Carrying a 7-0 lead into the seventh inning, Tampa Bay needed just nine outs to earn their first World Series appearance, and it appeared to be on cruise control.
All year long, such a lead by the Rays had insured a win. Entering Game 5, Tampa Bay was 38-0 when it had established an advantage of five or more runs.
But as every baseball fan knows, that record is at 38-1 after the Red Sox scored eight times in the final three innings to take an 8-7 win and force a Game 6 in St. Petersburg on Saturday night at Tropicana Field.
Now the Rays have to deal with disappointment while trying to rebound if they are to advance to the World Series. According to the voices in the Rays' clubhouse, putting a loss behind them -- no matter how devastating -- is just a part of baseball.
"The perception is that yesterday's game was worth five losses," Carlos Pena said. "When in reality, it's just one. ... [What's important] is the way we perceive this, and it's your choice. It's our choice the way we want to perceive it. We can perceive it that it's a loss that's so monumental that we can't even recover from. Or it's just a loss."
Ever the spin doctor, Pena exercised a little finesse when noting, "We've lost before. We didn't go 162-0. We did lose."
Reliever J.P. Howell, who took the defeat Thursday night, said the Rays have to "throw this one out the window."
GAME 6: JUST THE FACTS
|Red Sox starter: RHP Josh Beckett|
|2008: 12-10, 4.03 ERA|
|2008 on the road: 7-5, 2.85 ERA|
|2008 vs. Rays: 2-1, 2.06 ERA (five starts)|
|Career vs. Rays: 5-3, 3.11 ERA (10 starts)|
|2008 ALCS vs. Rays: 0-0, 16.62 ERA (one start)|
|2008 postseason: 0-0, 11.57 ERA|
|Career postseason: 6-2, 2.85 ERA|
|Rays starter: RHP James Shields|
|2008: 14-8, 3.56 ERA|
|2008 at home: 9-2, 2.59 ERA|
|2008 vs. Red Sox: 2-2, 5.85 ERA (four starts)|
|Career vs. Red Sox: 2-4, 5.23 ERA (eight starts)|
|2008 ALCS vs. Red Sox: 0-1, 2.45 ERA (one start)|
|2008 postseason: 1-1, 3.29 ERA|
|Career postseason: 1-1, 3.29 ERA|
|Rays lead series, 3-2. This is the 12th time since the advent of the best-of-seven ALCS in 1985 that one team has held a 3-2 series advantage. Of the previous 11 times, the team with the 3-2 series lead has gone on to win the series seven times.|
|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|
|Game 5: Red Sox 8, Rays 7|
|Did You Know? Tampa Bay suffered its first defeat of the season when establishing a lead of five or more runs. The Rays are now 38-1 in such games this year.|
"They checked us," Howell said. "Their backs were to the wall, and they weren't going to quit."
Howell entered the game in the ninth and said nerves were a part of the equation, particularly when the Fenway faithful became vocal.
"That's the battle, you're controlling yourself," Howell said. "That's the main thing about pitching. You control yourself, and when you're in that moment that's what they're there for, the fans."
Howell said the Rays simply have to give the Red Sox some credit.
"They came back and did a great job," Howell said. "They kept coming and coming and coming. We tried to hold them, but they willed [at win]."
Throughout the season, the message in Tampa Bay's clubhouse has been to take a loss hard or enjoy a win, but a half hour after the game, move on to the next day, which is exactly how the Rays seem to be approaching Thursday night's game.
"You just keep on going, man," Howell said. "Game No. 172 is coming up, and you look forward to playing. This doesn't bug me at all. It makes it more interesting. This is fun and, man, that's a heckuva ballclub over there. I've got all kinds of respect for them."
During the regular season, the Rays disposed of bad experiences such as getting swept twice at Fenway Park, losing seven straight before the All-Star break and dealing with assorted injuries. So there is a confidence that Game 5 can be put in the rearview mirror.
"Oh yes, we've been through this before," Dioner Navarro said. "First time in playoffs, though. ... Of course we're frustrated. We were nine outs away from the World Series, and we blew it. We wanted to finish it off [in Boston], but we fell short. Now we've got to do it at home."
Cliff Floyd said the Rays have dealt with bad things this season, so this is nothing new, but he acknowledged that overcoming a bad occurrence in the postseason is different.
"The magnitude of [the loss] stings as a whole for this team," Floyd said. "But we've got two games to see what we're made of -- see if we go to the World Series in front of our fans."
|Since the ALCS became a best-of-seven series in 1985, six teams have taken a 3-2 edge into Game 6 with the home-field advantage. Three of those teams won Game 6 to advance to the World Series, one lost Game 6 but then won Game 7, and two teams lost both Games 6 and 7 at home.|
|Year||Led||Trailed||Games 6 and 7|
|1985||Tor.||K.C.||Tor. lost both|
|1992||Tor.||Oak.||Tor. won Gm 6|
|1998||NYY||Cle.||NYY won Gm 6|
|2000||NYY||Sea.||NYY won Gm 6|
|2003||NYY||Bos.||NYY lost Gm 6, won Gm 7|
|2004||NYY||Bos.||NYY lost both|
Veteran Gabe Gross called the Rays "by far the most resilient team I've been on."
"Everybody, I think they'd be lying if they said they didn't want to end it at Fenway," Gross said. "But now that it didn't happen, we have two chances to win it in front of a home crowd, and that will be special if we can do it."
Rays manager Joe Maddon felt satisfied Friday that his team had moved on by the time it boarded its charter to head back home.
"Just the way they got on the plane," Maddon said. "Everybody was talking, nobody was overtly quiet. I heard J.P. giggle. So I'm thinking this is good. Carlos gets on, he's talking. Everybody's smiling. [Carl Crawford] sashayed down the aisle. Everything was normal. These guys are good."
And despite the Rays being on the bad side of a historic comeback, Maddon felt confident about his club's chances.
"I know where we've come from and where we are right now, and I have total faith we're going to finish this thing off, I do," Maddon said. "I have a strong belief that we're going to be fine."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less