Green-lit Rays stopped in their tracks
With permission to swing, opportunities elude club in Game 1
ST. PETERSBURG -- Bases-loaded walks. Exaggerated infield shifts. All season long, Rays manager Joe Maddon has shied away from conventional baseball wisdom and come out a winner.
But Friday night's luck wasn't with Tampa Bay -- it was with Daisuke Matsuzaka, who wriggled himself out of numerous jams starting for the Red Sox in Game 1, which the Rays lost, 2-0, to open the American League Championship Series.
Playing in a franchise-first ALCS, Maddon twice gave the 3-0 green light and both times, his young club was unable to execute timely hitting.
The first instance came with the Rays down 1-0 in the sixth inning, when rookie phenom Evan Longoria dug in with visions of going deep off Matsuzaka. Instead, his ball was easily caught in foul territory by Red Sox right fielder J.D. Drew to end the inning.
Down two runs, two innings later, Carlos Pena tried to tie the game up with a 3-0 swing off reliever Hideki Okajima. Pena hit a grand slam earlier this season on a 3-0 ball, but took Okajima's pitch off the end of the bat for a shallow fly. Longoria grounded into an inning-ending double play to end the frame.
Although Dice-K kept the Rays in fits for seven innings, Tampa Bay squandered several key opportunities and stranded a total of seven runners.
Were the Rays were feeling the heat of their first ALCS game? If they were, they certainly weren't admitting it.
"Its playoff baseball -- anything can happen," Cliff Floyd said. "That guy out there on the mound wants to throw a strike 3-0. We just didn't get a hit ... you can call it anxious or not, but I'll take my chances any time 3-0, with [Longoria and Pena] hitting."
Floyd squandered a key opportunity of his own, grounding out on a 1-0 pitch to end the first inning. The out allowed Dice-K to get out of the frame, despite a trio of walks that left the bases loaded.
"I don't know if they were tight," Red Sox slugger David Ortiz said. "You know, that one situation when you come with men on base and you get that hit or you get that run in that you saw all year round from those guys, 'OK, we're down one run or two runs, we're going to get it done' -- it wasn't out there tonight. I don't think we saw that.
"This is their first time in the playoffs. Those guys, they've been doing a hell of a job this season. This is a totally different feeling."
It certainly was to the sellout crowd at Tropicana Field, who watched the Rays drop just their third home game this season in front of a crowd of more than 30,000.
Despite Ortiz's comments, the Rays weren't ready to concede anything but a proverbial hat-tip to the Red Sox's pitchers.
"He was making pitches," Longoria said of Matsuzuka. "A 3-0 [count], one-run game -- I guessed fastball, like I said, I guessed right. I just didn't put a good swing on it."
Pena said the 3-0 offering from Okajima was the best pitch in his at-bat, and admitted it was frustrating to not execute a timely hit.
"It's one of those gambles you take," he said. "And Joe [Maddon] knows. He came right up to me and said, 'That's exactly what I wanted you to do. I wanted you to take that swing.'"
Pena has delivered several clutch home runs in the past --including a game-winning homer in Fenway Park last month -- and with two runners aboard, Maddon had visions of Pena's big bat coming through again.
"I felt good about it, actually," Maddon said. "It does not matter to him right- or left-handed pitcher. I've done that often with our guys in certain situations, with certain guys."
But Friday night, the ever-scheming Rays skipper's visions came up short, resulting in the club's first home loss this postseason.
"We just didn't get a hit when we had 3-0, that's just the bottom line," Floyd said. "If we get a hit there, we are talking about how great it is, but we didn't and we are probably going to get scrutinized for it. But that's how the game works; we [will] keep it moving."
Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.