Monday, October 13, 2008

Rays Beat Red Sox 9-1 to Take 2-1 Lead in AL Series

B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria hit third-inning home runs as the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Boston Red Sox 9-1 in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series.

Matt Garza took a shutout into the seventh inning at Fenway Park in Boston, while Upton hit a three-run homer and Longoria had a solo shot during the Rays' four-run third inning.

"I just kept attacking their hitters,'' Garza said in a televised interview. "And my guys got to (Red Sox pitcher Jon) Lester early and stayed on him. I was able to keep that dangerous lineup down today.''

Baldelli added a three-run home run in the eighth inning and Carlos Pena had a solo blast in the ninth for Tampa Bay, which has won two straight to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of- seven Major League Baseball playoff series. The defending World Series-champion Red Sox host Game 4 tomorrow.

The AL pennant winner advances to the World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies or Los Angeles Dodgers. The Phillies hold a 2-1 lead in the National League Championship Series, which continues with Game 4 tonight in Los Angeles.

After splitting the first two games of the AL series in Tampa, Florida, the Rays struck first in Boston. Longoria walked to lead off the second inning, advanced to third base on a single and passed ball, and then scored on a groundout.

Third Inning

The AL East-champion Rays opened the third inning with three straight hits off Lester. Jason Bartlett led off with a single, Akinori Iwamura doubled and Upton followed with his major league-leading fifth homer of the playoffs.

They were the first earned runs allowed by Lester since Game 2 of the 2007 ALCS against Cleveland, snapping a streak of 24 2/3 innings. Lester hadn't allowed an earned run in winning his previous two starts this postseason.

Longoria homered to centerfield two batters later to give the Rays a 5-0 lead. It was his fourth homer of the postseason, matching the rookie record set by Miguel Cabrera in 2003.

Lester allowed five runs -- four earned -- and eight hits over 5 2/3 innings to take the loss. The 24-year-old left-hander had been 11-1 in 17 home starts during the regular season and entered the game with a 4-0 record all-time against the Rays.

Lester is the first Red Sox starter to lose in the team's past 14 playoff games. Josh Beckett was tagged for eight runs in 4 1/3 innings in Boston's Game 2 loss, though he didn't factor in the decision as the Rays won 9-8 in 11 innings.

It's the first time in franchise history that Boston has allowed eight or more runs in consecutive playoff games.

Garza scattered six hits and left after issuing a walk to Jason Varitek and a single to Alex Cora to start the seventh inning. J.P. Howell came on in relief and gave up a sacrifice fly to Jacoby Ellsbury before getting Dustin Pedroia to hit into an inning-ending double play.

Baldelli and Pena added homers in the final two innings off Red Sox reliever Paul Byrd. Both homers cleared the ``Green Monster'' left field wall at Fenway Park.

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Jon Lester struggles as Red Sox fall behind Tampa Bay in ALCS

Jon Lester sped through his perfect first inning with just four pitches. Then he gave up four runs in the third.

The ace-in-the-making was the ace in a hole.

Lester and the Boston Red Sox never climbed out of it Monday against Matt Garza, who had gotten second billing in the matchup of emerging pitching stars but earned post-game plaudits for his six-plus innings.

The Tampa Bay Rays beat the Red Sox 9-1 and took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven AL championship series. Lester was simply beaten - badly.

"At times I was effective with everything, but I didn't execute, for the most part, two pitches and they hurt me," Lester said.

B.J. Upton smacked a fastball down the middle of the plate in the third inning for a three-run homer, clearing the Green Monster, the seats behind it and three billboards high above the street. Two batters later, Evan Longoria pounced on a cutter high in the strike zone and hit a solo homer that cleared the 37-foot high wall, with Canadian left-fielder Jason Bay remaining largely in place.

"When you leave pitches out over the middle of the plate like that to good hitters, they're supposed to do what they did," Lester said. "I didn't stay away from a big inning."

And it happened in his own stadium.

Lester was 11-1 at Fenway Park this season, including a no-hitter May 19 against Kansas City, and 16-6 overall with a 3.21 ERA.

But the big left-hander was touched for five runs and eight hits in 5 2-3 innings after pitching 14 innings in his first two post-season games this year without allowing an earned run. That followed 5 2-3 scoreless innings in Game 4 of last year's World Series when the Red Sox completed a sweep of the Colorado Rockies.

"It certainly wasn't his sharpest outing," Boston manager Terry Francona said.

Lester tacked on two more innings without an earned run, giving him a streak of 24 2-3 in the post-season.

The Rays grabbed a 1-0 lead when Longoria scored on Jason Varitek's passed ball in the second, and Lester, at his best when he puts his 95-plus mph fastball in just the right spot, was way off target in the third.

Jason Bartlett led off a with a single, Akinori Iwamura doubled and Upton homered before Lester struck out Carlos Pena for the first out. But Longoria went deep to give Tampa Bay a 5-0 lead.

"Three-run homers are nice to get. We were very fortunate," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "But I have a lot of respect for him. This is one of the better young left-handed pitchers in the league."

Lester allowed four earned runs and two homers in the third, a dramatic drop from his career post-season totals of two earned runs and one homer in 25 2-3 innings through the second inning against the Rays.

"You've got to take advantage of his mistakes," Upton said. "You can't let him get away with it. Today we didn't let him get away with it."

One of Lester's problems was clear: an inability to retire the leadoff hitter.

He retired the leadoff hitter in his first 15 innings this post-season, including two seven-inning stints in the AL division series against the Los Angeles Angels. But the next four leadoff hitters reached base - Longoria on a walk in the second, Bartlett on his single in the third, Dioner Navarro on a single in the fourth and Upton on a single in the fifth.

Lester held the Rays scoreless in the fourth and fifth then retired the first two hitters in the sixth. But after walking Rocco Baldelli, he was replaced by Paul Byrd after 96 pitches.

"He settled in," Varitek said. "We made some (pitch) selection errors. I'll take the blame for that. And they did a good job of hitting"

Lester's struggles came after Josh Beckett, a post-season star until this season, allowed eight runs over 4 1-3 innings in Boston's 9-8 loss in 11 innings that evened the series Saturday night.

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