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Clutch, heady play helped Rays to badly needed win

BOSTON — There were plenty of reasons why the Rays won Saturday/Sunday's marathon 11-inning thriller 9-8, which officially evened the American League Championship Series and theoretically may have tipped the momentum in their favor.

There was Evan Longoria's hitting. There was Dan Wheeler's, then David Price's pitching. There was Dioner Navarro's and Ben Zobrist's patience, followed immediately by Fernando Perez's timely impatience.

But how did they do it?

How did they come back three times from deficits? How did they overcome blowing a one-run lead with four outs to go, and on a wild pitch? How did they piece together a rally at 1-something Sunday morning to win?

The better question? How could they not have?

"We maintained our composure, and we just continued to believe," manager Joe Maddon said later Sunday. "That's why you win games like that."

"I don't think at any point," B.J. Upton said, "we thought we couldn't win that game."

So exactly how did the Rays win it?

Wheeler's pitching

Because Wheeler was willing to pitch as long as they needed him.

With a shaky start from Scott Kazmir, and a rare ineffective appearance by Grant Balfour in the fifth, Maddon went deeper into the bullpen more quickly than planned. Two batters into the eighth, he had used four of his top five relievers.

Enter Wheeler, with one on. Though he allowed the tying run on the wild pitch after getting a double play, he worked the ninth and 10th and started the 11th, facing 12 batters and allowing one hit, before giving way to Price. The 31/3 innings were his most in more than four years, and the 48 pitches his most since June 2006.

"It was probably the difference in the ballgame," pitching coach Jim Hickey said. "How big was it? It was behemothian. It couldn't get any bigger. It was gigantic."

No Paps

Because Boston manager Terry Francona took closer Jonathan Papelbon out of the game and put Mike Timlin in it.

The Sox don't often use Papelbon for more than four outs (only five times the past two seasons) or three innings. Plus, they were concerned about his shoulder being struck by a Carl Crawford liner in the 10th.

So though Papelbon had thrown only 18 pitches, he was done. Francona had Timlin, who was left off the division series roster, and fifth starter Paul Byrd warming. He said Sunday, "There was some, I don't know if indecision is the right word, but …" They opted for Timlin, figuring it was better to save Byrd for whatever innings remained.

The Rays were pleasantly surprised. "Because we had the off day (Sunday), maybe they would have ran (Papelbon) out there a little bit longer," Longoria said. "Maybe Terry was thinking he was tired and they needed to get him out of there because his ball might start to flatten out or lose velocity or whatever. But I was happy to see him go."

Patience

Because the Rays were patient when it would have been easy to be impatient, then in a hurry when they didn't have to be.

Navarro started the 11th behind 0-and-1 and 1-and-2 in the count, then took three straight balls for a walk and was replaced by pinch-runner Perez. Zobrist, trying to bunt, took two balls, held off again when the sign came off, took ball three and strike one. Then with the bunt back on, he took ball four. Jason Bartlett, also trying to bunt, fell behind 0-and-2, then took a ball.

On the next pitch, Perez — on his own, with a green light — broke for third, and Zobrist, reading the play, took off for second. That was huge, because Bartlett bounced a ball to third, but Kevin Youkilis' only play was to first, putting Rays on second and third.

"I wouldn't say that was conventional, but Joe Maddon has shown he's going to take some chances," Sox catcher Kevin Cash said. "That's how they are. They have a lot of team speed, and they're very aggressive."

Upton and Perez

Because Upton did what he was supposed to do, then Perez did what he was supposed to.

As the inning unfolded, Upton realized it might come down to his at-bat and started planning accordingly, assuming — correctly — the Sox would intentionally walk Akinori Iwamura to load the bases.

Upton quickly got behind 0-and-2 with a foul ball and a swing-and-miss, then fouled off another fastball. He went the other way with the next pitch, a cutter, hitting a fly ball just inside the rightfield line, barely to medium depth.

"I was prepared," Upton said. "I saw it brewing up."

Perez went back to tag third and was planning to break for home, mouthing the words "I'm gonna go" to third-base coach Tom Foley and hoping he didn't tell him not to.

"I like the idea of him in that moment making up his own mind based on his speed and the fact that he can make up his mind quicker than someone can tell him what to do," Maddon said.

Perez said he considered it an "aggressive gamble" that fit in with the team philosophy to "err on the side of aggressiveness." Plus, "I wanted to go no matter what. When you see an owner holding a very dangerous dog back, that's kind of how I felt with Foley there."

J.D. Drew made the catch, but with his right shoulder hampered by a "charley horse" from being hit Friday by a Balfour pitch and a poor grip on the ball, he bounced his throw to the third-base side of the plate. Perez scored easily and set off a wild celebration of the Rays' 12th — and most significant — walkoff win of the season.

Because they had to

"You can't go down 0-2 and head to Boston," Cliff Floyd said. "You do that, you might as well start pulling out some wardrobe boxes. I mean, let's be real."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com

Clutch, heady play helped Rays to badly needed win 10/12/08 [Last modified: Monday, October 13, 2008 2:12pm]
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