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Dan Shaughnessy

Reaction of Rays is great unknown

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / October 18, 2008
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We all know this isn't the first time the Red Sox have rallied dramatically in an American League Championship Series. They certainly were pinned to the wall against the Yankees in 2004 and the Indians last year.

But there was never a 7-0 deficit in an elimination game. Not in '04 and not last year.

In Red Sox lore, the closest thing to what you witnessed Thursday night was Game 5 in Anaheim in 1986. The Sox trailed in that series, 3-1, and went into the top of the ninth trailing, 5-2. Then Don Baylor and Dave Henderson hit two-run homers and the Sox wound up winning in 11 innings.

Two games remained, but it was already over. The Angels came to Boston and lost twice, 10-4 and 8-1. It was too easy for the Sox. The Angels were already beaten before their plane landed at Logan.

A man ran into Angels outfielder Reggie Jackson at a Back Bay bookstore on the day of Game 7 and asked Reggie how things looked for his team.

"We're gone, man," said Jackson.

Mr. October was right. The Angels rolled over and died in the last two games at Fenway Park. There was never any suspense. For all practical purposes, that series ended when the Sox took it away from the Angels at the end of Game 5.

Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon spent 31 years in the Angels organization and was sitting in Angels Stadium when Baylor and Hendu went deep.

"Everything was going swimmingly, and all of a sudden, the one-handed home run to left-center [Henderson's] and things changed," Maddon said yesterday. "I do remember that. But quite frankly, as I've said before, every situation is unique unto itself and it always depends on how you react."

So, how will the young, wildly talented Rays react to the train wreck that plowed into their champagne party Thursday night at Fenway? It's a fair question. The psychological fallout from Game 5 might be Boston's best weapon at this hour. Earlier this month, it certainly helped the Sox overcome the Angels - who clearly believe they have no chance against Boston in October.

What about the Rays? How will they react?

Think about how this must have felt for the losers. Sox Nation can rightfully celebrate the moment forever (New England's new parlor game yesterday was friends asking friends, "Did you stay up with it, or did you give up and go to bed?"). But what about the Rays? Theirs was a colossal choke, every bit on a par with Dent, Buckner, and Boone.

The Rays were ahead by seven runs with two outs in the bottom of the seventh. And they could have had more in the top of the inning. After B.J. Upton's double off Jonathan Papelbon made it 7-0, the Sox intentionally walked Carlos Peña. Tampa had two aboard and Evan Longoria at the plate. It was a chance to go for a double-digit lead. But superstar-in-the-making Longoria grounded into a double play and Carl Crawford was retired to end the threat. That's when the Red Sox went to work.

Maddon, target of critics for starting Scott Kazmir instead of James Shields, looked great when Kazmir tossed a two-hit shutout for six innings. But he went to his pen too soon. And his three relievers were torched. He didn't send a lefty in to pitch to David Ortiz, and Ortiz burned him with a three-run homer. Terry Francona would have been run up the Pesky Pole for these offenses. (And speaking of Francona, how smart does he look for bringing in Papelbon in the seventh?)

On paper, the Rays are looking good. They are back home where they dominated all season. They have their best two starters, Shields and Matt Garza, tanned, rested, and ready.

"Last night's game was a washout as far as we're concerned," said Shields. "We're still up, 3-2. We're still in good shape. We've got a couple of veteran guys that are keeping us loose, and we're just doing the same thing we've been doing all year long. It hasn't changed."

"To be honest with you, that was one of the best games in LCS history," said Peña. "To be part of it was cool."

Maddon's message to his players: "Don't dwell on it."

Sounds good. But we'll see. The Angels kept telling us that Boston's October dominance was no big deal. Turned out it was a big deal. And the Gene Mauch Angels in 1986 were toast after what happened to them in Game 5. Now we find out if these Rays can bounce back after blowing the biggest postseason lead in 79 years.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

American League Championship Series
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