It was like one of those battles of tempo you see in an NCAA tournament basketball game. The Rays, like the Runnin’ Rebels of old, were all over the bases. They forced throwing errors, stole bases and pressured the Red Sox defense all night. The Red Sox plotted their way through the game, station to station most of the night. Their pitcher held the ball like a four corners point guard sizing up every play. In the end the Sox outlasted the Rays, winning the second game of this four game series, 4-3.
It felt like a playoff matchup with Josh Beckett taking on James Shields. But in a battle of pitching heavyweights, it was the bats that were the story early. Desmond Jennings put Beckett’s injured ankle to the test right away, leading off with a bunt single. After B.J. Upton popped out to Adrian Gonzalez, Evan Longoria lifted a home run over the Green Monster to give the Rays the early two run lead. The Red Sox did their damage without the help of the long ball. Jacoby Ellsbury led off with a double and Dustin Pedroia followed with a single cutting the lead to one. Pedroia moved up to second on a wild pitch and David Ortiz brought him in with a single to tie the game.
The Rays added another run in the third when Evan Longoria singled to right bringing home Jennings from third. Their second lead lasted just as long as their first one did. Pedroia opened the bottom of the third with a single to left and stole second as Adrian Gonzalez struck out. Ortiz then doubled to score Pedroia and tie the game again, 3-3.
Even with all the early offense, both Beckett and Shields made some quality pitches to keep the game from getting away from them. Through two innings Shields had thrown more balls than strikes and allowed at least two base runners in each of the first three innings. In those three innings though, the Red Sox were just three for eleven with runners on base. Other than the home run by Longoria, Beckett similarly navigated his way through trouble. He got two groundouts in the first with a runner in scoring position and got a double play grounder to get out of the third.
Shields, who is 1-8 at Fenway Park in his career, struggled with his control much of the night. It was most evident in the fourth when he made what he would probably say was his worst pitch of the night. In a 1-0 count he hung a changeup right over the heart of the plate and the number nine hitter, Mike Aviles crushed it into the Sports Authority sign atop the Green Monster. That pitch proved to be the difference. Shields fought his way through the game, going seven innings and finishing with four strikeouts. He was able to get out of the seventh when Pedroia lined into a double play with Aviles on third to end the inning.
It wasn’t what the Rays wanted by any means. They were in the game, and had runners on base throughout the night. They had their chances but couldn’t convert often enough to get the win. A sweep is really what they needed coming into this weekend, but I think everyone knew how hard that was going to be. Now, they need quality starts from Jeff Niemann Saturday and David Price Sunday. If they can win those two and take the series, they will be two games back with ten games to play. It would be a tough mountain to climb, especially with seven of those games against the Yankees, but not completely impossible. Split the series though, and the deficit stays at four games. And their chance at the playoffs is most likely gone.