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The Rays are going to the World Series instead of the Red Sox for one reason: they beat Jon Lester twice. We can talk about the homers they hit, the relief pitching they got, the post-season classic they won, the 7-0 lead they blew, the guy who’s gone from the Florida State League to closing a pennant-clinching game in five months, but when you look at this series, what stands out is 2-0 against Lester. Those were supposed to be Sox wins, and if either of the two games had been, they and not the Rays would be AL champs today.

Lester was supposed to be the Sox’s biggest edge. He was the third-best starter in the AL this year, the great lefty against a team with a platoon split problem, the pitcher who had shut down the Angels twice. The Rays scored five and three runs against Lester in a week’s time; Lester had allowed more than one run just once in his eight starts coming into the ALCS. Beating him in Game Three took back home-field advantage and swung the series in their favor; beating him in Game Seven put them in the World Series. They beat him the way they had to, by hitting the ball a long way: three doubles and three homers were responsible for seven of the eight runs the Rays scored off of him.

If not for their ability to hit for power off of Lester, Matt Garza‘s work might have gone for naught. When he gave up a first-inning homer to Dustin Pedroia yesterday, it looked as if the Sox might do exactly what they needed to beat him: take him deep. Two hours later, that was the only hit the Sox had. Relying heavily on his fastball, Garza made the Sox hitters look old and tired, striking out nine of the 27 batters he faced, blowing away David Ortiz in a critical sixth-inning at-bat, and whiffing Jason Varitek with two on in the seventh. Whether he or B.J. Upton was the more deserving series MVP is debatable, but Garza was clearly worthy of the honor.

By the time the night was over, however, a new hero had emerged. David Price, about a year and change removed from his days as Vanderbilt’s ace, with all of 123 2/3 professional innings under his belt, just 14 of those in the majors, was called on to get the last four outs for the Rays. Even in a bullpen not over-burdened with experience, Price is callow. Joe Maddon, however, chose his relievers last night not based on anything but who he believed could get outs in this ballgame. (Note the absence of Grant Balfour from the proceedings.) Price got J.D. Drew looking to end the eighth, and after a walk to start the ninth he blew away the bottom of the Sox lineup to put his team into the World Series.

Even Francisco Rodriguez’s ascension wasn’t quite this rapid. Price had made all of four relief appearances in September, and just one of those was in a remotely game-relevant situation. He didn’t pitch in the ALDS and had thrown to one batter in Game One of the ALCS. As nearly the last man left, he pitched the Rays out of a jam in the 11th inning of Game Two. Then, last night, in the biggest moment in franchise history, when it had taken four of his teammates to get two outs in the eighth inning, he came in with his 95 mph heat and nasty breaking stuff, and suddenly no one cared about the size of his signing bonus.

Given that the Rays are about to take on a team with a ton of left-handed power, it’s not entirely ridiculous to suggest that Price has become their most important relief pitcher, a week after being comfortably ensconced in a small box with a view of “YCNEGREME FO ESAC NI.” Things move fast around here.

Credit Maddon for putting in Price in that situation. In fact, credit Maddon for his entire approach last night. I spent much of the evening taking notes and sending text messages criticizing his decisions, questioning leaving Garza in too long, or choosing Dan Wheeler in the eighth, or leaving Balfour in the pen. Looking back, I had it wrong, and Maddon knew what he wanted to do last night. He had a better feel for how the Sox were struggling with Garza, and he knew, perhaps all along, that David Price was going to be available at the end, so he could go batter-by-batter in getting to him.

Even now that they’re out this year, the Red Sox aren’t done, not by any means. They have talent, resources, a great front office, and a deep farm system. Last night, though, the age and depth of the current roster really showed. Ortiz and Varitek looked overmatched in key situations. Varitek’s homer Saturday probably earned him an at-bat in the seventh on Sunday, but it was one that should have been taken by Sean Casey, Jacoby Ellsbury, or Jed Lowrie. Mark Kotsay had to bat against Price in the ninth, a matchup missed by television viewers with conservative V-chip settings. Poor Sox defense in the outfield corners contributed to two Rays runs. Drew made a brutal throw on Evan Longoria‘s third-inning double, which helped Carlos Pena and his piano score from first. In the fourth, Jason Bay was playing somewhere in the Gulf when Rocco Baldelli singled to left, and the distance he had to come to charge the ball allowed Willy Aybar-who expected to be held at third base-to score the lead run.

