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Top of order looks to turn it around

Top of order looks to turn it around

BOSTON -- Rays starter Matt Garza looked in total control on Monday. The right-hander was confident, persistent and willing to challenge anyone stepping to the plate.

Not exactly an easy task when facing the mighty Red Sox offense.

But by the end of Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, a 9-1 Rays win at Fenway Park, there was little to rejoice about in the hitting department for Boston -- especially when it came to the top of the order.

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Of the first four hitters in the Sox's lineup -- Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Kevin Youkilis -- the crew went a combined 2-for-14 against Tampa Bay pitching on Monday. Both hits came from Pedroia, while Ellsbury and Ortiz again did not produce at the plate.

While there wasn't necessarily worry in the postgame clubhouse, there definitely was a sense of expectation that needed to be met in the upcoming days.

"We've been there before," said Pedroia, who is 5-for-8 in his past two games after beginning the postseason 2-for-20. "We need to play better baseball. No excuses. We've got to play better."

There's no question the team is dominant when Ellsbury is reaching base. Manager Terry Francona consistently stressed that during the regular season, as his rookie outfielder stole 50 bases and placed runners in scoring position.

That's tough to deal with as a pitcher, because any hit or walk could quickly turn into a runner in scoring position. But Ellsbury is hitless in his past four games, and he's just trying to find some open grass in the outfield.

"I thought I took some good swings at the ball today," Ellsbury said. "Unfortunately, I got them in the air. I guess that's the way it goes sometimes. Tonight, we just didn't get some big hits."

Jacoby Ellsbury's 2008 postseason stats
Series
G
AB
R
H
RBI
BB
SO
LOB
HR
BA
ALDS
4
18
2
6
5
2
2
8
0
.333
ALCS
3
14
0
0
1
0
3
4
0
.000
Totals
7
32
2
6
6
2
5
12
0
.188
David Ortiz's 2008 postseason stats
Series
G
AB
R
H
RBI
BB
SO
LOB
HR
BA
ALDS
4
17
1
4
1
3
4
9
0
.235
ALCS
3
10
1
0
0
4
3
5
0
.000
Totals
7
27
2
4
1
7
7
14
0
.148
Ellsbury is 0-for-14 in this series, having not reached base once against the Rays. His overall postseason stats aren't much better, batting .182 with three doubles and seven RBIs against Los Angeles and Tampa Bay.

"I actually thought he was closer tonight, but still, the ball is getting a little deep on him," Francona said. "It's more fighting off some balls instead of driving them, or even when he hits the ball into left field."

It's a whole different story when dealing with Ortiz, who went 0-for-4 on Monday and seems to be getting frustrated with not finding his home run swing -- a staple of his game since coming to Boston in 2003.

Ortiz's last homer came on Sept. 22 against Cleveland, a span of 41 at-bats. It's the fourth time this season he's gone at least 40 at-bats in between blasts, the longest being a 70 at-bat drought from April 2-18.

Ortiz is 0-for-10 in this series, with four walks and one run scored. He has just one RBI this postseason, which came in the first game of the AL Division Series against the Halos.

While Ortiz didn't admit being frustrated during Sunday's workout day at Fenway, his .148 average this postseason seems to dictate a slugger hoping to find that one swing that soars the ball over the fence and eliminates this troublesome slump.

For a guy like Ortiz, one swing might be all it takes.

"I've been around David long enough to know that can change with one swing of the bat," Francona said. "That's part of having guys like David that can change the game around with one swing. The other team still has to respect that even when they're not swinging like they're capable."

Boston discarded the talented Angels in the ALDS without productive numbers from Ellsbury, Pedroia and Ortiz, largely due to the hitting of Youkilis and Jason Bay. That's been the key to this lineup most of the year: When someone isn't getting their normal share of the hits, others pick up the slack.

With Ellsbury and Ortiz still looking to find their niche, that's the mind-set the Sox are taking into a pivotal Game 4 on Tuesday.

"I don't like to pin it on one guy," Bay said. "[Pedroia] wasn't hitting early on and we were still winning. We don't need to score 10 runs to win. Right now, we don't have everyone firing on all cylinders and we've got to pick it up."

Still, with starter Andy Sonnastine taking the hill on Tuesday and the regular four at the top of the Sox's order batting .182 (10-for-55) lifetime against the right-hander, now would be the time to turn the corner and collect base hits.

For this team, that's the mind-set. There's no reason to alter what predominately worked all season long.

"We have one of the best offenses in the game," Pedroia said. "I don't see why we need to hit the panic button and do anything out of the ordinary."

Mark Remme is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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{"content":["ALCS" ] }
{"content":["ALCS" ] }