Monday, October 20, 2008

Sox's playoff run ends with loss to Rays

ST. PETERSBURG -- The battle back from the brink fell just short for the Red Sox this time around, as they were overmatched by the nasty offerings of Matt Garza in a 3-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays in Sunday night's Game 7 of the American League Championship Series.

Just like that, the Red Sox saw their chances of becoming baseball's first repeat World Series champions since the Yankees -- who won three in a row from 1998-2000 -- come to an end.

Soxs playoff run ends with loss to Rays

Instead, it will be the Rays playing the Phillies in the World Series, beginning on Wednesday night at Tropicana Field.

Down two runs heading into the eighth, the Sox got a break when Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett booted Alex Cora's grounder to open the inning. That was all for Garza. Dan Wheeler came on and Coco Crisp delivered a single to right, putting runners on first and second with none out. Wheeler got a big out off the bat of Dustin Pedroia, a routine flyout to left.

Out came Rays manager Joe Maddon, who brought in lefty J.P. Howell to face David Ortiz, Boston's most imposing slugger. Howell did his job, getting Ortiz on a grounder to second, with the Rays getting the force at second. Maddon again went to the bullpen, this time calling for sidewinding righty Chad Bradford to face Kevin Youkilis. Youkilis worked a walk on a 3-2 pitch, loading the bases. Maddon came out yet again, this time calling for 23-year-old rookie lefty David Price to face J.D. Drew. Price showed nerves of steel, striking out Drew on four pitches.

The Red Sox, trailing, 3-1, in the series and down, 7-0, with seven outs to play in Game 5, did well just to push this to a Game 7.

For a while, it seemed as if a familiar script was unfolding. The Red Sox made a historic comeback from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Yankees in the ALCS in 2004. And just last year, they rallied back from 3-1 against the Indians in the ALCS before going on to win the World Series for the second time in four seasons.

This time, however, the Red Sox couldn't complete the comeback task by winning Game 7 of the ALCS. They led early on a solo homer by Pedroia in the top of the first, but the Boston bats went quiet until the eighth. Garza was heroic in limiting Boston to two hits over seven-plus innings. The righty walked three and struck out nine, throwing 118 pitches.

The Red Sox sent their most consistent starter to the mound in Jon Lester, and he was dominant early, retiring the first nine batters he faced.

But the Rays chipped away for a run in the fourth to tie it. They got another one in the fifth on an RBI single by Rocco Baldelli to take their first lead. Perhaps the dagger was an insurance home run from Willy Aybar in the seventh to give them a two-run edge.

Lester (seven innings, six hits, three runs, eight strikeouts) came up with a solid performance. But it just wasn't quite enough to match Garza.

"I thought Jon was tremendous out of the chute," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "He had power with all of his pitches. He threw enough really good breaking balls to kind of slow them down a little bit. [He also] had some power on his two-seamer and his cutter."

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