Last week, after the Red Sox came back from a 7-0 deficit in an elimination game to keep the series going, I mused about the role of soft factors, intangibles, and what have you in that type of occurrence, and what it might mean going forward. I still don’t have an answer for how much of that comeback should be assigned to the Sox’s experience or fortitude, although I do appreciate the extensive discussion on the site that followed the piece. As far as momentum goes, I think we got a pretty good answer as to the impact any one game, even an extremely thrilling or disappointing one, has on the next. The Rays led early in Game Six, came back to tie once passed, and played a competitive game throughout. In Game Seven, they fell behind early and came back to win, getting through difficult situations late to lock it up. Any argument for game-to-game momentum, the idea that the outcome yesterday carries through to tomorrow, is hard to make in the face of how the Rays played this weekend.

The post facto nature of these arguments will be in play over the next few days. You can expect the results of Game One of the World Series to be framed in two ways: if the Phillies win, the Rays will have been worn out by their emotional seven-game ALCS victory; if they lose, it will be because the seven-day layoff between games made them rusty.

Baseball’s harder than that. Even if David Price makes it look easy.

  • Maybe it was the wrist. If you’re a Sox fan or executive, you hope it was the wrist. But the way in which Garza put Ortiz away in the third and sixth had to be a little troubling. Ortiz not only couldn’t catch up with Garza’s fastball, but he was going out of his zone to try and catch it. The 3-2 pitch on which Ortiz struck out in the sixth… I don’t think he offers at that ball a year ago. At $12.5 million a year for the next two seasons, with no ability to play the field (which complicates roster management), Ortiz has to be one of the better hitters in the game or he’s a liability.
  • Longoria has tremendous raw talent and his defensive numbers this year were off the charts. Twice in three games, however, he showed a tendency to lose his mechanics on throws, opening up his body and drifting towards the plate when charging instead of planting his leg and getting off a good throw. Thursday’s error proved costly, and while last night he wasn’t charged with one, the same problem was evident on a fourth-inning grounder off the bat of Kevin Youkilis. It’s just something to watch.
  • Price was the story in the late innings, and I don’t want to take away from that. However, you can’t write about this game and not at least acknowledge that the decision pitches to Drew and Kotsay were both outside. Not on the black or the corner or any place else; they were outside. Until and unless we get a strike zone that is 17 inches wide all the time, shaped like a rectangle all the time, and located in the same place all the time, baseball will always be a little less than it should be.
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Mountainhawk
10/20
Assuming you are talking about the Drew strikeout at the end of the eighth, that was a swinging strike. The umpire clearly pointed at Drew saying he offered at it. Based on the replays they showed, I think it was the correct call.
dmoriart
10/20
I initially thought the same thing as you, Joe, about the pitch that Drew struck out on -- it was outside. (Price said the same thing in a post-game interview, which was refreshing!) But in fact Drew was called out for going too far on a check-swing, and in the replay, it looked like a good call.
jsheehan
10/20
I didn\'t think he swung, and I was so convinced of that I missed the indication that the strike was swinging and not called. Looking at it again...yeah, I\'m not at all convinced. The point stands, though--it was a swinging strike. Thanks, guys. Those checked-swing calls have been all over the place all season long. I still say they\'re essentially called at random. On replay, they all look like swings. While I\'m here...Rob Neyer does a really good breakdown of the decisions to let Varitek hit: http://insider.espn.go.com/espn/blog/index?name=neyer_rob
Ophidian
10/20
Indeed, Bay should have been struck out on his check-swing in the 9th as well. It\'s frustrating to watch the game being even more random than necessary at crucial junctures.
hotstatrat
10/20
\"Mark Kotsay had to bat against Price in the ninth, a matchup missed by television viewers with conservative V-chip settings.\" What a great line!
Bogomil
10/20
Great line about Price and his box.
sanott
10/20
i was disappointed terry let varitek hit. did he expect lightning to strike twice? it may not have changed much, but he looked so awful. i think this offensive (no pun intended) showing pushes the sox to go after teixiera. outside of the 8 runs in the last 3 innings of game 5, they scored 20 runs in 6 games, with varitek and ortiz obviously only showing up for 2 dramatic HR.
aaronbailey52
10/20
No kidding. Saying Bay didn\'t swing was a horrible call. Perhaps the call on Drew was payback for that one being missed.
rbaumhauer
10/20
Bay came after Drew, so maybe it was making things up the other direction?
