|End — and beginning — of the road||10.19.08 at 2:35 pm ET|
Apparently, this Game 7 stuff is habit forming for the Red Sox. Since 1985, when the American League Championship Series was changed to a best-of-seven format, this is just the sixth ALCS to go the distance. The Red Sox have been in five of those: 1986, 2003, 2004, 2007 and now 2008.
The Sox have won their last two Game 7s, and the Rays recognize that they are dealing with an experience deficit to a club that has made winner-take-all contests a rite of October.
“We talked about it a lot of times. Them being the champions, you have to take that away from them,” said Rays designated hitter (and designated spokesman) Cliff Floyd. “We have to take it. They’re not just going to give it away. They know how to win, they know how to come back, they stay very poised in tight situations…
“If we were facing a team that hadn’t come back from situations they had come back from, we probably wouldn’t be having this discussion. We’d probably be at home chilling after having practice (while waiting for the World Series) today. (The Sox) just know how to handle the situation totally different. (Tampa Bay) is a team that’s learning.”
One possible demonstration of the Rays getting a bit tight under the collar has been on defense. The Rays, who had the best defensive team in baseball during the regular season, have suddenly looked lost in the field. They’ve taken bad outfield routes (B.J. Upton, Gabe Gross) to the ball in the past couple of games, and they’ve committed an unsightly five errors in the last three contests.
In Game 5, the Sox scored the winning run thanks to an Evan Longoria error on an infield single. Kevin Youkilis ended up on first rather than second, and was thus able to score on when J.D. Drew’s walkoff “ground-rule single” bounded into the stands. In Saturday’s Game 6, Gold Glove candidate Jason Bartlett threw a ball away, resulting in a key unearned insurance run in the sixth.
The Sox, meanwhile, have yet to commit a single error this series. If they make it through tonight’s game without a gaffe, they would become the first team to remain error-free in a seven-game postseason series.
The Sox have been in a dozen winner-take-all games, going 6-5-1 in those contests. Their recent success, however, has been striking, as the team has won four of its past five decisive games dating to 1999, the early years of Jason Varitek’s and Tim Wakefield’s tenures in Boston.
As for the Rays? This is uncharted territory, and they acknowledge as much.
“For me,” said Rays manager Joe Maddon, “it’s a wonderful opportunity for us to grow. It’s a difficult moment based on the last couple days. However, it’s a growth moment for us as a team and as an organization. To go out there and get it done tonight would mean a whole lot to us.”
Will the Rays continue their learning curve, or will the Sox take another step towards declaring themselves a dynasty? The answer should arrive around midnight.
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