10/20/08 3:01 AM ET
Rays empty 'pen in scoreless eighth
Tampa Bay uses five relievers in escaping Boston threat
By Bryan Hoch / MLB.com
Before a capacity crowd at Tropicana Field, the Rays had navigated past the seventh inning, with no seven-run leads or seven outs to go.
Yet a new set of land mines surfaced in the eighth inning, as manager Joe Maddon steered through rocky terrain in unorthodox fashion and finally came up with the winning combination in the end.
"It's amazing," said right-hander Dan Wheeler, who recorded the first out of the inning. "Maybe we should get him to pick the lottery numbers or something."
The stressful frame, which tied a League Championship Series record with five pitchers, ended with rookie David Price firing a 97-mph fastball past an attempted checked swing by J.D. Drew (the umpire ruled he went around) for the final out. What's more incredible, Maddon and pitching coach Jim Hickey said they had it all planned before the inning began.
"There was that gauntlet we had to get through to get to him," Maddon said. "I was willing to do whatever it took to get through. I told Jimmy an inning in advance, 'This is how it's going to work,' and it worked."
"We decided then and there -- and with some pretty good conviction, too -- that if it came down to it -- as a matter of fact, we talked about J.D. Drew," Hickey said. "And we said, 'Heck, yeah, we'll go to [Price].'"
Holding a 3-1 lead with six outs to go, Tampa Bay sent starter Matt Garza back out for the eighth inning, even though the right-hander's pitch count was quickly rising at the tail end of a superb outing.
"The way that he was going, there was no doubt that we were going to send him back out there despite the high pitch count," Hickey said.
Garza's 118th offering was whacked by Alex Cora off the glove of shortstop Jason Bartlett for an error, opening the door and giving the Red Sox gasps of life once more.
Those who had seen this song and dance back at Fenway Park inched closer to the edges of their seats as Maddon called upon Wheeler as the first man out of a bottomless bullpen, as Hickey had announced and absolutely meant it.
"Everyone was available," Hickey said. "It's all hands on deck, and that was our motto going in there, including [Andy] Sonnanstine and [Scott] Kazmir. We knew we were going to have some one-batter matchups and we might use five, six, seven guys."
Facing Coco Crisp with Cora dancing off first base, Wheeler threw over twice to try to keep the runner honest, while also thinking about inducing a double play to reduce the agita level.
Wheeler's first two pitches sailed outside the zone, but a foul swing and a foul bunt evened the count before Crisp shot the ground ball Wheeler was looking for -- but through the right side of the infield, putting runners at first and second with none out.
Pesky Dustin Pedroia followed and got a meaty 1-1 fastball, but just missed it, lofting it harmlessly to left fielder Carl Crawford for the huge first out of the inning.
"I put a good swing on it," Pedroia said. "I just got under it a little bit. But that's the way the game goes."
"I knew I needed to get an out," Wheeler said. "I had [J.P.] Howell behind me to get [David] Ortiz. We do it as a group."
Maddon next called out left-hander Howell to face Ortiz, memories of Ortiz's Game 6 hit off Howell still fresh in the hurler's mind.
Howell threw Ortiz five breaking balls of the seven pitches he offered before Ortiz grounded a curveball to second base, with Crisp sliding in to break up the double play -- but not attempting to grab the base, for an easy forceout.
"I honestly was trying to remember the battle with Ortiz last night," Howell said. "He got me on the same pitches I was throwing him, but he put a great at-bat on it. I didn't want to change what's gotten me here, so I stuck with a lot of curveballs and was fortunate enough to ground him out."
One big bullet dodged, for now, but there was more to come. Submarine right-hander Chad Bradford was next but fell behind Kevin Youkilis quickly with three balls, before tossing a fat called strike. Youkilis fouled away a pitch to even the count but then took ball four, loading the bases.
Unlike in Game 5, Maddon had no further patience, again springing out of the dugout. With Grant Balfour struggling of late, Maddon did not hesitate to call upon rookie David Price -- all of 23 years old and with a world of potential, but yet unproven on such a daunting stage.
"He told me to be ready, [innings] two through nine, or two through 20, no matter however many innings this game was," Price said. "The guys all kept me loose in the 'pen. They were like, 'Get ready for this situation, because you could be going in right now.' They did an unbelievable job of making the adjustments very simple."
So here Price was, looking at another candidate to extend that curse of the No. 7s -- J.D. Drew, who came through with a big two-run homer and the game-winning hit in Boston back in Game 5 while wearing, you guessed it, uniform No. 7.
But as Maddon said of Price, who made his Major League debut Sept. 14, "He's not supposed to know what he's not supposed to be afraid of."
The corner infielders came over with words of encouragement, and looking on from center field, B.J. Upton said he saw the eye of the tiger in Price.
"You know what? He's the type of guy that lives for those situations," Upton said. "I could see it in his eyes coming in from the 'pen. He wanted an opportunity to prove himself and that's exactly what he did tonight."
"I could see it in his eyes that he was ready," Evan Longoria said. "I said, 'Hey, man, you're made for this situation. Now go out and get it.'"
First pitch, Price zipped an 87 mph slider past Drew for a called strike one, then threw another that Drew waved at for strike two.
A 97 mph fastball whizzed outside for ball one, but Price then reared back and fired another that Drew flinched at for strike three, rung up on a swing that would have barely been sufficient for a pepper game.
The crisis had been averted, and Tropicana Field found a new decibel level as Price leapt off the mound, pumping his fist and unloading a primal scream into his glove -- one that seemed completely appropriate for this announcement: no runs, one hit, one error, three men left on.
"When you punch out someone there with bases loaded, you have a right to be pretty fired up coming off the mound," Hickey said. "He kept his cool between innings and you saw what he did in [finishing off] the ninth inning. That's just incredible."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.