RAYS WIN (11:42, END 9, 3-1 RAYS)
The Tampa Bay Rays are 2008 American League Champions. With a historic start by Matt Garza, some creative bullpen maneuvering by manager Joe Maddon, a lights-out performance by David Price, and a few clutch hits, the Rays toppled Jon Lester and the Boston Red Sox, 3-1, to win Game 7.
Lowrie grounded sharply to Iwamura, who stepped on second and ignited a raucous celebration. Jason Bay slowly walked off, the only Red Sox player on the field.
PRICE K's VARITEK, GETS LOWRIE IN A PINCH (11:39, TOP 9, 3-1 RAYS)
Afte Price pumped Varitek with fastballs, he struck him out with a 2-2, 87-m.p.h. slider.
Jed Lowrie will pinch hit for Cora, representing the tying run and the season's final out.
ONE DOWN, VARITEK HITTING (11:37, TOP 9, 3-1 RAYS)
Kotsay struck out looking at a 95-m.p.h. fastball on the outside half. He barked at the home plate ump. Varitek is up with one out, one on.
BAY WALKS (11:34, TOP 9, 3-1 RAYS)
Great at-bat for Bay. He took a 95-m.p.h. fastball for strike one, then took a ball. After Price fired a 93-m.p.h. at Bay's feet that knocked him down, Bay fouled back a 95-m.p.h. fastball down the pipe. Bay fouled away an 87-m.p.h. slider on the outer half. Bay checked his swing at a 96-m.p.h. fastball just outside. He roped a 96-m.p.h. foul to left. He took a pair of balls to get a walk, bringing Kotsay up as the tying run.
PRICE IN THE NINTH (11:29, END 8, 3-1 RAYS)
Iwamura grounded to Pedroia, Crisp made a sliding catch on a pop by Upton, and Pena struck out looking at an 88-m.p.h. fastball. Great job by Okajima, continuing an awesome postseason for him.
Now we're going to the ninth, potentially the final half-inning of the Red Sox season. David Price, who fanned Drew with the bases loaded to end the eighth, will face Bay, Kotsay, and Varitek, barring any pinch hitters.
DREW LEAVES THEM LOADED (11:22, MID 8, 3-1 RAYS)
Price started Drew with an 87-m.p.h. slider on the outside half, which Drew took for a strike. He fired an identical pitch, which Drew swung through. After a 96-m.p.h. fastball outside for a ball Price threw a 97-m.p.h. fastball, which Drew checked his swing on, but was called out. That was bad for the Sox, but seriously electric stuff from Price, who pumped his fist and howled as he came off.
Before the at-bat, veteran first baseman/team leader Pena said something to Price. The Sox have three outs to continue their 2008 season. That was a fascinating inning.
Okajima is in for Lester.
BASES LOADED, PRICE IN (11:17, TOP 8, 3-1 RAYS)
Bradford threw three straight balls to Youkilis to go 3-0. He got over a 77-m.p.h. sinker, then another that Youkilis fouled away for strike two. On the 3-2 pitch, Bradford threw another sinker inside, and Youkilis checked his swing for ball four.
With Drew coming up, Maddon called on his FIFTH pitcher of the inning, lefthanded phenom David Price. Big spot for a kid who was drafted first overall last year. The Red Sox have won six playoff games this year; Drew had ninth-inning game-winners in two of them.
ANOTHER OUT, A NEW PITCHER (11:11, TOP 8, 3-1 RAYS)
Ortiz took strike one, then fouled off strike two down the first-base line. Ortiz evened the count by looking at two balls. He fouled off an 82-m.p.h. slider. Navarro came out for a brief chat. Ortiz fouled back another slider, this one 81. Ortiz bounced to Iwamura, who threw to second and barely got Crisp, who sped into the base and broke up a possible double play.
Youkilis will now face Chad Bradford, the fourth pitcher of the inning, with Cora on third and Ortiz on first. Is Ortiz fast enough to score on a double, running with two outs?
ONE OUT, HOWELL IN (11:02, TOP 8, 3-1 RAYS)
Pedroia flied high to left field, bringing Ortiz to the plate and Maddon to the mound. He brought in Howell to face Ortiz.
