Sunday, October 12, 2008

Is the Ace Whole? Rays Even Series

They say you're supposed to be happy with a split on the road in the playoffs, and with Jon Lester going in Game 3 tomorrow afternoon there is reason for confidence. But when you lose Game 2 the way the Sox did last night, with their own personal Mr. October Josh Beckett struggling mightily, the happiness is tempered a bit.

The Red Sox lost to the Rays in St. Pete last night in extra innings, 9-8, evening the series at 2 as the teams head north for an afternoon matinee tomorrow. Besides the obvious concern over Beckett - and whether he's healthy - this game ranked high on the entertainment meter. Balls were flying off bats like superballs, and the teams combined to tie a playoff record with 7 home runs. It was like a heavyweight prize fight, with both teams slugging past each other every inning.

Surprisingly - or maybe not, the way both guys have been going lately - the offensive barrage came at the expense of both teams' supposed aces, Beckett and Rays' lefty Scott Kazmir. The second-guessing from this one could take up a full day, but to me the glaring issue last night was Terry Francona leaving Beckett in too long, when it was clear that his velocity was down and he was getting shelled. Beckett's final, ugly numbers: 4 1/3 innings, 9 hits, 8 earned runs, 3 bombs. The Rays looked like they were hitting in the Route 1 batting cages, especially Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena (combined 5 for 10, 5 runs, 1 HR, 5 RBI's). Kazmir wasn't much better, going the same 4 1/3 innings, and giving up five earned runs and three homers.

Hitting stars for the Sox were Dustin Pedroia (2 HR's), Youk (1 HR) and Jason Bay, while Jacoby Ellsbury and Mark Kotsay each went 0 for 6. The bullpen pitched great after Beckett, except when Francona decided to bring in Mike Timlin for the 11th inning and Timlin walked the bases full before giving up the game-winning sac fly to B.J. Upton. Timlin should not be on the ALCS roster, plain and simple.

Going by the manual, yes, the Sox have to be happy with the split, particularly in a place where they've had their share of problems this year. But when you look at how the split took shape - with the guy you thought might get lit up pitching a gem, and the guy you thought would pitch well getting lit up - well let's just say there are more questions this morning than smiles.

Something tells me that those folks who are unlucky enough to be working tomorrow will be heading home a bit early. Game time is at 4:37 p.m. from Fenway, with Jon Lester going against Matt Garza. Weather forecast looks nice so shouldn't be a factor.

(Boston Globe photo)

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