Friday, October 4, 2013

Tampa vs. Boston in the Postseason

The Rays and Red Sox open the ALDS at Fenway Park this afternoon. Let's take a look at the two previous playoff meetings between Tampa and Boston teams.

The first was the 2008 ALCS between these A.L. East rivals. The Rays won the division and were making their first postseason appearance. They beat the White Sox in four games in the ALCS while the defending champion Red Sox took down the Angels in four games to set up this LCS.

Game One belonged to Daisuke Matsuzaka, who held the Rays to four hits in seven shutout innings in a 2-0 Boston win. The next night was a slugfest that featured six lead changes. Josh Beckett and Scott Kazmir both gave up two first-inning runs and were roughed up throughout their outings. Tied at 8-8, the game moved into extra innings. Tampa Bay tied the series with an 11th-inning rally against Mike Timlin. Dioner Navarro and Ben Zobrist walked and after Jason Bartlett grounded out, Akinori Iwamura was intentionally walked to load the bases for B.J. Upton. Needing just a sac fly, Upton provided just that. He lifted one to right that allowed pinch-runner Fernando Perez to score and the Rays won 9-8.

The series shifted to Boston and the Rays socked the ball all over Fenway during Games Three and Four, using seven homers to outscore their hosts by a combined 22-5 to take a 3-1 series lead.

Game Five brought more of the same as Tampa Bay led 7-0 with two outs in the bottom of the seventh. Boston showed some life though when Dustin Pedroia's RBI single and David Ortiz's three-run homer off Grant Balfour made it a ballgame at 7-4. Dan Wheeler got out of the inning but J.D. Drew's two-run shot in the eighth cut it to 7-6. Five out of six Red Sox had reached and scored, but Wheeler still had the lead with two outs. The comeback was completed however when Mark Kotsay doubled and Coco Crisp worked a 10-pitch at bat and singled home the tying run. Boston brought it home with a two-out rally in the ninth inning when Kevin Youkilis reached on an infield single and scored on Drew's walk-off hit. The ALCS appeared over with seven outs to go, but incredibly it was extended to Game Six.

The Sox took that one as well, breaking a tie in the sixth inning on Jason Varitek's homer. With a 4-2 victory, Boston was one win from finishing another astounding ALCS comeback.

Game Seven was one of the most intense edge-of-your-seat postseason games in recent memory. 

Boston jumped out very quickly when Dustin Pedroia homered off Matt Garza as the second batter of the game.

Jon Lester was perfect through three innings, but the Rays tied the game in the fourth when Evan Longoria's double into the right field corner scored Carlos Pena all the way from first.

Tampa Bay moved in front an inning later when Rocco Baldelli grounded an RBI single to make it 2-1 (and make Dick Vitale jump for joy).

Willy Aybar added an insurance run in the bottom of the seventh for a 3-1 Rays lead.

Garza and three relievers retired two batters but loaded the bases in the eighth. Joe Maddon called on the fifth pitcher of the frame, rookie David Price, to extinguish the Sox rally.

Price worked a scoreless ninth to wrap up the franchise's first American League pennant. Alas, they'd fall to the Phillies in five games in the World Series.


The other Boston/Tampa playoff series was also a seven-game set for a spot in the championship series. The Bruins and Lightning made an unexpected Eastern Conference Finals pairing in 2011, since they were the third-seeded and fifth-seeded teams, respectively.

Tampa Bay pulled out an opening-game road win, but the Bruins tied the series thanks to two goals and two assists from 19-year-old Tyler Seguin. Tim Thomas won Game Three for Boston with a 31-save shutout and he held a 3-0 lead in Game Four before five unanswered Lightning goals tied the series again. Both home teams eked out comeback victories in the fifth and sixth games to set up a winner-take-all Game Seven in Boston with a Finals berth on the line.

It was a fantastic game, with strong performances from both goalies impressing and not a single penalty all night. The Bruins finally got on the board when Nathan Horton scored with 7:33 left in the game (2:43 of the video below). They hung on to win 1-0 to advance to the Finals. There they won another seventh game, this time at Vancouver, to win the Stanley Cup. 

If this week's Red Sox-Rays Division Series is any bit as good as the two previous Boston-Tampa classics, we are in for quite a ride.

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