sox 2
Rays win series, 3-1

B.J. Upton slugged solo shots in his first two at bats and Carlos Pena had three hits and knocked in a pair of runs as the Rays finished off the White Sox with a 6-2 victory in Game 4 of the American League Division Series. Right-hander Andy Sonnanstine allowed two runs on three hits over 5 2/3 innings to earn the victory and propel Tampa Bay to the American League Championship Series in the team’s first-ever postseason appearance.

Upton homered to left off White Sox starter Gavin Floyd in the top of the first, and took Floyd deep to center in the third to put the Rays up 2-0. Tampa Bay pushed two more runs across in the fourth. Carl Crawford walked to open the frame and came around to score on a double by Cliff Floyd. White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen pulled the young right-hander after the next batter, Dioner Navarro, smacked an RBI single to right to make it 4-0 Rays.

The White Sox got on the board in the bottom of the fourth when Paul Konerko launched a solo homer to left off Sonnanstine, but the Rays got it back in the top half of the fifth when Pena singled in Akinori Iwamura to make it 5-1 Tampa Bay. It stayed that way until the bottom of the sixth, when Jermaine Dye ended Sonnanstine’s outing with a solo home run to left field to pull the White Sox within three at 5-2.

That’s when the Rays lefty-righty relief combo of J.P. Howell and Grant Balfour took control. Howell allowed one hit in over 1 1/3 scoreless innings and Balfour kept the White Sox off the board for the final two frames while fanning two. Pena singled in Jason Bartlett in the top of the seventh to account for the 6-2 final.

 

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 protected]