ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — To this day, opposing pitchers, especially young ones, are still intimidated by Fenway Park. Matt Moore and David Price will claim until they are blue in the face that’s not the case, after both were shellacked in the first two games of the American League Division Series at Fenway. Both have had success there.
In the old days, the Yankees would avoid using Hall of Famer Whitey Ford (6.16 ERA) at Fenway because he was a lefthander and lefties never had fared well with the Green Monster looming, especially against righthanded hitters.
Detroit manager Jim Leyland thought Doug Fister was intimidated by Fenway in his last start there in September, before the righthander settled in and pitched a very good game. The Red Sox, in turn, used to be completely intimidated by Royals Stadium in the 1970s and ’80s because the turf was fast and the Red Sox were slow. They looked pretty bad when they played there.
Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson was once so frustrated by the bounces and the home runs at Fenway, he said, “They should blow the place up.”
In the first two games of the ALDS, the Rays looked as if they’d never played at Fenway before. They gave up 19 runs on 25 hits. Price was whining that David Ortiz was standing at home plate too long admiring his home runs Saturday night, watching them go out of the ballpark before running. As his manager, Joe Maddon advised Price the day before, keep yourself out of those situations. Don’t give up the home run.
It used to be that Fenway would eat up righthanded hitters because they would alter their swings so they could hit it over the Monster. With more righthanded hitters now hitting to all fields, that does not seem to be an issue anymore. And lefthanded hitters, even opposing ones, often go the other way at Fenway.
That brings us to Monday night’s venue — Tropicana Field.
It might be the most nondescript dome in the major leagues. The ball doesn’t necessarily fly out of the park. There’s no secret to the ceiling, as there used to be at the old Kingdome in Seattle, or the Metrodome in Minnesota.
You never hear anyone say, “Oh my God, I have to pitch at Tropicana.” Really, there’s nothing to it. They have fake grass, but it’s not the slick turf that the cookie-cutter stadiums had in the 1970s. So it’s not fast, per se. It just feels different.
So the Rays certainly feel comfortable there and the Red Sox, who were 6-3 with a 3.64 ERA at the Trop this season, hit only .206 there. But they hit only .208 against the Rays overall in 19 games because Rays pitching was that good in the regular season.
Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz won’t be shaking when he throws his four-seamer, thinking a mistake will end up over the wall.
The Rays played at Fenway 10 games during the regular season, but the last two in the postseason have made it appear as if they’d never seen the place in their lives.
The Rays have been blaming Fenway for their misfortune even though they preface their remarks like Alex Cobb did in his pre-start news conference Sunday.
“I don’t want to take anything away from what Boston did these last two games. They’re a very aggressive offense. They played to the advantages of their home ballpark. There’s a lot of balls hit off the wall that were typical outs here. A lot of balls finding holes for them, a couple of 90-foot doubles they hit,” the Boston-born Cobb said.
Rays hitters can also use the left-field wall. It’s allowed. There’s no “Do Not Hit Wall” signs in the outfield for opposing teams. As far as 90-foot doubles, the Rays are allowed those as well. Fenway has nothing to do with 90-foot doubles. And, oh yeah, those miserable plays the Rays have made on caroms off the wall? Maybe they should practice more. Manny Ramirez played left field at Fenway for gosh sakes.
Cobb went on to say, “I’m not taking away those 19 runs they got, but there’s definitely a different game to be played outside of Fenway Park. The game is played differently in Tropicana than at Fenway.”
OK, we get the fact that high fly balls that go over the Monster potentially could be caught at Tropicana. We know that hard line drives to left at Fenway could be singles off the wall. At Tropicana those hard liners could be home runs.
But again, isn’t it the same for both teams? Fact is, if you want to score 19 runs, just hit the ball where a fielder isn’t positioned and it doesn’t matter what ballpark you play in.
Even Maddon chimed in after Game 2 that the Rays were “out-Fenwayed.” Really? How about they were outplayed.
Red Sox manager John Farrell was asked about Fenway vs. the Trop again on Sunday.
“We’ll run through the nuances of every ballpark as we do,” Farrell said. “So that’s not going to be anything different as far as how we align ourselves for cutoffs and relays, any outfield coverage, or just the fact that it’s a real different surface. Our guys have enough repetition and familiarity with the Trop here, so there’s not going to be a huge change there.”
There you go. The Red Sox have repetition at The Trop. And the Rays have plenty of repetition at Fenway.
“The only challenging aspect of this ballpark is the roof and the time of day the game is played,” Red Sox right fielder Shane Victorino said. “If it’s daylight the roof appears much lighter and there’s a better chance of losing a ball. If it’s dark outside, the ceiling looks darker and the ball is easier to pick up. As far as the grass, that’s fine.”
Certainly, we acknowledge Fenway can be awful for opposing teams with nooks and crannies, and the small left field and big right field.
Farrell admits, “I think Fenway can create some interesting moments. Our lefthanders have the ability to go the other way. They can play the wall, which I think played out in the first two games.
“But regardless of where the balls landed, it comes back to the question earlier on the base-running side of it. Our guys get a good read on it because of our familiarity and number of games played there, and we can be that much more aggressive running the bases after a ball caroms off the wall. And I think we were able to tack on a run or two in the first two games.”
What we know is this, if there’s such a thing as “TropBall,” the Rays need to play it.
The Trop (which has sold out only twice in 2013), may look different to the Rays on Monday night because it might actually be filled with people.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.