One big win away
The Rays have put on an unbelievable display of offense over the last three games of the American League Championship Series, but the Red Sox aren’t finished yet. Just ask anyone on the 2004 Yankees or the 2007 Indians. On to Tuesday night’s remarkable Game 4:
RAYS 13, RED SOX 4
It’s hard to pick highlight clips of the Rays’ explosion of runs, but Carlos Pena’s first-inning homer set the tone. The quiet first baseman might not be getting the headlines this October like teammates B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria, but he’s been a constant in the heart of the order when he’s been healthy, and he showed why he’s so valuable last night.
Still, you can’t underestimate the importance of pitching, even in a blowout win. Andy Sonnanstine has been another unsung hero for this team, and he shut down Boston hitters all night, making him 2-0 this postseason.
And then there’s the Rays’ defense, which has been fantastic all year and was as slick as ever in Game 4.
But one thing kept gnawing at me at the end of the game, while I was watching a silent Fenway Park empty out onto Yawkey Way.
These are still the Boston Red Sox and this is still the ALCS. The Sox have been here before and the Rays haven’t. The Sox came back from a 3-1 deficit to Cleveland last year and the memorable 3-0 deficit to the Yankees in 2004. The Rays have to keep the pressure on and put them away, because they won’t go down easily.
Do you think the Rays will wrap it up in Boston on Thursday night or send it back to St. Pete?
Let me hear your thoughts.
Putting the pressure on
Two games Monday night and two statements made by the visiting teams, who now lead the Championship Series (the Phillies are up 3-1 on the Dodgers and the Rays are up 2-1 on the Red Sox). Here are some thoughts:
PHILLIES 7, DODGERS 5
It amazes me how the Phillies keep getting the job done without Ryan Howard as their main run-producing source throughout the postseason. Last night the pitching was good enough, but the power game made Dodger Stadium look like Citizens Bank Park. That huge eighth-inning rally with the line-drive, game-tying homer by Shane Victorino and that absolute monster of a game-winner by Matt Stairs showed that this team can almost taste the World Series. A different guy gets it done for them every night.
You can’t take anything away from Manny Ramirez, though. What an October he’s having. It leads me to believe that the Dodgers might have a serious interest in re-signing him, and why not? He might not have had a happy ending in Boston, but it seems like he really fits the Dodgers well and his teammates like playing with him.
RAYS 9, RED SOX 1
The Rays continue to impress me and just about everybody else who didn’t think they’d do much of anything in the American League East this year. Not only did they make their first postseason game in Fenway Park a laugher from the start, but good signs continue to pop up for this club, like B.J. Upton hitting everything in sight out of the ballpark and Matt Garza channeling his emotion in a dominant pitching performance that gave his bullpen some much-needed rest.
Everyone knows it would be silly to count out the Red Sox. They came back from a 3-1 deficit against the Cleveland Indians in last year’s AL Championship Series and they’ve got the knuckleballer, Tim Wakefield, going tonight. He’s tortured Tampa Bay throughout his career.
Let’s hear your predictions and thoughts about tonight, the LCS play moving forward, and how the World Series might set up.
Dodging a bullet
The Dodgers needed to win Sunday’s game in a huge way in their return to Chavez Ravine, and they showed some serious passion and power to get it done and cut the Phillies’ National League Championship Series lead to 2-1. Here are some random thoughts on Game 3:
DODGERS 7, PHILLIES 2
Blake DeWitt’s been a surprising key for the Dodgers at various times this year, and his first hit of the series was the triple that broke it open right away. He has a big-time future but seems comfortable in the here and now.
Hiroki Kuroda might not speak English very well, but he speaks the language of the unwritten code of baseball just fine, apparently. Just ask Shane Victorino.
The importance of a healthy Rafael Furcal can’t be underestimated for this team. If he can continue what he did Sunday at the top of the Dodgers’ order, the boys in blue could run the table in this series.
Today’s a big day, with Derek Lowe pitching on three days of rest for the Dodgers in Game 4 tonight, and Game 3 of the American League Series in the Fenway Park shadows, with Matt Garza pitching for the Rays against Jon Lester of the Red Sox.
How’s everything going to shake down today?
I want your predictions.
The first epic
The 2008 postseason got its first real epic Saturday night. There were so many twists and turns, not to mention home runs, pitchers and pitches, in that 11-inning, five-hour-and-27-minute masterpiece in St. Petersburg d that I almost can’t remember everything that happened. When the dust cleared from Tropicana Field and the uniforms of the Rays and Red Sox, the home team had a victory to knot the American League Championship Series at 1-1 heading up to Boston. Here are some O.G. blog-servations from Game 2:
RAYS 9, RED SOX 8 (11)
* One of the key moments for me was when the Rays replaced a gritty and very extended Dan Wheeler with rookie phenom David Price. The hard-throwing lefty started a little rusty but locked in with his fastball and served notice that he can be a huge weapon as this series evolves.