GO-AHEAD RUN AT PLATE (11:00, TOP 8, 3-1 RAYS)
Crisp, after a bunt attempt, rolled a 2-2 pitch through the right side. First and second, no outs, Pedroia up.
LUCK FOR THE SOX, WHEELER ENTERS (10:55, TOP 8, 3-1 RAYS)
Garza faced one batter in the eighth, and induced a routine grounder to Bartlett, a surehanded shortstop. The ball took a normal hop, but Bartlett allowed it to handcuff him, and the ball deflected into center field.
With the tying run on and the top of the Sox lineup coming up, Maddon went with Wheeler, his closer, to face Crisp.
Garza tipped his cap on the way to the dugout. What a performance. Seven-plus, two hits.
GARZA MANS UP (10:50, END 7, 3-1 RAYS)
Well, I should not have assumed Garza was leaving, because he's still in the game. With an extra run to work with, Maddon can gamble and stay away from his shellshocked bullpen. Garza has thrown 116 pitches.
Wheeler and Howell still warming.
BULLPEN ACTION (10:47, BOT 7, 3-1 RAYS)
J.P. Howell and Dan Wheeler are throwing for the Rays, while Hideki Okajima has joined Masterson. Lester retired the next two batters after Aybar's home run.
Now here's a stronger argument for hitting for Varitek: Jacoby Ellsbury was sitting on the bench, and despite his 0 for 20 slump, he's 6 for 13 lifetime against Garza.
INSURANCE FOR THE RAYS (10:43 BOT 7, 3-1 RAYS)
Raise your hand if you thought Willy Aybar would be the offensive hero of Game 7. As it stands now, he is. He just launched a monster home run to left off Lester, a bomb that he admired as it nearly scraped the catwalks. Aybar also started the go-ahead rally with a leadoff double.
A note about Francona staying with Varitek for everyone who wanted Sean Casey: Casey, who has hit only once this postseason and struck out, is 1 for 10 lifetime against Garza. That, seemingly, would have been the worst option possible.
VARITEK STRIKES OUT, STRANDS TYING RUN (10:39, MID 7, 2-1 RAYS)
The decision of Francona to not pinch hit for Varitek will likely be questioned, and his critics received some ammunition when Varitek, the hero of Game 6, struck out on four pitches.
Whatever you thought of the decision, that was one intense at-bat. Garza had thrown 112 pitches when it began. Varitek launched the first pitch foul. He checked his swing at a curve in the dirt for ball one. He fouled a 94-m.p.h. fastball back. And then he flailed at an 85-m.p.h. slider in the dirt, which Navarro smothered and threw to first for the putout.
The Red Sox have six outs to score a run. Garza has thrown 116 pitches, so he's got to be done. Lester still out there, Justin Masterson warming.
KOTSAY FLIES OUT, VARITEK HITS (10:33, TOP 7, 2-1 RAYS)
Kotsay pushed Drew to third, then Francona stuck with Varitek to hit with two outs. See what happens.
SOX RALLYING (10:30, TOP 7, 2-1 RAYS)
Youkilis popped up to Bartlett right behind second base. Drew walked on four pitches, but Joe Maddon stuck with Garza, 106 pitches deep, to face Bay. Garza started him with an 84-m.p.h. slider, which Bay watched for strike one. He tried a fastball, which buzzed in 93 m.p.h., a bit slower than his best, and Bay belted it to left, putting men on first and second with one out.
Maddon came out and conferenced with the whole infield, then surprisingly headed back to the dugout. Garza is now facing Kotsay.
QUICK ONE FOR LESTER (10:25, BOT 6, 2-1 RAYS)
Lester mowed down the Rays with just five pitches in the sixth -- a pop to the infield by Pena, a fly to left by Longoria, and a drive to deep center by Crawford. Lester has thrown 88 pitches total, so a fast inning is quite a boon.
Garza, with 100 pitches under his belt, is out for the seventh. Two relievers, one righthanded (Grant Balfour), one lefty (Trever Miller), are warming in the Rays' bullpen.
