Rays Are Thinking Deep Thoughts

Tampa Bay Is Closing In on First World Series by Hammering Boston to Take 3-1 Lead in the ALCS: Rays 13, Red Sox 4

Bummed-out Boston players can barely watch, as the Rays move within a game of their first World Series. Tampa Bay has outscored the Red Sox 22-5 the past two games.
Bummed-out Boston players can barely watch, as the Rays move within a game of their first World Series. Tampa Bay has outscored the Red Sox 22-5 the past two games. (Mike Segar - Reuters)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 16, 2008; Page E07

BOSTON Reprinted from yesterday's late editions

-- For a full decade, Fenway Park stood as an ancient, gilded monument to everything the Tampa Bay Rays could never possess and never be. The history, the charm, the celebrity fans, the championship pennants, the packed stands, the money, the talent, the adoration and fame that comes from being a beloved part of a community's cultural fabric. Then came 18 innings of baseball here this week, and the sense that the dynamic has been altered permanently.

Now, you couldn't pay the Rays enough money to change places with the Boston Red Sox. As the upstart visitors from the Sunshine State administered a savage beating to the hometown nine for a second straight night, in a 13-4 victory in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, Fenway Park just looked old, run-down and charmless, in need of a thorough paint job at best and a wrecking ball at worst. Much like the Red Sox themselves.

Game 4 was a game for about three batters, until Carlos Peña hit the first of the Rays' three towering home runs over the Green Monster in left field. After that, it was a rout, a mismatch and a rhetorical question: Just how much better are the Rays, top to bottom, at this moment than their more storied opponents?

The answer is only hinted at by Tuesday night's margin of victory, or by the score in the best-of-seven series, which the Rays now lead, three games to one. Instead, it is best measured by relating it to recent history.

The Red Sox have been to the playoffs five times this decade, playing 51 games total, and had never been beaten in two straight games at Fenway Park until now. But these Rays, young and fearless and brazen, are unlike anything the Red Sox have seen. They didn't merely win back-to-back games on Monday and Tuesday -- in a park where they went 23-61 between 1998 and 2007 -- they smothered the Red Sox by a combined score of 22-5.

After an off-day, the series resumes here Thursday night -- with Boston's hopes residing in right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka, against either Scott Kazmir or James Shields for the Rays -- and if the Rays win, they would be the champions of the AL and would host Game 1 of the World Series a week from Wednesday.

"It's right there for us," left fielder Carl Crawford said. "It's definitely in a category where you can't believe what's going on."

The Red Sox can lean on the memories of 2004, when they mounted a historic comeback from a 3-0 deficit against the New York Yankees in the ALCS, or 2007, when they came back from 3-1 down to beat the Cleveland Indians. But Pedro Martínez is long gone, Curt Schilling is out with an injury and Josh Beckett -- who would start Game 6 for them, if they survive that long -- is a shell of himself.

"We've gotta find a way to win -- otherwise our season is over," Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. "You can't be loose. Hit the panic button."

One night after pounding hard-throwing lefty Jon Lester with a barrage of homers over the Green Monster, the Rays did the same thing to Lester's polar opposite, the veteran knuckleball specialist Tim Wakefield, who was battered for three more homers in an unsightly 2 2/3 -inning performance. These days, the Rays crush any and all pitchers, including the ones who followed Wakefield to the mound.

Crawford wound up with five hits, tying a postseason record. Willy Aybar drove in five runs, including a two-run homer off Wakefield that sailed clear out of the park. Peña scored three times. The Rays batted around in the sixth.

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