Rays 13, Red Sox 4 – It started with back-to-back home runs from Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria, continued with a two-run jack from Willy Aybar in the 4th, and only got worse from there. To borrow once again from Mike Patrick’s description of the Alabama-Georgia game several weeks back, there was an old-fashioned butt-whipping in Boston last night, and the Red Sox supplied the butt. If there is any team you would not have counted out in the past down 3 games to 1, it would be the Red Sox, but this is not the year for them to pull something like that out again, unless I’ve completely misjudged the team at this point through four games (which is entirely possible, given my status as severely amateur analyst.)
Josh Beckett isn’t himself; Jon Lester, their next best bet, got battered in Game 3. Losing Mike Lowell’s reliable bat was tougher than expected; Kevin Youkilis hasn’t hit at the clip in the playoffs that we’ve been getting used to. David Ortiz’s wrist is a problem despite the triple he hit, and let’s be honest, Youk as the clean-up hitter behind Ortiz isn’t a patch on the intimidation that having Manny Ramirez was behind Big Papi. (This is not to knock Jason Bay — he’s been reliable and done his part.) It’s just that too many pieces are missing from this Red Sox team right now to make that improbable comeback, whether via nagging injury (also include J.D. Drew) or by the slump (Jacoby Ellsbury, Jason Varitek — and how much has Varitek slumped when Kevin Cash, who handles Wakefield, looks like a better option both at the plate and behind it?)
Tampa’s youth movement, led by Longoria, B.J. Upton, Carl Crawford, Aybar, and that pitching staff of theirs (repped admirably by Andy Sonnanstine last night) is playing like they know they’ve got house money, free-wheeling, fancy-free, and with so much skill it looks effortless. It’s not hard to pull for this team when all other options stink (I hate both the Dodgers and the Phillies; and I’ve grown kind of tired of Red Sox Nation as a whole, even though I know plenty of very nice and enthsiastic Sox fans), because there are stars there in the making; there are team players there; there’s everything in the Tampa Bay Rays that makes baseball fun to watch.
If any team deserves to succeed and turn around the concept of baseball in Florida, it’s this one.