BOSTON -- If ever a game shouldn't have been played, Game 3 of the American League Championship Series was it, according to the experts.
No way were the Rays supposed to win this one.
Jon Lester was the starter for the Red Sox and had not allowed an earned run in the postseason since Game 2 of last year's ALCS. Alas, Monday night validated an old cliché that says, "That's why they play the games."
The Rays jumped on Lester early and added further damage against his replacement while the "other" pitcher, Matt Garza, gave the Rays a quality start en route to a 9-1 win at Fenway Park.
The Rays took a 2-1 advantage in the series -- thanks in large part to two big homers over the famed Green Monster in left field -- and from an historical perspective, they greatly enhanced their chances of winning the series. In best-of-seven ALCS history, if the road team wins Game 3 after the series was tied at 1-1, that team has won the series six out of eight times.
"It's one game," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "Regardless of if we won or lost tonight, I would have talked about the same thing, because I believe it. Because it is about one game at a time and I know they believe that. And I think we've learned that lesson this year also.
"It's all about starting pitching tomorrow night. They're going to come out loaded for bear. And we have to play another good game tomorrow night. There's nothing to be taken for granted right now. It's one game."
B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria provided the initial Rays fireworks with home runs in the third inning of a game they already led, 1-0. Rocco Baldelli and Carlos Pena later added the final blows.
ALCS Game 3 road success a key indicator
The Rays became the ninth team to win Game 3 of a best-of-seven ALCS on the road after entering the game tied 1-1 in the series. Six of the previous eight teams advanced to the World Series.
Won G3 on road
G3 home team
ALCS-winning teams shown in bold.
Upton's homer might have been the most critical hit of the night coming after Jason Bartlett and Akinori Iwamura had set the table with a single and a double, respectively. Upton connected on a 2-1 pitch from Lester, sending a drive soaring over the Green Monster for a three-run homer that gave the Rays a 4-0 lead. The runs ended Lester's streak of 24 2/3 consecutive postseason innings without allowing an earned run.
"I think it definitely gave us some momentum," Upton said. "Solo home runs are good, but a three-run homer, and we got that run early, so that put us up 4-0 and gave us all the confidence in the world."
Upton hit nine home runs in 531 at-bats during the regular season and followed with five home runs in his first 28 postseason at-bats, two in the ALCS and three in the AL Division Series. Upton just smiled when asked to explain how that happens.
"I can't," Upton said. "They're perfect swings and they happen every once in a while. That's what's happening right now."
One out after Upton's shot, Longoria hit a 2-2 Lester offering over the Monster to put the Rays up, 5-0. Longoria's home run was his second of the ALCS and fourth of the postseason. The four home runs tied Longoria with Miguel Cabrera for the most home runs in the postseason by a rookie. Cabrera hit four during the 2003 postseason for the Marlins.
"We knew it was going to be a pitcher's duel," Longoria said. "Fortunately, [Lester] made a couple of mistakes early and we were able to capitalize on those."
Specifically, Longoria said Lester left the ball up in the zone.
GAME 4: JUST THE FACTS
Fenway Park, Tuesday, 8:07 p.m. ET
Rays starter: RHP Andy Sonnanstine
2008: 13-9, 4.38 ERA
2008 on the road: 6-5, 4.35 ERA
2008 vs. Red Sox: 0-0, 0.00 ERA (two starts)
Career vs. Red Sox: 1-1, 5.40 ERA (six starts)
2008 postseason: 1-0, 3.18 ERA
Career postseason: 1-0, 3.18 ERA
Red Sox starter: RHP Tim Wakefield
2008: 10-11, 4.13 ERA
2008 at home: 7-4, 3.10 ERA
2008 vs. Rays: 0-2, 5.87 ERA (three starts)
Career vs. Rays: 19-5, 3.32 ERA (41 games, 31 starts)
2008 postseason: First appearance
Career postseason: 5-6, 6.36 ERA
Rays lead series, 2-1. Road teams that win Game 3 of an ALCS after being tied at a game apiece have gone on to win a best-of-seven series six out of eight times.
Did You Know? The Red Sox dropped Game 3 to fall behind in a best-of-seven ALCS and came back to win twice -- in 1986 over the Angels, then last year against Cleveland.
"He's normally able to bury that 91-, 92-mph cutter under a righty's hands," Longoria said. "The ball that he threw to B.J. and the ball that I hit out were pretty much the same pitch. Cutters that didn't really cut, they just stayed out over the middle of the plate. You've got to hit those, especially against a guy like him."
Rays hitters did not want to let Lester get into a rhythm.
"We didn't want him to start burying that cutter and throwing the changeup and the two-seamer away, allowing him to get ahead in the count," Longoria said.
Garza started for the Rays and held the Red Sox scoreless for six innings before getting into trouble in the seventh, when he issued a leadoff walk to Jason Varitek and Alex Cora followed with a single. J.P. Howell took over for Garza and Jacoby Ellsbury hit a sacrifice fly to score Varitek, but the Rays escaped further damage when Dustin Pedroia grounded into an inning-ending double play.
"My job wasn't to pitch against Lester," Garza said. "My job was to face nine hitters in that lineup and that was it.
"I came up with a game plan, and it was what I did tonight. [I needed to] make them hit my fastball, make them beat my best pitch."
Garza made a strong impression on Red Sox manager Terry Francona.
"He was throwing his fastball at times by us, and that breaking ball at times that you had to respect," Francona said. "So that was a tough combination for us, I think one that we couldn't overcome."
Any hopes the Red Sox had of mounting a comeback were put to rest by Baldelli, who hit a three-run homer off Paul Byrd in the top of the eighth. Pena added a solo shot off Byrd in the ninth.
Baldelli grew up a Red Sox fan in nearby Woonsocket, R.I., so he always has plenty of family and friends in the stands when he plays in Boston.
"I think pretty much most of them will say, 'Congratulations' and 'Nice job,' but still be disappointed that the Red Sox lost," Baldelli said. "That's kind of how it goes."
So the Rays will go to Game 4 with a 2-1 lead, and despite the lopsided score Monday night, the Rays felt like they stole one by coming away with a win in Game 3.
"It's huge," Longoria said. "I think in our minds, we wanted to steal one out of here [in Boston]. I don't like to give anybody too much credit, but we didn't think it was going to be this one. At least I didn't, from the way [Lester has] pitched in previous starts. He feeds of the energy at this ballpark and we were able to suck the energy out from the get-go."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.