* The Red Sox have a heck of a Manny replacement in Jason Bay, if you haven’t figured it out already. There’s something about October that brings out the best in certain players, and Bay had waited a long time for a chance to show his stuff on the big stage. He is raking at the right time.
* What more can you say about Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis? The valuable experience of last year’s title run led to MVP-caliber regular seasons from both players, and now they’re the Rays’ pitching staff’s worst nightmares.
* B.J. Upton is getting his power groove on in these playoffs. He’s wiry and strong and has incredible bat speed, and all of a sudden he’s blasting balls out of the park left and right. When he’s squaring them up like he did against the White Sox and on his homer last night, he reminds me of Alfonso Soriano — only with a better batting eye. Scary.
* Jonathan Papelbon’s still unscored upon in postseason baseball. He added to his record-breaking run with more dominant relief work last night. The Rays can only hope they don’t have to see him again.
Needless to say, I can’t wait for Monday afternoon’s Game 3 at Fenway and for Game 3 of the National League Championship Series live from L.A.
Let me know what you thought of last night’s game and of what’s going to happen moving forward.
I want to hear from you.
Pitching and hitting
You always see something you’ve never seen when you watch an October baseball game, and Friday night was no different. Let’s recap Game 1 of the American League Championship Series and Game 2 of the National League Championship Series.
PHILLIES 8, DODGERS 5
Who would have thought that Brett Myers would beat the Dodgers — with his bat? Without his 3-for-3 night and three RBIs, he might have lost that game. Instead, the Phillies head out to Chavez Ravine with a 2-0 lead, only two more wins from the World Series. And they’re doing it without much help from Ryan Howard, who’s due to get hot at any moment now. The Dodgers got a three-run homer from Manny Ramirez. Maybe that’s a sign of things to come for the boys in blue.
RED SOX 2, RAYS 0
Another first took place Friday night — the first October baseball game at Tropicana Field in St. Pete. It was great to see that yard packed to the gills, and for the Red Sox Fans who flew south, it was great to see Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hideki Okajima, Justin Masterson and Jonathan Papelbon shut down the Rays in a 2-0 victory that gave their team the upper hand with a pivotal 1-0 victory on the road. Matsuzaka was the man, as he’s been all year, striking out nine in seven shutout frames and repeatedly getting out of trouble. Offensively, it was Kevin Youkilis’ night, with three hits and the insurance RBI late in the game.
The Rays will try to regroup tonight with Scott Kazmir. I’m looking forward to seeing how this lefty stacks up against one of the best postseason pitchers alive, Boston’s Josh Beckett.
Who do you like in this matchup tonight?
I want to hear all about it.
NLCS drama, Take 1
One game down in the Championship Series round and one incredibly dramatic finish already in the books. I wonder if they’ll all be like that. Probably, right?
PHILLIES 3, DODGERS 2
Just when you thought the Dodgers had Game 1 of the National League Championship Series all sewn up in a nice blue bow, the home team made some noise. You absolutely knew there would be some homers rocketing out of tiny Citizens Bank Park, and the locals didn’t disappoint, with Chase Utley and Pat Burrell doing enough damage to hold serve.
The tone was set with great pitching — Derek Lowe and Cole Hamels locked up in a classic October duel — and great defense. And then Brad Lidge continued his perfect season, nailing down another save.
What will happen tonight in St. Pete? Will it be the Rays or Red Sox getting it started on the right foot in the American League Championship Series?
I want to hear your thoughts about anything and everything related to the Championship Series.
The Rays and Red Sox took care of business Monday night, leaving us with two complete Championship Series and the next step of October — the final act before the World Series.
B.J. Upton set the tone at U.S. Cellular Field with two homers, the second one blasted right into the teeth of that famous Chicago wind, and Andy Sonnanstine and the bullpen did enough for the Rays to clinch.
In Boston, two plays helped the Red Sox close out their fourth American League Championship Series appearance in the last six years. The first was catcher Jason Varitek’s clutch putout of Reggie Willits in the top of the ninth on a botched squeeze bunt attempt by Erick Aybar.
The second was the game-winner off the bat of rookie shortstop Jed Lowrie that sent Fenway into another frenzy.
Now we get to analyze the next round in detail and prepare for what might be 14 games to decide who’s going to meet in the Fall Classic. Here are my first impressions and predictions:
ALCS: BOSTON VS. TAMPA BAY
As October-tested as the Red Sox are, I think the Rays had to be rooting for them last night. Not only does Tampa Bay now get home-field advantage in this series — the Rays, who had the best home record in baseball this season, wouldn’t have had it against the Angels — but they catch a banged-up Sox team, and those injuries are going to show up a lot more in a seven-game set than they would in five. The Rays handled the Sox well this year and have the pitching and defense to more than hang in there against the resilient defending champs. My prediction: Rays in six.
