Commentary

Sox amplify Fenway edge into rout

Friendly bounces, Rays' miscues add up as balanced Boston attack takes Game 1

Updated: October 4, 2013, 11:34 PM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Ryan Dempster had the best vantage point of all, standing in the Red Sox bullpen, arms resting on the low wall in front, eyes focused on the ball struck by David Ortiz on its arcing descent, Rays rookie right fielder Wil Myers poised to make the catch, Rays center fielder Desmond Jennings not yet in Dempster's line of vision.

This was late on an October afternoon in Fenway Park, a time of a day when the sun practically sits on the roof behind home plate with blinding effect on an unsuspecting fielder. Especially in right field. "The sun was brutal, man," Dempster said.

But Myers seemed oblivious to the glare as he awaited the arrival of the ball. "I don't know what happened, man," Dempster said. "I was in between both of them [Myers and Jennings]. I was watching the ball come, and all of a sudden I heard footsteps on the warning track. They were Jennings'. Myers was camped under it, and all of a sudden, footsteps. Even I looked over."

[+] EnlargeDavid Ortiz
AP Photo/Charles KrupaDavid Ortiz watches the fortunate flight of his ground-rule double to right field.

On a TV monitor outside the press box, long after Boston's 12-2 win over Tampa Bay, the play repeated on a network feed, over and over, from every conceivable angle. It showed Myers extending his arm back, measuring the distance to the bullpen wall, then taking a couple steps forward, apparently conceding the play to Jennings, as the ball fell behind him unhindered, then hopped over the wall.

It showed Ortiz, pulling into second base with a ground-rule double, turning to Rays shortstop Yunel Escobar to ask what happened. It showed Dustin Pedroia, who was on first at the time, slowing down as he neared second, then kicking into overdrive as he sped into third. And again and again, it showed Myers, preparing to make the most routine of catches as the ball dropped toward his glove.

"I don't know what happened," Sox left fielder Jonny Gomes said, "but I've always said, with my playoff experience, is you play 162 games -- a lot of innings, a lot of pitches, a lot of runs -- one thing you can guarantee in the playoffs is you're going to see something you haven't seen all year. And we saw that right away."

In the TBS studio, according to a tweet from postgame host Keith Olbermann, former Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez suggested that someone in the Sox bullpen might have called for the catch in an effort to fool Myers. "I didn't hear anything," Dempster said. "I didn't say anything."

A standup comedian on occasion, Dempster insisted he has not added ventriloquism to his repertoire.

"I can do impersonations," he said, "but ventriloquism is not my forte."

In their return to the postseason after a three-year absence, the Red Sox demonstrated anew what their forte is: Smell blood in the water, and pounce. "One thing can lead to a lot," right fielder Shane Victorino said. "It can snowball."

The Sox entered the fourth inning Friday without a hit, trailing 2-0 on bases-empty home runs by Sean Rodriguez and Ben Zobrist off Sox starter Jon Lester and looking like the four-day layoff between games might have had the deadening effect Sox fans had feared would be the case.

But then Pedroia bounced a single up the middle, and Myers, who later said he saw Jennings out of the corner of his eye, gave the Sox the opening they craved while awakening a sellout crowd of 38,177, which spent the rest of the game serenading the Rays' rookie with a singsong "Myyyy-ers, Myyyy-ers."

Gomes, who has been part of four playoff teams but had played just once in the postseason, came into this series craving just such a chance: second and third, one out. That it came against the team that left him off its postseason roster in 2008 made it all the more inviting. He doubled off the Monster, his first-ever postseason hit, and the game was tied.

"It was tense early on," Dempster said. "When you take that long of a break off, it's not tough, but it's almost harder to get it going. But then that double by Jonny Gomes seemed to set it all off. It was like, 'Here we go.'"

The Rays compounded Myers' mistake exponentially. Pitcher Matt Moore was late to cover on Stephen Drew's infield hit, and Gomes scored all the way from second, just as he had on an infield hit in the season opener in Yankee Stadium. "That hustle is definitely erased," he said, "if Stephen Drew doesn't hustle to first. So it's double hustle, and we were able to touch the plate and get a run on the board."

Left fielder Sean Rodriguez, who in the second inning had made a diving catch of a Gomes liner, allowed Will Middlebrooks' wall-ball double to carom over his head, enabling Drew to score from first. Jacoby Ellsbury struck out, but catcher Jose Lobaton muffed the third strike;, Ellsbury reached first on the passed ball and Middlebrooks took third. Victorino followed with another RBI single, and it was 5-2.

Three more runs and another carom over Rodriguez's head in the fifth, and the lead was 8-2. Four more runs in the eighth accounted for the final difference. Lester, who began the game with his (very little) hair on fire, striking out the first four Tampa Bay hitters, throttled the Rays without a hit over his last 4 1/3 innings before leaving to a standing ovation in the eighth.

"That's as powerful stuff as Jon has had for us all year long," Red Sox manager John Farrell said, "and it came at a very good time."

Every hitter in the Sox lineup had at least one hit and scored at least one run. That's just the third time in postseason history that any team has done that, and the first since the 1936 Yankees of Gehrig, Dickey and DiMaggio. They batted around twice, in the five-run fourth and the three-run fifth. They stole two bases. They executed a hit-and-run, which had Rays manager Joe Maddon fending off questions after the game on whether he thought the Sox were piling on. (He said he didn't.)

The first three batters in the Sox lineup combined to go 7-for-13, with Victorino singling three times and Ellsbury and Pedroia twice apiece. The 4-5-6 hitters -- Ortiz, Mike Napoli and Gomes -- all had a double apiece and combined to score five runs. The 7-8-9 hitters -- Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Drew and Middlebrooks -- drove in five runs and scored three.

Blood in the water? "I think that just shows how," Gomes said. "You see nine hitters, and we all work together."

Saturday afternoon, those Sox hitters will have their work cut out for them again. The Rays will be sending out lefty ace David Price, who in his last start went the distance against the Rangers to eliminate them from postseason consideration. The Sox will counter with John Lackey.

"It's a battle, man," said Dempster, who pitched a scoreless ninth and got his first taste of a postseason win after being on teams that were swept twice. "That's just the way our team is. Even when Moore hadn't allowed a hit in the first three innings, he was over 50 pitches.

"I wouldn't want to face them."

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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