Even with a 3-1 lead heading into Thursday night's Game 5,
Kazmir did his part on Thursday night, shutting out Boston for six innings. The Red Sox also did their part, rallying against the Rays' bullpen to pull out an 8-7 win and send the series back to Florida. Now it's Shields' turn. The Rays are certainly in a better position with Shields starting tonight than they would have been with Kazmir, who was 4-6 with a 4.10 ERA at the Trop during the regular season and gave up five runs in 4 1/3 innings there in Game 2. They also benefit from
Baseball's postseason history is littered with Walking Dead games. These games occur when a team on the verge of a series win suffers a stunning late-inning collapse and then plays as though it's still in shock in the following game. In Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS, the Cubs were five outs away from making the World Series for the first time in 58 years when a fan interfered with a would-be foul out and shortstop
The Rays don't fit the pattern of those Game 6 collapses because Boston's comeback didn't tie this series, but there have been other instances of teams collapsing after a mid-series comeback such as Thursday's. In fact, the two most famous examples came in ALCS that the Red Sox eventually won. In Game 5 of the 1986 ALCS, the Angels were one strike from reaching their first World Series when
Still, not every team that has suffered a dramatic collapse has suffered such a fate. Flipping the script on the Sox, they were four outs from losing the 1975 World Series to the Reds when
It's tempting to believe that the young Rays will become another of the Walking Dead, unable to come back from their Game 5 collapse. The Red Sox are the defending World Champions and pulled off a similar 1-3 comeback just a year ago. Josh Beckett, despite his struggles this October, has a history of postseason dominance. The Rays bullpen was unable to protect a seven run lead Thursday night. Don't believe it. Beckett is hurting and his struggles this postseason are far more relevant than his past successes. The Rays are hitting the snot out of the ball and coming home to their own ballpark, where they're 9-2 against Boston this season. In three starts against the Red Sox at the Trop this year, James Shields has a 1.59 ERA, a 0.75 WHIP while averaging almost 7 2/3 innings per start, and the Rays pen had yesterday to rest and regroup.
Perhaps most importantly, the Rays are loose. There were more jokes than long faces on the team flight Thursday night because they know they really have nothing to lose. They've already accomplished far more than anyone, themselves included, expected they would this year, and they're a young team with an excellent chance to be back in the postseason in subsequent seasons. As Shields said yesterday, "When it comes down to it, they have more pressure than we do. They're the defending champions. We're a team that finished in last place last year."
There's a difference between a team that's "just happy to be here" and a team with nothing to lose. The latter is very dangerous. The Rays are the latter, and they won't be shaken by their Game 5 loss.
Still, there are two remaining traps into which the Rays could fall. The first is turning back to Wheeler, who gave up the tying runs in Game 5. While Joe Maddon has shown a progressive flexibility with his bullpen, particularly in the absence of injured veteran closer
Second, while the Rays should come out playing fast and loose yet again tonight, if the Red Sox tear through Maddon's safety net and pull out another win, pushing this series to a Game 7 matchup between Jon Lester and