ALCS Game 7 preview
The Red Sox haven't lost an ALCS game in which they've faced elimination since
Since 1925, 13 major league teams have jumped out to 3-1 leads in a best-of-seven playoff series only to lose Games 5 and 6. Just three of those 13 held on to win Game 7. The Rays are now the 14th team to fit that description, and they're hoping to become just the fourth team to salvage their series following the 1967 Cardinals, the 1972 Oakland A's -- both of whom did so in the World Series, the Cardinals with
Ironically, the Rays lost Game 5 in large part because two of those relievers, Balfour and Wheeler, couldn't protect a 7-0 lead, and because their manager, who won a World Series as the Angels' bench coach in 2002, didn't act quickly enough to get Balfour and Wheeler out of the game. In last night's Game 6, however, the Rays' immaturity began to show. The Rays took an early lead last night on
If the Rays were tight last night while down by just two runs, but still up one game in the series, they're going to be wound like a drum in tonight's game now that they're suddenly facing elimination themselves. The Rays could very well be dead men walking tonight. Their best hope is defibrillation via a significant early lead, though even that may not be enough as the emotional memories of Game 5's bullpen collapse start to kick in.
Before this series began, I figured that the Red Sox would win it if they could get the ball to
Still, just because Lester was able to limit the damage to that one bad inning, didn't mean the damage didn't happen. Lester dominated the Rays in three regular season starts this year (3-0, 0.90 ERA), but all three of those starts came at Fenway Park, where his ERA was 1.6 runs lower than it was on the road. Lester hasn't pitched at the Trop since 2007, but he posted a 6.75 ERA there last year, and has a 6.99 career ERA in seven starts on artificial turf. Given that the Twins, Blue Jays, and pre-2008 Rays have hardly been the most fearsome hitting teams in the league, that seems significant, as does Lester's 7.52 ERA in five career starts indoors (though there's significant overlap between that figure and his turf mark, and the latter is inflated by his bad start in the Tokyo Dome back on March 26). By comparison, Matt Garza went 7-3 with a 2.89 ERA in the Trop this year after pitching his home games in the Metrodome as a part-time Twin over the last two seasons.
Garza held the Sox to one run over six innings in his win over Lester in Game 3, but like Lester's performance in that game, a closer look gives a different impression. Garza was inefficient, needing 116 pitches to get through six frames, and that inefficiency was due to a well-concealed ineffectiveness. Only 54 percent of Garza's pitches in Game 3 were strikes, and only four of them caused a Boston batter to swing and miss. Garza had similarly mixed results pitching against the Sox at home during the regular season. He limited them to one unearned run over seven innings back on June 1, but in his other two home starts against Boston, he gave up six runs in just 9 2/3 innings. On Sept. 17, he gave up two home runs to