A nearly limitless supply of runs, a quality start and timely defense moved the Rays to within one win of reaching the World Series with a 13-4 win over the Red Sox in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series on Tuesday night in front of 38,133 at Fenway Park.
"We're really excited now," said Carl Crawford, who went 5-for-5 Tuesday night. "It's right there for us to get. I just hope we can get it."
The Rays won for the 10th time in their last 13 meetings with the Red Sox and they now hold a 3-1 series advantage heading into Wednesday's off-day. Since 1985, the ALCS has produced three four-game sweeps, but in the other 19 series, the winner of Game 4 has advanced to the World Series 14 times. The Rays could move on to the Fall Classic with a win in Game 5 on Thursday night at Fenway Park.
"This team is a surprise," Red Sox DH David Ortiz said. "Everybody is raking in their lineup. Everybody pretty much is locked in. I've been in a lot of playoffs and you don't see that too often. You might see three or four guys hot, you know what I mean? Everybody doing it, that's crazy. Man, taking pitches, swinging at strikes. It doesn't get better than that."
While the Rays are up, they are far from home free. Rays players understand that the Red Sox have come back from being down 3-0 to win the ALCS, in 2004 against the Yankees. And the Fenway faithful were more than happy to remind the Rays about that fact Tuesday night.
"I know one guy kept yelling 'Go ask Derek Jeter, go ask Derek Jeter!'" Crawford said. "I know everyone heard him because he was yelling real loud."
Carlos Pena started the Rays' offense with a two-run homer in the first off Boston starter Tim Wakefield. Evan Longoria followed with a home run to put the Rays up, 3-0.
"He left some up early in that first inning and me and 'Los took advantage of it," Longoria said. "[Wakefield's knuckleball] just wasn't dancing as much as it usually does for him. Like [Jon] Lester yesterday [in Game 3], you know we jumped on him early and took the crowd out of it. That really worked in our favor."
GAME 5: JUST THE FACTS
|Rays starter: LHP Scott Kazmir|
|2008: 12-8, 3.49 ERA|
|2008 on the road: 4-6, 4.10 ERA|
|2008 vs. Red Sox: 0-2, 9.00 ERA (four starts)|
|Career vs. Red Sox: 6-7, 3.62 ERA (21 starts)|
|2008 postseason: 1-0, 6.52 ERA|
|Career postseason: 1-0, 6.52 ERA|
|Red Sox starter: RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka|
|2008: 18-3, 2.90 ERA|
|2008 at home: 9-3, 3.34 ERA|
|2008 vs. Rays: 2-0, 2.05 ERA (four starts)|
|Career vs. Rays: 3-3, 3.27 ERA (nine starts)|
|2008 postseason: 1-0, 2.25 ERA|
|Career postseason: 3-1, 3.98 ERA|
|Rays lead series, 3-1. Out of the 19 AL Championship Series that didn't end in a four-game sweep, the winner of Game 4 has won the series 14 times. One of the exceptions was last year's Red Sox, who overcame a 3-1 series deficit to beat Cleveland three straight times and advance to the World Series.|
|Game 1: Red Sox 2, Rays 0|
|Game 2: Rays 9, Red Sox 8 (11 innings)|
|Game 3: Rays 9, Red Sox 1|
|Game 4: Rays 13, Red Sox 4|
|Did You Know? The Red Sox allowed just two home runs in their first five games this postseason, but the Rays have homered 10 times in the last three games of this series.|
Longoria's blast gave him five for the postseason, which established a record for postseason home runs by a rookie. He surpassed Miguel Cabrera, who hit four home runs in 2003 for the Marlins.
"It really doesn't matter what my stats look like at the end of the day as long as we get that 'W,'" Longoria said.
Willy Aybar added a two-out, two-run homer in the third to push the Rays' lead to 5-0 and chase Wakefield. Aybar finished 4-for-5 with five RBIs.
"For me, it was awesome," said Rays starter Andy Sonnanstine. "Before I even threw the first pitch of the game, I was already off to a 3-0 lead."
Sonnanstine looked composed throughout while picking up the win by holding the Red Sox to three earned runs in 7 1/3 innings.
Sonnanstine "has a lot of deception in his delivery, but what he does really well -- there's a lot of movement in that delivery, and he keeps it intact," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "He throws a ball or two and starts to get out of whack, he gathers himself, stays over the rubber, and he's obviously very confident against us right now. You can tell he feels good about himself, as he should."
Rays manager Joe Maddon complimented Sonnanstine for setting the tone for the Rays.
"[He] really threw strikes," Maddon said. "I always pay attention to the radar gun readings with him. He was a lot of 87, 89 [mph], which was really good. Actually a lot of 88s and 89s.
"When he's pitching at that velocity, there's a bigger disparity between that and his offspeed stuff, and that's when he does really well."
The Rays' defense aided Sonnanstine's cause. After Longoria committed two errors on one play with one out in the second -- the Rays' first two errors of the postseason -- a nifty 4-6-3 double play erased the threat.
In the fifth, Mark Kotsay hit a drive to deep center field that appeared to be extra bases, but B.J. Upton found an extra gear and ran down the drive. In the seventh, he again robbed Kotsay of extra bases when he flagged down another ball in deep center field.
"I don't know, man. It goes up in the air and I try and go get it," Upton said.
Meanwhile, the Rays' offense never seemed content with the number of runs it had on the scoreboard. Aybar singled home a run in the fifth and Pena, Longoria, Crawford, Aybar and Dioner Navarro had RBIs in the sixth to put the game out of reach.
Crawford tripled in the eighth inning to drive in the Rays' 12th run to collect his fifth hit of the game, and Aybar followed with an RBI single to record his fifth RBI of the game to put the Rays up, 13-2.
"Carl and Willy really set the tone for us today," Maddon said. "It's so nice having Carl in the middle of everything, and then of course, Willy is such an unsung part of this group. [He is] very good in RBI situations for us, has had a lot of big hits, and of course, the other guys just having good at-bats.
"We all talk about good at-bats. We are at the point now where we are swinging at strikes. We're not expanding our strike zone, which was one of our hugest goals coming into this Spring Training, and I'm loving that part of it. Right now it's kind of contagious."
So here the Rays sit, perched on the brink of advancing to the World Series after outscoring the Red Sox, 31-13, in the last three games.
The Red Sox series has "gone very well, in my mind a little better than I expected," Longoria said. "The offensive onslaught we've put on the last couple of days has been pretty unbelievable, but we still can't let down. Like I said yesterday, we've seen these guys come back from down 3-1 and even 3-0, so [Thursday] is going to be a big day. I'd like to end it [Thursday] and not have to go home."
While the Rays would love to end it Thursday, they understand the dangers of getting too happy about being one win away from the World Series.
"Obviously, you're going to think about it, but you can't look too much into it. It's still a long series," Upton said. "There's still three games left. They've been in this position before. They know how to handle it. We just can't take it for granted. We've just got to keep doing the same things we've been doing. Playing team baseball, doing the little things and we should be all right."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.