DrDave
10/20
That was my reaction at the time; I said \"makeup call\" to my wife when Bay was rung up.
mlovell
10/20
I assume if the Sox go for Teixiera, they would have to move Lowell, and I\'m not sure who wants to take on the next two years of that deal at $12.5MM per. And moving Youkilis back to third (over Lowell) and having Teixiera take over at first potentially makes the Red Sox worse off defensively on the whole.
Vyse0wnz
10/20
Kevin Youkilis is a superb defensive third baseman, and Teixeira is great at first. It seems like it would be a wash or better defensively, and a gigantic upgrade offensively. It also helps them out health wise, as Lowell\'s getting up there in age. Even if they have to eat some of Lowell\'s salary in a trade, it would be worth it -- after all, the best (only?) good free agent signings have come from signing stars, which Teixeira definitely is. I think it would be a forward-thinking move by a forward-thinking organization, so I don\'t think it\'s out of the question.
Random
10/21
Hear, hear! Mark Teixeira is a superb defensive first baseman, my conclusion after watching him with the Braves for a year.
kaberet
10/20
If we are going to talk about the pitch that Drew swung on, even being outside, then we should talk about the walk Bay \"coaxed\" that should have been a strikeout. The game was called pretty well, but of the calls they missed, they went both ways.
winterbrook
10/20
Varitek\'s strikeout in the 6th was an embarassment. A desperate flail at a pitch nowhere near the strike zone. Something tells me Scott Boras won\'t be replaying that when contract negotiations begin.
sbnirish77
10/20
Maddon did a much better job with his bullpen in game 7 than he did in game 5. The best prediction all year at BP may have been the one in late August / early September that Price would play a significant role.
tnt9357
10/20
I think Game 5 forced Maddon to change his deployment, and he should get a huge amount of credit for being willing to do so in a Game 7. I can\'t think of another manager that wouldn\'t simply \"stick to his guns\". Does it appear that Wheeler\'s about to turn back into a pumpkin? I didn\'t see his pitching in Game 2, just the debacle in Game 5 and the almost-debacle in Game 7. Also, I think we have an answer about Trever Miller\'s absence in Game 5: He didn\'t come in to face Ortiz for one AB in Game 7 either, with Maddon preferring to burn Howell (more of a two-way pitcher) instead. In other words, Miller\'s box reads YCNEGREME EMERTXE FO ESAC NI, and requires two keys to open.
rbaumhauer
10/20
The check-swing was borderline, and under the circumstances should have at least been given to the 3rd base ump to call. The Sox got that swing back, in a way, with a Bay check swing that was called a ball, and eventually led to a walk - replays showed that he actually went farther than Drew.
DrDave
10/20
Gotta disagree with kabaret and agree with Joe -- the ball and strike calls are just embarrassing when everyone has PitchF/X at home. Let the machine decide whether the ball passed through the strike zone; humans can\'t do that reliably. Almost as embarrassing was the commentary on pitch location from Buck Martinez and Ron Darling. Invariably, 10\" off the outside corner was \"on the black\", right at the navel was \"missed way high\", and on the inside corner was \"right down the middle\". (Or, in the case of Varitek\'s HR, low and on the *outside* corner was \"right down the middle\". It was a good pitch; you might expect Vlad Guerrero to have a decent shot at launching it, but not Jason Varitek.)
coneway
10/20
I don\'t know about you all, but I\'m very skeptical of the TBS fasttrax or whatever that televised strikezone thing is. It seems very stingy, mainly on inside/outside calls, not so much on high/low readings. It seemed like the only pitches the fasttrax system said were strikes looked right down the middle to me. Borderline pitches were way outside the box.
coneway
10/20
The thing I\'m referring to is called PitchTrax on TBS, not fasttrax.
DrDave
10/20
I\'m basing my opinions on Pitch F/X at MLB Gameday, not the TBS broadcast graphic.
mcbain
10/20
Agree on that TBS strike zone graphic. Maybe I\'m nuts, but I got the feeling that it was reading the pitches based on where they hit the mitt and not their location as they actually crossed the plate. Which makes a big difference on a lot of those breaking pitches.
llewdor
10/20
I always said that Ortiz\'s career would probably end five years before Manny\'s career did, despite their relative ages. It looks like I wasn\'t far off.
jayhook62
10/20
Even carryinng a piano, there is no other first baseman in the American League who would have even made it close. Pena is not slow.
klaw
10/20
\"I don\'t know about you all, but I\'m very skeptical of the TBS fasttrax or whatever that televised strikezone thing is. It seems very stingy, mainly on inside/outside calls, not so much on high/low readings.\" A buddy of mine was here last night watching the game with me, and he pointed out that the fasttrax thing seemed to show the ball at the point where the catcher caught it, not where it was when it crossed the plate.
krissbeth
10/20
