Eventually, the ball was going to find him.
Puzzlingly losing track of a fly ball that swung the momentum of the Tampa Bay Rays’ American League Division Series opener Friday to the Red Sox made Wil Myers an easy target at Fenway Park for Game 2 Saturday night, where a sellout crowd turned his name into a chorus of ridicule.
But through five innings he was quiet, hitless at the plate, untested in right field.
Then Shane Victorino shot a ball his way.
The play was routine. Myers made it without any issues.
He was applauded, sarcastically, as if it were a web gem.
“I was just hoping that he had bowed and tipped his hat when he caught that fly ball,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “I was really hoping that he would have. But he did not.”
Instead, he let a slight grin slip. Even though he wanted to put the Game 1 play behind him as quickly as possible, the humor wasn’t lost on him by any means.
“Honestly, in that situation I just want to try and draw the least amount of attention to myself as possible,” Myers said. “I thought it was kind of funny when they did a cheer, but, like I said, I’m not trying to draw any attention to myself.”
The challenge, with the Rays in a two-games-to-none hole after falling to the Sox, 7-4, in Game 2, is for Myers to restore his confidence level.
After going 0 for 5, the 22-year-old rookie is still hitless in nine at-bats in the series, trying not to press.
At the same time, he’s the butt of a joke that will have legs for as long as the series plays out. Maddon said Myers is handling it well so far.
“Speaking with him, he seems to be fine,” Maddon said. “I’m certain that he is pressing a bit. I would not deny that. But we’re trying to do everything we can to talk to him, and help him through this moment.”
Staying with Young
Maddon’s decision to go with Delmon Young as designated hitter in Game 2 is the latest sign in how far Young has come this season.
“Normally, it would be Matt Joyce over him,” Maddon said. “Just giving you the straight skinny. But right now, I think Delmon is playing at a different level.”
Even with the Red Sox running out three straight righthanders — starting with John Lackey Saturday and moving to Clay Buchholz and Jake Peavy, if a Game 4 is needed — Maddon stuck with Young as his DH on Saturday.
In his second go-round with the Rays, Young hit .258 with three home runs and seven RBIs in 23 games.
Getting back to the team that took him with the No. 1 pick in the 2003 draft was a process. He was traded to Minnesota in November of 2007 before being traded to Detroit in 2011. He started this season with the Phillies but was released Aug. 14. Eight days later, the Rays reached out.
Young has had a track record for postseason success, with eight playoff home runs entering these playoffs.
The homer Young smashed in the third inning of the Rays’ wild-card win over the Cleveland Indians is a large part of the reason Maddon decided to keep him in the lineup, sticking with the hottest bat.
“The thing is that Delmon, right now, I believe that he is kind of locked in,” said Maddon, before Young went 1 for 3 with an RBI Saturday night.
“Delmon’s really demonstrated the ability to come through in key moments at the end of the season. I believe in that, too, beyond numbers. I believe there’s a certain group of people that are able to rally and rise to moments or occasions. And he’s proven that.”
A tough matchup
The two times Buchholz faced the Rays this season, he handcuffed them. In 13 scoreless innings, he allowed five hits while striking out 17.
With that in mind, Maddon doesn’t expect things to change much when Buchholz takes the mound for Game 3 Monday in St. Petersburg.
“Listen, he’s pretty much pitched well against us, period,” Maddon said.
Ahead of the curve
As simple as it sounds, getting ahead early is essential to the Rays’ success. Entering this series they were 63-26 when they scored first.
Even though they’ve put together 36 come-from-behind wins (18 in the last at-bat), they’re most comfortable playing ahead. The Rays were 72-9 when leading after seven innings.
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.