Many homers, and pitches, in Game 2
Instant classic tilts in Rays' favor as bullpen battle unfolds
ST. PETERSBURG -- Five hours and 27 minutes elapsed during Saturday's American League Championship Series Game 2, bookending the moments when Scott Kazmir threw the game's first pitch over home plate and B.J. Upton popped its 433rd to end the night at Tropicana Field.
It was an instant classic in every sense of the word, repelled from the realm of the predictable and rapidly venturing into the historic.
The final destination, of course, was Upton's game-winning sacrifice fly in the 11th inning off Mike Timlin, which scored pinch-runner Fernando Perez from third base. Yet it was the course the Red Sox and Rays took that ultimately proved most worthy of celebration.
"It felt like an eternity -- just back and forth," Upton said. "They scored runs, we'd score, they'd score -- it was like that the whole game."
"Nobody said it was going to be easy," said designated hitter Cliff Floyd, who joked that he vaguely recalled playing in the game. "Unfortunately, we didn't want it to be five hours, but it is what it is. The best thing you can do when you play five or six hours is get the win, and we got that."
One night after the two AL East juggernauts combined for a meager two runs and 11 hits in a head-to-head matchup of terrific starting pitching, both clubs drew a couple of bad hands in a game of Texas Fold 'Em.
Dialing long distance
Houston natives Josh Beckett and Kazmir both struggled mightily as power ruled the contest early, marked by the Red Sox and Rays swapping two-run blows in the first inning -- Boston on Jason Bay's double to left field, Tampa Bay on Evan Longoria's slump-busting two-run homer to even the playing field.
"There was a lot going on," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "Both starters seemed to kind of have the same problem. Both teams went about it a little differently, got to the same place in the end, and we're on the road in extra innings. There's no margin for error."
Finally, after 9 1/2 innings of dormancy, the mohawk-sporting, cowbell-clanging Rays faithful had a reason to rise and cheer the revamped brand of baseball that has defined the most improbable of St. Petersburg summers.
"I think that sparked us a little bit, got us fired up," Upton said. "We still knew there was a lot of game to play today, but for him to come back and tie us back up, I think that pretty much kept us in the game."
"I always have the thought process that it's just a matter of time before I come out of a slump," said Longoria, who escaped a 0-for-13 funk. "I think that's the way you've got to be. I knew it was just a matter of time."
Time was something everyone had in abundance. A short drive from the beach and under the comfortable 72-degree conditions -- it's always 72 degrees at the Trop -- the muscle-flexing was just beginning.
"How about it? We've been in those kinds of games often this year," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia ripped a solo home run to open the third inning, and Upton answered in kind to open the bottom half, before Carl Crawford had New England grumbling with a run-scoring hit off Beckett.
Whether Beckett's right oblique was bothering him or not made little difference when Floyd led off the fifth with a long solo homer off the center-field structure -- clearly, Beckett would not be performing as Boston's postseason hero on this evening.
The decibel level, displayed on the right-field video board, approached jackhammer levels at its loudest as Christopher Walken, courtesy of NBC, clamored in an old "Saturday Night Live" skit for "More Cowbell." What the crowd of 34,904 got was more homers.
Pedroia tried his best to make up the difference with another solo shot, and Kevin Youkilis did the same to draw Maddon out to retrieve Kazmir. Jason Bay greeted Grant Balfour rudely with yet another home run, the seventh of the game, which set a new ALCS record.
"This was a pretty intense atmosphere -- a pretty intense game," Upton said. "But this is what we expected. We knew they weren't going to roll over, and we aren't going to roll over, too. We expected this to be pretty tight."
Then, suddenly, home runs were no longer in vogue. But scoring continued -- the Rays responded with three runs of their own to send Beckett to the clubhouse, grumbling about his performance after he had vowed to be "as good as I can be."
Yet with both teams' bullpens knowing that all hands were now on deck as the Red Sox trailed, 8-6, Boston halved its deficit to one run in the sixth, as Youkilis singled to left off Chad Bradford, allowing Pedroia to slide home safely ahead of the throw.
The Red Sox's relievers, thinking of somehow helping to get a 2-0 series lead onto the red-eye shuttle flight to Fenway Park, helped get the game to the eighth inning, where de facto Rays closer Dan Wheeler began duty with the frame already in progress.
With the pesky Pedroia dancing off third base, Wheeler worked the count to 2-0 before uncorking a very wild pitch that sailed to the backstop, with catcher Dioner Navarro bocce-balling a rushed toss in the general vicinity of home plate as Pedroia screamed in.
Game tied, 8-8, in the eighth, and on it went, as the faucets of scoring ran dry. Wheeler was asked to record 10 outs on the Tampa Bay side -- "Truly spectacular," Maddon said -- while Hideki Okajima worked a pair of innings. Justin Masterson got two outs before Francona pulled a playoff move in using his closer, Jonathan Papelbon, for four outs in a tied game on the road.
Even touted rookie lefty David Price, who had gotten his feet wet in Friday's Game 1, was thrown into the deep end after Wheeler ran out of gas, getting the final two outs of the 10th inning for Tampa Bay. Everyone found another gear.
"In these types of games, you're pretty much running off adrenaline," Upton said. "The more tired you get, you think you don't have any more, and you get back out there and it all comes back to you."
With Mike Timlin, 42, on the hill for the Red Sox and bars across the Eastern Seaboard turning the lights up, the end finally appeared near when Navarro worked a leadoff walk.
Ben Zobrist followed with a free pass that led to pitching coach John Farrell's ejection, and after an intentional walk, it was over as Upton popped an 0-2 pitch -- No. 433 -- into the glove of Drew in right field, who threw home offline as the speedy rookie Perez slid in to even up the ALCS at one game apiece.
Maddon said he'd take Perez in a straight-up race over Seabiscuit, but for now, he'd be plenty happy with walk-off win No. 12 at the Trop in '08.
"It doesn't matter how you win games now -- we've just got to win," Longoria said.
With time on their side and no workout scheduled for Fenway Park on Sunday, the Rays opted for the more leisurely travel arrangement, taking off in the morning and spending a little extra time near the ballpark where they compiled baseball's best home record.
The Red Sox, bound for autumnal morning air, glumly wheeled their bags through the concourses of Tropicana Field, stressing that in this lengthy saga, there was indeed a bright side to look upon.
"We could have fallen down and not picked ourselves back up," Red Sox captain Jason Varitek said, "and we were able to. That's a good sign for us. We did a lot of good things. We had a chance."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.