"Don't be deceived -- he's very good," Rays manager Joe Maddon said of Lester after his club pounded the Red Sox starter's pitches for four earned runs over 5 2/3 innings. "We just had a relatively good night. We had some good at-bats at crucial moments."
The stats back up the skipper. Over the second- and third-inning stretch that decided this game, Lester actually struck out four of the 10 batters he faced. Yet of the six Lester pitches the Rays put in play in that span, five of them went for base hits. Two left the field, and another hit high off the Green Monster.
The Rays' game plan against Lester worked.
"We made him throw a couple more balls over the plate that obviously he didn't want to," Upton said.
But, as Longoria also suggested, "It might be that we're getting good pitches to hit and we're not missing them."
In Upton's case, his good pitch cleared the Monster and left the stadium entirely. In Longoria's case two batters later, his shot landed in the record books.
Most homers in one postseason
After getting a head start with a two-homer debut to start the AL Division Series against the White Sox, Longoria has homered in the last two games of this ALCS. The latest came off of a two-strike cutter from Lester.
It's the same pitch that Lester usually can unleash to dominate hitters, but Longoria didn't see it working with its usual bite on this night.
"He's usually able to throw that cutter underneath the hands pretty consistently," Longoria said. "The two balls that me and B.J. hit out were kind of just backup cutters that just went over the middle of the plate."
The game plan had been to watch out for that pitch and make Lester beat them with something else. But not only was Lester never able to establish the cutter in the first place, he left it over the plate.
"From the beginning, he wasn't able to establish that pitch," Longoria said. "And when you don't establish it, as a hitter, you don't really have to worry about it. He didn't throw one for a strike on me, except for the one that I hit out. And I don't think he threw many, except to the lefties, that were for strikes."
|Courtesy of SABR|
"B.J.'s was big," Maddon said. "You have second and third, nobody out, you're looking even a ground ball to second base right there, but the way this guy pitches, he did the appropriate thing and just tried to hit right there, and obviously the three-run homer is a nice result."
It was Upton's fifth homer of the playoffs, and it kept him climbing up the leaderboard for home runs in a single postseason. Barry Bonds and Carlos Beltran share the mark with eight each, Bonds in 2002 and Beltran in '04.
Even if Tampa Bay somehow doesn't win another game, Upton has at least three more games to close in on that mark. The way the Rays are hitting, they could have a lot more than that coming their way.
If Upton has many more homers, though, he'll als obe closing in on his regular-season total of nine home runs. Considering the distances he's reaching on some of his shots, it's hard to explain.
"You can't," Upton said. "They're perfect swings, and they happen every once in a while. That's what's going on right now."
They're perfect swings coming off the right pitches. They laid off Lester's good cutters and punished the bad ones. And they're forcing the Red Sox into a tough position.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.