Five Cuts: How the rested Rays silenced Red Sox Nation
Matt Garza used one pitch to shut down the Red Sox in Game 3
The big stage of the AL East is helping the young Rays in the ALCS
More proof that Phillies GM Pat Gillick might be a Hall of Famer
1. Rays pitcher Matt Garza throttled the Boston lineup in Game 3 of the ALCS even though they knew what was coming; his fastball is that good. Garza fell behind 1-and-0 to 19 of the 27 batters he faced, and threw fastballs on 93 of his 116 pitches -- and yet the Red Sox, with little doubt as to what he was throwing, managed only one run and six hits off Garza while he pitched into the seventh inning.
"I'm of the opinion that he could throw his fastball 100 percent of the time and still win," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
"Keep attacking," Garza said of his game plan. "I was going to make those guys beat my fastball."
Garza found extra motivation in Game 3 because he had not pitched well in his ALDS start and because Boston pitcher Jon Lester, who had not lost at Fenway in six months, was the focus of most pregame analysis.
"All the talk was about how Lester was unhittable," Garza told reporters. "Sorry to say, guys: baseball is a humbling game. He obviously had center stage. I was pushed to the backdrop. But I like it when people want to overlook me or doubt me."
2. Boston DH David Ortiz still doesn't look right at the plate. Indeed, it appears downright strange to see Ortiz presenting no danger at bat. Garza, a right-hander, attacked him with 13 fastballs among the 16 pitches he threw Ortiz. The result? Ortiz struck out looking and popped out twice. The entire equilibrium of the Red Sox seems thrown off with Ortiz slumping; he's that important to how the Sox feel about themselves. Boston badly needs one bolt from Ortiz's bat very, very soon.
3. Great move by Maddon to give his team a full off day on Sunday after the five hour, 27-minute ALCS Game 2, followed by midday travel from Tampa to Boston. (Maddon did not have the Rays fly out immediately after the game, as is the practice of most teams.) "Fresh minds and fresh bodies," Maddon said. "That's how we've approached it all year." Said outfielder Gabe Gross, "That was huge, especially after we heard the Red Sox worked out after they got in at, what, 6 o'clock in the morning?"
4. How is it that a young team with no playoff experience can roll into Fenway and calmly blow out the Red Sox in an ALCS game, with home runs by Evan Longoria, 23, and B.J. Upton, 24, and a pitching gem from Garza, 24? "It's the AL East," Maddon said. "When you play in the AL East you feel like you're prepared for anything." True enough, playing 18 games a year in front of sold-out, hostile crowds at Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium shortens the maturation process of young players. It's the small downside to the growth and success of the Red Sox and Yankees: they provide proving grounds for opposing young players with their playoff-like atmosphere. Remember, Rays fans, nine of the past 10 world champions either were the Red Sox, the Yankees or a team that had to go through the Red Sox or Yankees to win their title.
By the way, that was not your usual Fenway Park playoff crowd in Game 3 even before the Rays broke the game open. "To take Boston's 26th man out of it was huge," Garza said.
But really, Fenway never did have the right playoff buzz. Red Sox Nation has lost a bit of its edge. A Major League Baseball official, for instance, noted that the LDS ratings in Boston were down by double digits this year compared to last year (against the same team, the Angels). "It's like what happened in Atlanta with the Braves; they've gotten so used to winning they don't care as much until the World Series," the official said. Moreover, these 2008 Red Sox lack a distinct narrative to keep their fans hooked -- no curse to break, no threat from the Yankees, no big struggles to overcome, no Manny or assorted idiots ... just the previously irrelevant Rays in the way.
5. Phillies GM Pat Gillick may be working his way toward a Hall of Fame selection someday, and it's additions such as Matt Stairs that help put him in that argument. Gillick has always been an accomplished architect of rosters, not just a collector of star players. He picked up Stairs in August -- past the waiver deadline -- in an under-the-radar deal with Toronto. But Gillick knew that Stairs can turn around any right-hander's fastball even without regular playing time, which makes him a perfect bat to have on the bench. Stairs rewarded Gillick's faith with his game-changing, pinch-hit home run off Jonathan Broxton in NLCS Game 4. Stairs, 40, is the third-oldest player ever to hit his first postseason home run. Only Dave Winfield (41) and Julio Franco (43) waited longer.