We were caught up in the Rays starting Matt Moore and David Price in Games 1 and 2.
How could the Red Sox, who had been idle for four days while waiting for the Rays to win sudden death games, cope with that 1-2 punch?
The answer: Easy.
Manager John Farrell keeps using the word “relentless” when it comes to the Red Sox offense, and that’s exactly what it’s been for the past two games. A relentless offense against two of the best pitchers in baseball produced 19 runs and 25 hits.
The “close” games these two teams were supposed to play in this series have gone to the Sox, 12-2 and 7-4.
The Red Sox are two games up, heading to St. Petersburg for two games and possibly one in the best-of-five series. It’s hard to picture Clay Buchholz, 12-1 with a 1.74 ERA, losing a game, but while we’re not quite burying the Rays, who have won backs-to-the-wall games for more than a week, they certainly have helped in burying themselves. They’ve pitched lousy, played lousy defense, hit into three double plays, and struck out 17 times.
The Rays have played as if they have never seen Fenway Park before. The left fielders didn’t seem to have an inkling of how to play the Wall. We’ll talk for days about Wil Myers’s horrible miscue in right field that turned the momentum completely in Boston’s favor, almost like the Dave Roberts’s steal did for the Red Sox in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series in 2004.
But what we’ll harp on is the word “relentless.”
The Red Sox have been just that, post Myers’s error. They have made the kid and the Rays pay for it. They have taken that slight opening and pounded base hits and runs down their throats.
The answer to the question of whether the Red Sox would be rusty after their four-day respite between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs was an emphatic “No!”
This is an extremely confident team, bordering on cocky. Why not? They’re that good. They can take two of the best pitchers in baseball and turn them into mush in the most important part of the season. Sure, Rays manager Joe Maddon said he likes Boston at this time of the year and he thinks he’ll be returning for Game 5, but right now that’s wishful thinking.
The Red Sox hit .208 against the Rays in 19 regular-season games, but they have hit .352 against them after two games, with 19 runs, 18 RBIs, 7 walks, 3 steals, a .577 slugging percentage, and a .413 on-base percentage. The Rays, known for their pitching, have a 10.13 ERA in the two losses.
Even the Red Sox hitters were somewhat surprised they were able to attack Price as they did. Jonny Gomes pointed out that the Sox had “six runs on 60 pitches” against Price, which is unheard of. He said “the best you can expect is to get into a 2-1, 3-2 game with him.”
“David Price throws strikes,” catcher David Ross said, “and we were swinging at strikes.”
The Red Sox never allowed Price to get into any kind of a rhythm. They didn’t allow him to get into pitcher’s counts because they attacked him and swung at his strikes. They were aggressive against him. The centerpiece, David Ortiz, hit two home runs. The sparkplug, Jacoby Ellsbury, had three hits and has five in this series.
“Basically [Price’s] stuff is so good and he attacks the zone so much we kind of went away from our normal approach to try to work the count, get the starting pitcher out of the game,” said second baseman Dustin Pedroia, 3 for 8 with three RBIs in the series.
“We had to hit. Ells was on base all night. Vic [Shane Victorino] had a huge hit. The double I hit, I got a 2-0 count because he was throwing balls away in case Ells was going to run, to try to throw him out. I got a good pitch to hit and drove it and drove him in. And then David hits the big home run. We had to swing the bats against him.”
This is the beauty of a veteran team and an experienced lineup.
They think out there. They play a game within the game. Where’s Price’s weakness tonight? Well, it was his fastball.
Hitting coach Greg Colbrunn was talking about all the dialogue that takes place through the game, after every at-bat. It’s a veteran team that deciphers the game and the pitcher as it goes along. While most teams do that to some degree, the Red Sox seem to talk and execute it. They have a knack for figuring out a pitcher’s weakness in that given outing and attacking it.
Sure the Red Sox had some gift hits, two of them by Ellsbury, but they were hits nonetheless. The fact that lefties could hit lefties was also huge. Ellsbury was 3 for 4 with an RBI. Ortiz went 2 for 4 with the two homers. Stephen Drew also had a big triple that drove in a run.
“We’ve been doing that all year [hitting lefties],” said Ortiz. “We’ve put in some good at-bats. We get lefties. The one thing I noticed about [Price] is that his fastball wasn’t like it used to be. He pitched four or five days ago, a complete game. And a complete game to end the season can catch up with you. It wasn’t a bad fastball, but not 96, 98 like he used to. It wasn’t like you normally expect.”
Price threw his fastball in the 94 m.p.h. area, which really isn’t that far off. He threw 26 fastballs, 47 sinkers, 14 changeups, 2 curves, and 13 cutters, according to Brooks Baseball. Ortiz knows if the fastball is off even by a little and the Red Sox made Price pay for it.
“Any time you score seven runs against David Price you’ve had a good night, and that was the case tonight,” Farrell said.
They have had two very good nights. They have beaten the heart of the Rays’ staff, and now they face lesser, but still tough pitchers in Alex Cobb and Jeremy Hellickson in Tampa Bay. But it doesn’t matter whom they face. They have that crazy confidence right now and they feel unbeatable.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.