Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays sweep doubleheader at Red Sox

BOSTON — The doubleheader the Rays didn't want to play Thursday against the Red Sox didn't turn out too bad.

The Rays won a tense 2-1 opener, featuring a key play at the plate that survived a replay challenge. Then after blowing an early lead, rallied to win the nightcap 6-5 when Yunel Escobar homered in the ninth, with Grant Balfour picking up the save in both games.

It was the first sweep for the Rays in seven doubleheaders at Fenway Park and might forever be one of the sweetest after the Sox used an exception to MLB rules to force them to play two after Wednesday's rainout.

"We had vociferously fought for just one game for a lot of obvious reasons," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "It just did not work out that way. Thus, our players came out and made a statement today. And I kind of enjoyed it."

Actually they made several, including this one by Ben Zobrist, referencing the chatter that one reason the Sox scheduled the doubleheader was to ease distribution of a Dustin Pedroia bobblehead that was to be given out Wednesday.

"It does feel good," Zobrist said. "I hope everybody enjoyed their bobblehead."

The Rays — who had lost six of seven — had plenty of reason to feel good, specifically in the performance of Balfour. Pitching for the first time since blowing Friday's game with a walkoff grand slam in Chicago, he set down some of Boston's biggest hitters for the rare feat of two saves in one day.

"It's frickin' awesome to do it in any stadium, definitely against a team we're fighting in our division," Balfour said.

Not everything went well, though.

Neither Rays starter, Cesar Ramos nor Chris Archer, got through the five innings, which made the Rays the first team to win twice in a day that way since the '04 Red Sox. (It also makes it 13 of the past 17 games that a Rays starter hasn't worked more than five.)

And their pitchers combined for 17 walks, which a team hasn't done and won twice in a day since the 1995 Pirates.

Maddon said he could sense the players were motivated early in the matinee, more into the game than normal. "You could just feel the thing in the dugout," he said.

After the matinee win, catcher Jose Molina said they had reason given the Red Sox's decision.

"They asked for it," he said. "That's what we came out today pretty much saying: 'Well, they want us to play today, let's beat them twice.' "

Both games were tense, not decided until Balfour got the final out.

Among the key moments in Game 1:

Ramos limiting the damage to one run in a 35-pitch first inning that included three walks, a hit, a wild pitch and an error. David DeJesus hitting a tying homer down the short rightfield line in the third, then drawing the third of three consecutive walks to force in the go-ahead run in the fourth.

The key play came in the seventh when Ortiz doubled off the wall. Leftfielder Matt Joyce made one strong throw and shortstop Escobar another, then Molina slid across the plate to block out and tag out Pedroia. A replay challenge didn't change the call, leaving the Sox complaining.

"J-Mo is probably the best at that play in the game right now," Maddon said. "J-Mo just threw the shadow on the plate and eventually pushed him off."

In the ninth, with Pedroia at second and Ortiz up, Maddon wanted an intentional walk. But Balfour, emphatically, convinced him otherwise.

"He was so sincerely maniacally crazed and passionate about it that I chose to go ahead and do it," Maddon said. "They call it the rage. but it was even a higher level than that."

Balfour said he felt it was important to end the game right there, and he had the right mind-set, unlike Chicago when he wasn't aggressive to do so. Three pitches later, he got a weak tapper to end it.

The Rays started Ramos in the day game figuring Archer would work deep into the nightcap, but he lost command after four sharp innings with a 2-0 lead and didn't get through the fifth as the Sox went up 5-2.

But Sean Rodriguez, who had two doubles and his team-leading fourth homer, tied it, with help from James Loney. Then Escobar, who had been 0-for-11 against closer Koji Uehara, crushed an elevated splitter over the seats atop the Green Monster. And Balfour, navigating a leadoff double and a two-out walk, did the job again.

     
 
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