BOSTON -- Prior to Game 2 of the American League Division Series on Saturday, Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell was asked what impresses him the most about his team. He said the one word that best describes his club, and answers the question, is "relentlessness."
The Tampa Bay Rays have learned that lesson in two difficult days at Fenway Park, where they've been outscored 19-6 and pushed to the brink of elimination by a squad that keeps its foot on the gas at all times.
"Tonight is one example of it," Farrell said after a 7-4 Game 2 victory when asked about his team's relentless nature. "There's been many nights of this. And I think the beauty of our team is that they look at each night as an individual challenge, and how are we going to attack a given pitcher. We knew we had our hands full against David [Price] coming in here tonight, but they'll look for opportunities. I thought we did a great job of running the bases with some balls off the walls again. And that all goes into the mindset that's currently here."
That mindset will now be put to the ultimate test, for Boston must remain that relentless bunch in order to finish off the Rays. Including the postseason, the Sox are 14-7 against Tampa Bay this year. Letting that, or the lopsided nature of the ALDS so far, have any bearing on their attitude once the series shifts to Florida would go against everything for which Boston stands. The foot must remain on the gas.
"It's not over," said David Ortiz, one of the heroes in Game 2 with a pair of home runs off Price. "We've got to keep on fighting. We know we're playing against a good ballclub. They always find a way to win games, and you can't take anything for granted."
In the two games at Fenway, Boston received its share of breaks. That's not to take a single thing away from Farrell's crew, as it was clearly the superior club. But what separates the Sox from being just a good team with a little luck to being one that may just be destined for greatness is their ability to turn that good fortune into something special, to squeeze everything there is out of every opportunity. To be relentless.
There was The Wil Myers Incident that helped the Sox break open the floodgates in Game 1, not to mention a few quirky matters in the wake of the rookie's mistake. In Game 2 the stars aligned right from the start, and Boston jumped at the opportunity to try to bury Price.
The first four innings alone featured two Tampa Bay errors, a David Ross double that scraped the Green Monster as it fell 320 feet from home plate and a Stephen Drew RBI triple that caught the bottom third of the Monster 315 feet from home. Jacoby Ellsbury had two pillow-soft hits -- one a flare single over the second baseman's head and the second an RBI bloop double over the third baseman's head that landed with the ferocity of a butterfly on a leaf at the edge of the infield dirt. Tampa Bay first baseman James Loney narrowly missed a foul bunt attempt by Shane Victorino seconds later, and Victorino then singled to help set up Boston's fourth run of the night.
"You put pressure on these guys, you play hard, that's what we do," Victorino said. "You can't make mistakes and when you do they seem to counter and that's what we do. You make a mistake, we capitalize. Do the small things that turn out to be big things. Relentless baseball, first out to the 27th."
By the time the dust had settled, the hosts had a 5-1 lead, enough to withstand some tricky moments in the middle innings and cause the Rays to shake their heads, wondering if and when there would be a window of opportunity.
"It was kind of a weird night the way everything set up for them and against us," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said.
Those windows did present themselves after the Rays crawled to within 6-4 and put runners on in the seventh and eighth innings, but 4-6-3 double plays ended both frames. Relentlessness comes in all forms.
And now the Rays will get another sense of the Red Sox's relentlessness when they are forced to face Clay Buchholz, perhaps the best pitcher on either staff when healthy. The fact that Buchholz is now a month removed from his return from a neck injury and indicated that he felt as good as he has in months during the team's scrimmage Wednesday afternoon suggests that health is no longer an issue.
Neither is his team's attitude.
Maddon charmed reporters, as he so often does, with predictions of a return trip to Boston for a do-or-die Game 5. "Boston this time of the year is kind of lovely, and I'm looking forward to coming back in a few days," he said. Stranger things have happened. But for Tampa Bay to see Fenway Park again in 2013 it might mean that the Red Sox failed in one department that has been their calling card. They rarely give you an inch, and if you give them one, they'll stretch it all the way to pay dirt.