It is a little premature to go for the kill. But the Rays can seriously damage the Red Sox's designs on a second successive World Series title by building on their 2-1 ALCS lead with Andy Sonnanstine, who will oppose knuckleballer Tim Wakefield at 8:07 p.m. ET.Tampa Bay's 9-1 thrashing in Monday's Game 3 seriously rocked Boston back on its heels. On one October night, the Rays held the Fenway Park upper hand after as many innings (eight) as they had during the entirety of regular-season play. In the Red Sox's clubhouse, there is an unassigned locker under the label "Lost And Found." As of Monday night, it was empty. Still looking. Similarly, next to David Ortiz's locker hung a "Boston Red Sox" decal, upside down. Indeed, the defending World Series champs' world has been inverted. Though doomsayers must proceed with caution: Wasn't it only a year ago that the Red Sox climbed over the Indians out of a 3-1 ALCS hole? "We've been here before," Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia said.
GAME 4: JUST THE FACTS
|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 a best-of-seven ALCS after being tied at a game apiece have gone on to win the series six out of eight times.|
|Game 1: Red Sox 2, Rays 0|
|Game 2: Rays 9, Red Sox 8 (11 innings)|
|Game 3: Rays 9, Red Sox 1|
|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.|
But not with the Rays. To a man, the Red Sox were confident that their postseason pedigree would pull rank and class on the October apprentices. They thought it, even if they couldn't say it.And here are the Red Sox, having to circle the wagons. Yes, it's a little dicey for them. Speaking of which ... if the Red Sox are to hand a tied-again series on Thursday to Game 5 starter Dice-K -- Daisuke Matsuzaka -- Wakefield will have to rebound from his season-long amnesia against the Rays. Previously a 19-3 ruler of Tampa Bay, Wakefield fluttered to an 0-2 record this season against the Rays, lasting only 15 1/3 innings in three starts. So if it were an actual country, Red Sox Nation could qualify for some foreign aid from the administration: Sonnanstine did not allow Boston an earned run in 13 innings during the regular season. Both of the 25-year-old righty's starts against the Red Sox came in the vise of September, including a Sept. 10 masterpiece here in which he hung up seven zeroes in a game that the Rays won in 14 innings. "That helps me a lot -- knowing that I can come in here and do well against the Sox," Sonnanstine said. "So I know in my mind that it can be done. I think it was pretty essential for my confidence." While recent success against Wakefield also gives the Rays' lineup that can-do feeling, they realize that here you're dealing with one of the most unpredictable things in baseball. "When the knuckleball is on, it doesn't matter how much you've gotten to see him," said Rays manager Joe Maddon. "Nobody gets him on any given day." As they have recently, the Rays will again take a right-wing approach to Wakefield. Subscribing to the theory that same-side hitters get a better read on the knuckleball, Tampa Bay's switch-hitters plan to face Wakefield from the right side.
Sonnanstine vs. Red Sox in 2008
An interesting notion, but one not supported by the facts. Wakefield's recent history reveals him to be considerably more successful at retiring right-handed hitters (.218 opponents' average in 2008) than lefties (.243).Among the Rays, Cliff Floyd (1-for-11) and Carlos Pena (4-for-30) indeed have had trouble with the right-hander. Yet other left-handed hitters, such as Akinori Iwamura and Carl Crawford, have handled him superbly. One of the Red Sox's venerable senior citizens, Wakefield is a sentimental favorite to be the man to start a new winning streak for their rotation. Until Jon Lester misfired in Monday's game, Boston starters had won nine consecutive postseason decisions. None of those, you can be certain, came with the Red Sox's lineup pushing across only run.
Just as Maddon tried to discount the Rays' four-homer outburst by underlining Matt Garza's pitching as the bona fide story of Game 3, his counterpart could have pointed to a bone-dry offense as Boston's true culprit, not Lester's pitching.
Wakefield vs. Rays in 2008
Terry Francona doesn't have many pieces at his disposal for juggling. The Rays are more of an all-for-one team, with Gabe Gross, Rocco Baldelli, Willy Aybar and even Fernando Perez serving as key replacement cogs.Even when Francona goes to Coco Crisp, that only nudges Jacoby Ellsbury (0-for-14 in the ALCS) from center to right. And is Francona supposed to sit David Ortiz (homerless in his past 41 at-bats) while waiting for his bat to heat up? "We're one of the best offenses in baseball -- we've shown that all year," Pedroia said. "I don't see why we [would] hit the panic button and start doing things out of the ordinary. We just have to swing the bats better, that's it. I don't necessarily think changing anything [is the answer]." Changing the personnel, Pedroia meant. Because changing the production is essential, or it might become too late to change the Rays' perception.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.