(Highlights video from Awful Announcing. Thanks, boss!)
Rays 3, Red Sox 1 – One home run. That’s all Matt Garza allowed to cross the plate. Watching Dustin Pedroia jack it out in the 1st inning made for a nervous moment for myself and anyone else who’d decided to root for this team who had been down so low for the beginning of its existence against the dominant force in the American League for the past couple of seasons. But then Garza engaged in the one of the more wonderful sights in a make-or-break playoff game with Boston starter Jon Lester: a full-blooded pitchers’ duel. Evan Longoria doubled in Carlos Pena in the fourth, then Rocco Baldelli singled in Willy Aybar in the sixth.
Garza then kept it up, changing speeds, striking out nine in 7+ innings of work, and he probably would have been allowed to go eight if Jason Bartlett hadn’t gotten a bad hop on an Alex Cora grounder. Then, it became a mix-and-match for Joe Maddon: bringing in Dan Wheeler to pitch to Coco Crisp and Dustin Pedroia (Pedroia flew out); J.P. Howell to get David Ortiz to ground out; Chad Bradford walked Kevin Youkilis. Then, Maddon brought in David Price, who not only got out of the bases loaded threat by striking out J.D. Drew, he then finished the ninth after giving up a walk to Jason Bay.
Now, there are two days before the Phillies come to town, and while there are questions as to whether the Rays could beat the National League champions, from a city desperate for a title, there are no questions as to whether they belong in the top tier any more, and everyone who watched Price deal is waiting for more.