A note on Pedroia's caught stealing: Pedroia stole 20 bases this season, and was caught only once, the best rate in the league. So it's rare to see him get nabbed.
GARZA DOMINATING; IS HE TIRING, TOO? (10:19, TOP 6, 2-1 RAYS)
Garza got out of the sixth inning despite a walk to Pedroia thanks to a strike-him-out, throw-him-out double play. Ortiz whiffed on 3-2, and Navarro gunned down Pedroia to make Tropicana Field erupt.
Pedroia has reached base three times; only Ortiz, with a walk in the first, has joined him all game. Pedroia offered a tremendous at-bat with one out. He worked a 2-2 count, then fouled off four straight pitches before watching ball three. He fouled one more off, and then on the 11th pitch of the at-bat, Pedroia watched a 78-m.p.h. curveball in the dirt for a well-earned walk.
The Red Sox are still unable to string anything together, but they are making Garza work -- he ended the inning with his 100th pitch. No action in the Rays bullpen, or the Red Sox as Lester comes out for the sixth.
For the first out, Garza, on a 3-2 count, got Crisp to bounce a weak chopper down the first base line; Garza scampered over and calmly made the play.
LESTER MINIMIZES DAMAGE (10:01, END 5, 2-1 RAYS)
The Rays could have broken open the game, but Lester delivered key pitches when he needed to. Lester struck out Bartlett, then induced a tapper from Iwamura that Lester fielded and could only throw to first, which pushed Baldelli to second and Navarro to third. Up came Upton, perhaps the scariest hitter on Earth at this moment. Lester, sticking to pitching him only inside, jammed him and forced a soft liner that Cora squeezed easily.
The Red Sox, with potentially only 12 outs remaining in their season, need to solve Garza or risk staying home for the World Series.
BULLPEN ACTION (9:56, BOT 5, 2-1 RAYS)
Manny Delcarmen is throwing. Lester has about 80 pitches with no outs in the fifth.
RAYS LEAD (9:54, BOT 5, 2-1 RAYS)
Lester seemed uncharacteristically rattled after the double, throwing three straight balls to Navarro. But he bore down and made the count full before inducing a soft grounder by Navarro. Problem was, it was placed too far in the short-third hole for Cora, who made a backhanded stop, to make an attempt on Navarro at first.
With Navarro aboard with his infield single, Lester started Baldelli with two strikes, and then Baldelli grounded the 0-2 pitch through the left side, scoring Navarro without much resistance from Bay's throw in from left.
The Sox are conferencing at the mound around Lester and pitching coach John Farrell.
LEADOFF DOUBLE FOR AYBAR (9:48, BOT 5, 1-1)
Willy Aybar may have started a go-ahead rally, poking a low pitch into the left field corner for a double. With no outs, he's on second base with Navarro at the plate.
GARZA DEALING (9:44, MID 5, 1-1)
Garza right now looks even more sharp, more dominant, than Lester did earlier. Kotsay popped up to second, Varitek grounded the first pitch he saw to first, and then Garza abused Cora, who looked at a 75-mph curve and an 86-mph slider to strike out on three pitches.
Garza has thrown a fair amount of pitches -- 75 through five -- but this is developing into a pretty classic pitching duel. Not bad for Game 7.
LONGORIA STRANDED (9:37, END 4, 1-1)
Lester struck out Crawford with another blazing, high fastball. The question now: Can Garza continue to keep the Sox locked down? Since the first inning ended, he's been filthy. Will pitching with a tie game change his approach? The bottom of the order is up, so the Rays could grab some substantial momentum.
RAYS TIE IT UP (9:34, BOT 4, 1-1)
Longoria tied the game by slapping a double down the right field line, into the corner, a great piece of hitting with two strikes on a pretty good pitch, low-and-away, by Lester. Drew dug it out and fired to Pedroia, who made a strong relay home. But the ball sailed a bit up the line, allowing Pena to slide in before Varitek's diving attempt at a tag.
Lester had struck out Upton on a 90-mph cutter down and in, the perfect pitch to not allow Upton to extend his arms, the way Upton has been mashing all his home runs this postseason. Pena grounded softly to second for a fielder's choice, Pedroia throwing to Youkilis because of the shift. One batter later, Pena would race around to score.
