Spin Forward: Blast from past for Rays?
Tampa Bay needs to play small ball against Lester, Sox in Game 7
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Tampa Bay Rays have spent most of this American League Championship Series listening to plaudits for their new-found long-ball success. Individually and collectively, they've smashed baseballs and records.The real Rays, the ones who stood the AL East on its ears most of the summer, create runs, not headlines. They've got one more night to get it right or become the latest flattened by Boston's comeback machine.
Staying in their new mind-set would not be a good idea against the Red Sox's starting pitcher in Sunday night's Game 7. Left-hander Jon Lester was the most frugal Boston hurler in the department of surrendering homers, allowing 16 in 230 innings, including his prior postseason work.Were they playing Home Run Derby, the Rays would have clinched the trophy a while ago, with a 15-9 edge over the Red Sox. The 15 is a new ALCS record, smashing the 12 the Red Sox hit in seven games against the Yankees in 2003. But playing for the pennant, they are tied with Boston, 3-3. Seldom has a deadlocked series felt so lopsided. "We've talked about having speed and power, so it doesn't surprise me," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said about the nightly power show. "B.J. [Upton] is just swinging that good, and so is [Evan Longoria] and Carlos [Pena]." Upton and Jason Bartlett hit homers on Saturday night for both runs in the Rays' 4-2 defeat.
The homer was Upton's seventh in his past 27 postseason at-bats, two fewer than he had hit in 531 regular-season at-bats. Bartlett matched his season total of one in 454 at-bats.
Have the Rays been seduced by the long ball, which all cowbell-ringing chicks dig?"It's definitely true -- we've hit a lot of homers in the playoffs," said Longoria, who has hit six of them. "But I don't think everyone in the dugout is looking at each other expecting to hit home runs. "And I don't feel everyone is going to the plate trying to hit homers." Maybe by accident, the Rays have homered for 28 percent of their 55 ALCS hits (during the regular season, 12 percent of their hits went over the wall). Home runs have accounted for 28 of their 40 runs. "That's the old Devil Rays right there," Maddon said with a smirk when recited that breakdown. "But we've kept doing the other little things, too. We've run the bases pretty good." Dioner Navarro, the catcher and thus slow-footed, on Saturday night became the first Tampa Bay runner thrown out stealing in 10 attempts on an inside hit-and-run pitch that Bartlett couldn't handle.
Carry a big stick
"We'll come back [Sunday] and again play our game," said Upton, whose game has certainly gotten longer in October.
Upton's homer haul isn't totally shocking. He totaled 24 homers last season, his first full one in the Majors, before his swing was reined this summer by a serious shoulder injury.Yet the "our game" to which the center fielder referred had better revert to situational hitting against Lester. The Rays got him in Game 3 in Fenway Park, where homers by both Upton and Longoria ignited a 9-1 victory. It was only the third time in 36 starts, including three in the postseason, that the left-hander allowed multiple homers. "It's not hard to beat a pitcher twice in a short span," Longoria said soon after the Rays had fallen short of doing precisely that against Saturday's starter Josh Beckett. "We'll take the same approach to Lester and try to beat him again."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.