The camera angle on the pitchs to home plate was just atrocious--it was so far to the side that you had no way of knowing where the pitch was laterally.
tnt9357
10/20
Except when they showed the PitchTrax, where it was dead center, which makes me wonder: Why don\'t they use that angle all the time?
ils4O1
10/20
What\'s \"YCNEGREME FO ESAC NI?\"
collins
10/20
In case of emergency
GBSimons
10/20
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY spelled backwards.
WAYNEJONATHAN
10/20
The Socks probably would have been better off keeping one of the top 3 hitters in the game instead of trading him for an inferior player. One can\'t help but wonder what would have happened if Manny had been there in the 8th; or for the rest of the series for that matter.
blaseta
10/20
Yeah, you\'re right they would have been better off with one of the best 3 hitters in the game. Too bad they never had him this year; whatever reasons you asign to the disparity between Manny\'s performance in Boston versus his performance in LA, there is absolutely no way anybody could have ever expected the Manny that showed up this playoffs to have shown up regardless of where he was playing or how happy he was. As for Boston\'s problems, I find it funny that apparently no teams where interested in a certain slugger with bad knees that has a pile of circumstantial evidence suggesting that he has taken performance enhancing drugs. Compare that to the perception of Ortiz. He cannot even do a somewhat decent job in the field (Bonds can). His career arc is at least as suspicious as Bonds, if not moreso (sudden power boost late in his career after failing in Minnesota, sudden lose of power when drug testing introduced). Interesting what a difference a good personality can make, isn\'t it?
nalex83
10/21
This was the first year of drug testing? Having peak years between 26 and 31 is rare? Ok.
DJBigNasty
10/20
Thanks for the coverage, Joe. I appreciate that you mentioned the rough, erratic strike-calling that ruined the end of the game for me. Drew\'s AB with the bases loaded ended up being Boston\'s last good chance to get back, and to watch it get taken away like that (at least, that\'s how it looked from my couch) really killed a game I had thoroughly enjoyed up to that point. The base umpire\'s call on Bay\'s swing smelled like a make-up call, except the bases weren\'t loaded anymore. Kotsay\'s outside \"strike three\" after that convinced me that the blues were making it up as they went along. It was such a good, tight game up to that point that those PAs stuck out like sore thumbs. All I could think of was how the papers would praise Price for \"mowing down\" hitters with rough called strike threes on outside pitches. Oh well.
ccmonter
10/20
Drew\'s was a swinging strike. There was no called strike there. Bay\'s was a swinging strike. The replays clearly showed both batters commiting. To the human eye, those calls could have gone either way. But, in this case, they had nothing to do with the strike zone. I\'m not saying the boys in blue are right all the time. I\'m just saying that you are picking the wrong examples.
sbnirish77
10/20
Brian Gorman is somewhat notorius on low outside strikes. Likes to reward pitchers. Tim McClelland, on the other hand, tends to be a batters ump on the corners, but calls as many upper strikes as anyone.
gjhardy
10/20
The Kotsay call was brutal. It may have actually been farther outside than the previous pitch, called a ball. But the fact of the matter is that the Sox hitters were overmatched and were taking some ugly swings and half-swings.
johnpark99
10/20
It\'s time to automate ball/strike calls. I don\'t even care if the system they use isn\'t perfect, so long as it\'s consistent between teams and from batter to batter. It\'s not that umps get calls wrong occasionally that gets me--it\'s that the same pitch can be called differently by the same umpire in the same game. Even an imperfect but consistent mechanism should be able to at least eliminate this phenomenon.
coneway
10/20
I really don\'t think we fans are as informed about this as we think we are. I have a strong sense that the oblique TV camera angles and Pitchtrax technology are giving us a false sense of precision here.
tosaboy
10/21
I have to agree with this comment. As a Pitch F/X operator, I learned pretty quickly that the off-center CF cams often deceive as to pitch location. Over time, I learned to correct my mental vision, but it took many games. Let\'s not get crazy about the precision that these broadcast tools offer. On the other hand, I\'m firmly in favor of \"you flinch, you swung\" as a principle for \"checked\" swings.
brianpsmith
10/20
\"Even Francisco Rodriguez\'s ascension wasn\'t quite this rapid.\" I know this is in the throwaway line category, but I have to disagree. Rodriguez made five appearances in the September 2002 (to Price\'s four this year), but anyone who pays any attention to college ball, the draft and the minor leagues knew all about Price, while Rodriguez pretty much came out of nowhere as far as the average fan was concerned.
ScottBehson
10/20
The umpiring was imperfect, but fair. I see no real reason for complaint by either side.
gavind
10/21
Sour grapes?