FIRST HIT FOR RAYS (9:24, TOP 4, 1-0 SOX)
Iwamura broke up Lester's burgeoning no-hit bid, slapping the first pitch of the first inning over Alex Cora's head and into left, an opposite-field single.
BATS SILENT (9:22, MID 4, 1-0 SOX)
Aside from the home run Pedroia hit, Garza is matching Lester pitch for pitch. The Red Sox went down without a hit for the third straight inning. Youkilis chopped to third and Longoria made a running throw, a play eerily similar to the one that started the Game 5 ninth-inning rally. Drew popped to first, and Bay took an awkard swing at a low-and-outside fastball.
We've got one hit so far, and two dominating 24-year-old pitchers.
LESTER KEEPS ROLLING (9:13, END 3, 1-0 SOX)
Once through the order, the Rays still have not had a base runner. This 1-2-3 inning including two strikeouts while Lester routinely reached 95 on the stadium radar.
Lester thought he had Dioner Navarro struck out, holding his follow through and grimmacing at home plate when Navarro looked at a 2-2 curve on the edge of the outside corner. Lester ensured it wouldn't matter when he zipped a 94-mph outside fastball by Navarro with his next pitch. Lester struck out Baldelli on three pitches, the final one a low, 95-mph fastball. Bartlett popped the first pitch he saw to Pedroia at second.
Lester, after needing 20 pitches to get through the first, has thrown just 43 pitches through three.
PEDROIA PLUNKED, STRANDED (9:05, MID 3, 1-0 SOX)
The inning began quietly, Cora flaring to left and Crisp striking out swinging. Garza jumped ahead of Pedroia, 1-2, and then Garza drilled Pedroia directly in his left elbow with a 96-mph fastball. Pedroia howled in pain before he walked to first.
Garza threw a 1-2 slider in the dirt to Ortiz, and Pedroia had picked the perfect pitch to steal on; he made second without a throw. It didn't matter,though, because Garza blazed a high heater past Ortiz for strike three on the next pitch.
LESTER DOMINANT (8:51, END 2, 1-0 SOX)
The second was much faster -- and offered the Rays much less hope -- than the first. Alex Cora retired Evan Longoria after making a slick, backhanded play deep in the shortstop hole. Crawford flailed at a 95-mph fastball outside and above the letters. Aybar weakly grounded to third.
GARZA CALMS (8:44, MID 2, 1-0 SOX)
Against the lower portion of the Sox lineup, Garza looked much better, and perhaps his settled. Either way, he retired the Sox 1-2-3. Bay stuck out looking. Kotsay bounced a ball back through the middle, and Jason Bartlett made a nice play behind second base. Varitek submitted a tough at-bat, fouling off a pair of pitches on 3-2, before looking at a curve for strike three.
LESTER PLOWS THROUGH FIRST (8:33, END 1, 1-0 SOX)
Jon Lester bounced back strong from every subpar start he made this season, and he's off to a fast beginning. Iwamura gounded to Pedroia for the first out. Upton smoked the seventh pitch he saw, a 3-2 fastball, to the warning track in right. Drew backpedalded and the catch, but Upton just destroyed the ball. Lester struck out Pena on a 2-2, 78-mph curveball.
Though Lester retired the side in order, it wasn't exactly an easy inning. He threw 20 pitches total, at least six to each batter.
GARZA SHAKY EARLY (8:21, MID 1, 1-0 SOX)
Garza held the Sox to only Pedroai's solo homer, but he appeared hittable and a bit awed by the moment, except when he ended the inning by striking out J.D. Drew on a curve in the dirt. Ortiz walked following Pedroia's home run, and Youkilis clobbered one the other way, into the right field corner, where Rocco Baldelli made a tough running catch.
PEDROIA GOES DEEP (8:13, TOP 1, 1-0 SOX)
Dustin Pedroia, the potential American League MVP, gave the Red Sox the first run of the night, blasting a 1-1 pitch from Matt Garza over the left field fence, close to the foul pole. The crowd is silent and seemingly devastated.
Coco Crisp had led off with a bunt, which Garza fielded cleanly.