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Rays bash Lester, Red Sox, take 2-1 ALCS lead

BOSTON

As Monday's sunny afternoon turned into chilly evening and Game 3 of the AL Championship Series ended in a 9-1 victory, there were several moments when the Rays had a sense of how well things were going. There was the way Matt Garza established his aggressiveness on the mound in the first few innings. There were the two home runs a dozen pitches apart in the third inning, a three-run B.J. Upton blast that went over the Green Monster and onto Lansdowne Street, and a solo shot by Evan Longoria. There was the zero, one of six, Garza put on the old green scoreboard in the crucial next inning. There was the three-run homer by New England native son Rocco Baldelli that expanded the Rays' lead to 8-1 in the eighth.

But it was what happened next that was most telling, as many of the supposed Red Sox never-say-diehards in the sellout crowd of 38,031 starting filing out into the cold night.

"Oh man, it was great," Rays first baseman Carlos Pena said. "Obviously, we understand the lore. These are the Boston Red Sox. This is Fenway Park. When they leave, you're like, 'Man, that must have hurt. That home run must have hurt 'em.' And it did. We know it did."

Quite a bit, actually.

The Rays, in winning their major-league-most 102nd game, now lead the series 2-1, with the pitching matchup of Andy Sonnanstine against Tim Wakefield in their favor for Game 4 tonight and history on their side as 13 of the 18 teams leading a best-of-seven ALCS 2-1 have advanced.

They have regained the homefield advantage they lost when dropping the opener on Friday at Tropicana Field.

And they have ensured there will be more baseball at the Trop this season, either a Game 6 and possibly 7 of the ALCS this weekend, or the opening game of the World Series on Oct. 22.

The Sox do have the experience and the institutional knowledge of coming back from bigger deficits in past years — 3-0 against the Yankees in '04 and 3-1 to the Indians last year — and the Rays are appropriately wary.

But the Rays have some pretty good things working, too, getting excellent pitching and unexpected power, with Pena's ninth-inning shot making it an ALCS-record-tying four for their night.

Garza was huge, stepping up in a matchup in which Sox starter Jon Lester was the popular choice to be the pitcher who dominated.

"I felt good once I saw those first few innings, I'm like, 'Man, this guy's on. He's on,' " Pena said.

Garza allowed runners in each inning and put himself in a tough spot with runners on second and third and one out in the second but found a way out of trouble each time, the only run scoring on a sac fly after he left in the seventh.

"I told myself, 'Let them keep knocking on that door, keep knocking on that wall, but they ain't coming home,' " Garza said. "I told myself that's what I'm going to do. I had to make big pitches."

Rays hitters knew they would see some big pitches from Lester, who had developed into Boston's most consistent starter. He was 16-6 with a no-hitter during the season, beating the Rays three times and allowing only two runs in 20 innings, and had posted 14 innings during the postseason without an earned run.

They went in with a plan to be aggressive, and it paid off quickly as they scored an unearned run in the second then four in the explosive third that seemed to numb the crowd.

"To take Boston's 26th man out of it was huge for us, we kind of deflated their sails tonight," Garza said. "But I'll tell ya what, they're going to be back strong. These fans, they love their team to death. They've got an entire nation to themselves."

The Rays, who for a long time seemed to always lose to the Sox, have beaten them nine of the past 12 times. None, however, any bigger — or quieter — than this one.

"You don't normally see the fans heading for the exits until the last out's made," Longoria said.

A lot, it seems, has changed.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com

Rays bash Lester, Red Sox, take 2-1 ALCS lead 10/13/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 14, 2008 6:21pm]
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