NLCS: LOS ANGELES VS. PHILADELPHIA
Take whatever you thought about the Dodgers before the Manny trade and chuck it out the window along with that leftover pepperoni calzone from Adrian and Phil’s Pizzeria. (Make sure the calzone lands in the dumpster, of course). This is an entirely different Dodgers team that has been galvanized and re-energized with the presence of that huge bat in the middle of the lineup, and their torrid September and sweep of the Cubs in the first round showed that. Nothing against the Phillies, who are loaded offensively and play well at home, but I’ve got to give a big pitching advantage to the boys in blue, and a big pitching advantage usually gets it done this time of year. My prediction: Dodgers in five.
Now it’s your turn. Let me see your predictions for both Series. We’ve got two days to talk it all over.
A loooooong Sunday
I hope you all stayed up late to watch that epic game between the Red Sox and Angels. L.A. finally showed why they had the best record in baseball, breaking their winless streak against the Sox and getting one more shot in Fenway Park as they try to take that American League Division Series back to Anaheim.
Meanwhile, earlier in the day the White Sox did the same thing in their home park. Here’s a quick recap:
WHITE SOX 5, RAYS 3
Rays starter Matt Garza is young, talented and very emotional, and we saw that yesterday. We also saw that the White Sox are no joke. This is a team that won it all only three years ago and a team that’s always tough to beat at home. Monday’s game brings a lot of intrigue, as the Rays need to show they can win on the road when it counts. We all know how good they are at the Trop, but can they bring it at the Cell? And the White Sox, well, they’re just trying to stay alive. And they’re good at that.
ANGELS 5, RED SOX 4 (12)
Wow. What else can you say? There was so much going on that you could write a whole blog about this game alone. This series just got a lot more interesting, too. The Red Sox look banged up, with J.D. Drew, Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell all playing hurt, but that 2-1 series lead and another game at Fenway make them seem a lot healthier in a hurry. The Angels just want to win one and get another shot at home. A rested and revenge-minded John Lackey should help.
How are your predictions turning out? What will the AL Championship Series look like?
Tell me what you think.
Heart of a champion
The Red Sox continue to show why they’ve won two of the last four World Series titles. They flat-out know how to get it done in October, and if you didn’t believe they could win it all this year, all you had to do was watch them last night. On to Friday’s games…
RED SOX 7, ANGELS 5
The guy they got for Manny, Jason Bay, puts them on top right away with an early homer, and then J.D. Drew breaks a tie with a two-run blast off K-Rod in the ninth! In other words, the Red Sox can taste another title, and going up 2-0 on the road against the team with the best record in baseball is pretty impressive in my book. The Angels have to be wondering what’s going on, losing their Major League-record 11th straight October game against the Sox. Fenway and a possible early clincher awaits …
RAYS 6, WHITE SOX 2
The tone-setting homer by Akinori Iwamura, the lockdown bullpen, the late insurance runs. It was a textbook October victory for the hometown Rays at the Trop, leading them to another 2-0 series lead heading back to Chicago. Can you believe how poised this young team seems? It’s like they’ve been playing in the postseason for years.
The weekend will be wild, with all four series possibly ending early in sweeps. Let me know who you think will get it done right away and who you think has the goods to pull off a stunner and take three straight.
You know I’ll be watching.
Thursday’s Division Series games once again blew my mind. You want October amazement? You got it yesterday, big-time. Let’s recap the games.
DODGERS 10, CUBS 3
I don’t remember the last time I heard Wrigley Field so quiet, and for long-suffering Cubs fans, this was a tough one to swallow. The Dodgers offense has come to play, and for the second straight night, they got great pitching, too. In Game 2, it was Chad Billingsley dealing. But enough about the Dodgers. What about the Cubbies? The best record in the National League and they lose two in a row at home? Unreal. But remember, folks. Strange things happen in October. The Yankees went down 2-0 at home in 2001 and came back and beat the A’s in their Division Series. It can happen.
PHILLIES 5, BREWERS 2
This one was all about Shane Victorino’s grand slam, and maybe about a team finally finding its postseason groove after getting swept in the first round last year. The Phils left for Milwaukee on a serious high point and can you blame them? They did something that hardly anyone could do down the stretch — beat CC Sabathia — and now have huge numbers in their favor. Teams with a 2-0 lead in NL Division Series have won their last 16.
RAYS 6, WHITE SOX 4
And how about those Rays? Experts claimed they didn’t have enough talent to make it to October, and they shot that down. Critics said they didn’t have the experience to make it all the way through October. Well, maybe they don’t, but they certainly didn’t look intimidated yesterday in improving their league-best home record. And who did a huge portion of the damage? The probable AL Rookie of the Year, Evan Longoria, who looked about as ready for the postseason as anyone ever has in his first crack at it.
It’s starting to get crazy in these series, and I’m watching every inning. Now I want to hear from you. What was your favorite Thursday moment? Did any team make a major statement? Will the Cubs rally? How far can the Rays go?
I’m all ears.