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Rays' clutch struggles return against Red Sox in ALCS

Gabe Gross turns to head toward the dugout after striking out on a foul tip for the second out in the seventh, when the Rays put runners on the corners with no outs and failed to score.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Gabe Gross turns to head toward the dugout after striking out on a foul tip for the second out in the seventh, when the Rays put runners on the corners with no outs and failed to score.

ST. PETERSBURG — Red Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka had no-hit stuff for much of Friday's opener of the American League Championship Series.

But when Matsuzaka started to waver late in the game, the Rays couldn't capitalize, bringing a seasonlong struggle with runners in scoring position to the forefront.

In the 2-0 loss to the Red Sox, the Rays went 1-for-8 with RISP, including two huge chances in the seventh and eighth.

"It's kind of frustrating," catcher Dioner Navarro said. "We know we can get it done, but we couldn't in that moment."

Navarro was part of one of the Rays' best chances in the seventh. Down 1-0, Carl Crawford broke Matsuzaka's no-hit bid with a single to rightfield. Crawford moved to third on Cliff Floyd's single, setting up runners at the corners with no outs.

But Matsuzaka got Navarro, Gabe Gross and Jason Bartlett in order to thwart the threat. Navarro came closest to an RBI, lofting a fly ball to leftfield.

But the ball wasn't hit quite deep enough, and Crawford didn't try to score.

"I was trying to hit the ball in the air and get a sacrifice fly, and I did," Navarro said. "But it didn't go far enough."

"After I was able to get the first batter out," Matsuzaka said through an interpreter, "it certainly got a lot easier."

Matsuzka struck out Gross after falling behind 3-and-1, then got Bartlett to ground into an inning-ending forceout at second.

The Rays blew another golden opportunity in the eighth. Down 2-0, Akinori Iwamura led off with a single and advanced to second on a wild pitch. B.J. Upton reached on an infield single that Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis couldn't quite handle.

But lefty Hideki Okajima came in to face Carlos Pena. Rays manager Joe Maddon gave Pena a "green light" to swing on a 3-0 count, and Pena flied out to right. Right-hander Justin Masterson then got Evan Longoria to ground into an inning-ending double play.

The Rays, who scuffled to a .246 average with runners in scoring position during the regular season, also stranded the bases loaded in the first inning.

"We had a chance to score some runs," B.J. Upton said. "Obviously, we didn't get it done."

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com

Rays' clutch struggles return against Red Sox in ALCS 10/10/08 [Last modified: Saturday, October 11, 2008 1:39am]
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