The Boston Red Sox did all that they could to try and pull out a victory Monday night, but the Tampa Bay Rays were able to hang on and capture a 5-4 victory in the first game of three in a series which features the top two teams in the AL East.
Tampa led the game 5-2 entering the 9th inning and sent out closer Troy Percival to try and finish the Sox off. Percival was able to strike out Manny Ramirez for the first out of the inning but then allowed three consecutive hits. Mike Lowell doubled to get things started. Kevin Youkilis then singled to put runners at the corners with only one out. Up next, Brandon Moss doubled to deep right, scoring Lowell and moving Youkilis up to third.
Jason Varitek just got under a Percival change up but the fly ball was deep enough to drive in Youkilis from third on a sacrifice fly. With the score now at 5-4, Rays manager Joe Madden had seen enough from his closer and called for J.P. Howell from the bullpen to record the final out. Madden and Percival exchanged words as the closer was not happy to be replaced in the middle of the inning.
“Percy was very upset, and I knew he was going to be very upset. He and I go way back, and everything’s going to be fine between he and I,” Maddon said. “He’s been (closing games) for years and I know he wants to be the last man standing, but I have to do what I believe is right at that particular moment.”
Howell came on to face Julio Lugo who was able to stretch the count full only to line out to short ending the game and the Boston rally.
“This is an intense series,” Lowell said. “I know there’s a little history, but I think both teams played good baseball.”
The history Lowell’s referring to goes back to the two team’s last series at Fenway Park when Coco Crisp charged the mound after being plunked by Jamie Shields. Shields, who started last night’s game and picked up the victory, was suspended six games for his actions that resulted in a benches clearing brawl.
“I knew from both sides nothing was going to happen. It was over,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “We’re professionals, they’re professionals, and all that business is in the past.”
The Rays were able to jump on the board early scoring a run in the first inning on a solo home run by B.J. Upton off of Sox rookie pitcher Justin Masterson. The home run was Upton’s 6th on the season.
A Lowell single in the 4th drove in Dustin Pedroia to even the score at 1-1. Lowell finished the game with three hits.
Tampa Bay came right back in the bottom half of the inning scoring twice on a Gabe Gross two-run homer that gave the Rays a 3-1 advantage. This was the third game Masterson has allowed multiple home runs in this season.
The Rays would tack on another run in the 5th on a Carlos Pena double to put them ahead 4-1.
J.D. Drew continues to hit well for the Sox and belted his 16th home run on the season in the 6th inning to pull Boston a little closer at a score of 4-2.
Masterson was pulled after six innings and relieved by another rookie, relief pitcher Chris Smith. Smith did not last very long after facing some control issues. He would walk the bases loaded and be yanked from the game by Sox manager Terry Francona in favor for Javier Lopez. Lopez was able to get out of the bases loaded jam but did allow for one of the inherited runners to score. The run would be the eventual game winner.
“It’s no fluke. They’re a talented group,” Lowell said. “I think a lot of times when you have a lot of young guys, you don’t know how they measure up. There’s no track record. But I think the talent is there. You’ve got to respect that.”
With the win, the Rays now sit atop the AL East with a 1 ½ games lead over Boston and the best record in all of MLB.
Tonight, the Sox send knuckleballer Tim Wakefield to the hill to try and stop the bleeding. Wakefield has enjoyed great success throughout his career against the Rays, especially while pitching in Tampa. In 29 career starts, Wakefield boasts a 19-3 record with a 3.16 ERA against the divisional foes.
For Tampa Bay, Matt Garza will take the ball and try to stop Wakefield and the Sox. In his last outing, Garza was nearly perfect allowing only 1 hit and 1 walk in his complete game victory against the Florida Marlins. He recorded 10 strike outs in the performance.
“That’s the best pitching performance I’ve ever caught,” Rays’ catcher Shawn Riggans said of the effort by Garza, who allowed only a Hanley Ramirez homer during his first career complete game.
First pitch tonight is at 7:10pm EST.