ALCS Notebook

Red Sox Have Managed To Save Best for Last

By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 19, 2008

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., Oct. 18 -- When the Boston Red Sox lined up their pitching rotation for the American League Championship Series, Jon Lester got the third game. The gamble was that they could have been eliminated with their best pitcher taking the mound only once. The payoff? If there was to be a Game 7, it would belong to Lester.

Now that Game 7 is here, Sunday night at Tropicana Field, the Red Sox are glad they saved the big lefty for last. Despite an uncharacteristic off-night in Game 3, a 9-1 loss in Boston, Lester is well rested (getting an extra day of rest by virtue of off-days in the series) and ready.

"I don't think I have to change my game plan," Lester said in response to a question about the Game 3 loss. "I think I pitched pretty well, with the exception of a couple of pitches."

The biggest victory of Lester's career to this point was his 5 2/3 -inning stint in the clincher of last year's World Series against the Colorado Rockies. He also threw 14 brilliant innings in the division series this year against the Los Angeles Angels, winning once while not allowing an earned run.

More Battles Expected

The Red Sox-Rays rivalry, which for most of the past 10 seasons was defined by a handful of memorable brawls and a lopsided win-loss ledger -- heavily in favor of the more storied franchise from the north -- has gained a new dimension and shows signs of being here to stay.

"The way this season has played out, the closeness of the games, the intensity of the games, the fact we've finally been able to arrive at the level of the Red Sox in regard to playing on the field," Rays Manager Joe Maddon said. ". . . I think it's great for us, it's great for the game, it's great for [the AL East] division to add another wonderful rivalry."

The Red Sox went 111-58 against the Rays between 1998 (the year the Rays debuted) and last season, but the Rays won 10 of the teams' 18 regular season meetings this year.

Umpire Replaced

Home plate umpire Derryl Cousins left the game after the third inning, after being hit in the face mask by a foul tip off the bat of Boston's Jason Varitek earlier in the inning.

The game was delayed by 15 minutes as crew chief Tim McClelland, who was working first base, donned the home plate umpire's gear.

X-rays on Cousins came back negative. He has a bruised collarbone.

Dice-K Available

The Red Sox are expected to have Game 5 starter Daisuke Matsuzaka available in their bullpen for Game 7, although it likely would require a near-emergency situation to use him.

Removing the Backdrop

How certain did victory appear for the Rays on Thursday night at Fenway Park? Not only were the players' lockers covered in protective plastic sheets and the champagne on ice in the clubhouse, but TBS employees already had hung the network's banner to be used as a backdrop for live interviews.

It was all hastily removed as the Rays blew their seven-run lead over the final three innings.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company