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April 17, 2010

One-Hoppers

Game Story: Fenway Resumption Mad[don]ness

by David Laurila

Pat Burrell won the game. Joe Maddon won the style points.

The Tampa Bay Rays were victorious in the resumption of last night’s suspended game at Fenway Park -- rain had halted the contest in the middle of the ninth -- and managerial creativity played a big role. Burrell’s two run homer off Manny Delcarmen in the top of the 12th provided the winning runs, but Maddon’s willingness to be unconventional proved just as noteworthy.

The Red Sox loaded the bases with none out in the bottom of the 11th against Lance Cormier, and with David Ortiz coming to the plate, Maddon went into shift overdrive. The Rays manager employed a five-man infield, bringing Ben Zobrist in from the outfield and positioning Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton in shallow right- and left-center respectively. Knowing that Ortiz rarely hits the ball on the ground to the opposite field, only Evan Longoria remained cleanly on the left side. With shortstop Jason Bartlett hovering near the bag, the first-base side of the infield was flooded with Rays.

The script played to perfection, as Ortiz grounded to Carlos Pena who threw home for the force out -- Dioner Navarro making a good play to rein in a low toss.

“You could put everybody on that side [against Ortiz],” Maddon said after the game. “I told them, ‘everybody go on that side for him,’ and when we went in there, J.B. was still on this side and we kept pushing him over. That’s something we work on, but it always changes according to the hitter. You have to wait for the hitter to know exactly where you want to be.”

With Adrian Beltre coming to the plate, Maddon then balanced his five-man infield, employing his regular foursome in standard position while placing Zobrist almost directly at the second-base bag.

The gambit once again worked perfectly, as Beltre grounded into a double play, ending the inning and setting the stage for Burrell’s heroics.

“Lance was spectacular,” said Maddon, giving props to one of the game‘s unsung stars. “They got a couple of knocks, but then he put the ball on the ground twice. Putting the ball on the ground twice is what got us out of that jam, then Pat came through. He hit that ball extremely well.”

“I was very pumped [coming off the mound],” said Cormier. “I think it took a little bit to sink in what had just happened. The moment the first two guys got on, all the infielders came in and Longo [Evan Longoria] said, ‘We’re two ground balls away, we’re two ground balls away.'’ Then I got a ground ball and he makes an error, and I’m like, ‘OK, bases loaded, it’s not fun -- it’s not a fun situation to be in, it’s raining, it’s freezing, but let’s just make the best of it. That's what I tried to do and once the next play happened I just felt good about us. I wanted to get another ground ball and we got it.”

Final score: Rays 3, Red Sox 1; Joe Maddon, unconventional genius.

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