BOSTON — Not everything went easy for the Rays on Tuesday.
After a 13-4 blasting of the Red Sox gave them a stunning 3-1 advantage in the AL Championship Series, after Carl Crawford tied an LCS record with five hits, after Andy Sonnanstine delivered another sterling start, after Evan Longoria hit his rookie-best fifth homer of the postseason, after Willy Aybar (Willy Aybar!) knocked in a career-high five runs, after the Rays became the first team to score nine or more runs in three straight LCS games, there were a couple of problems.
For one, the players admitted they were having a little bit of a tough time grasping exactly where they are: one win away from the World Series, which would start (say it slowly) on Oct. 22 at Tropicana Field.
"World Series? You're a little nervous to say it," said Crawford, the longest-serving Ray. "You almost don't want to say it, because you don't want nothing to happen. We're just so close right now, you just hope that we get there."
"I can't believe it," said Longoria, the otherwise unfazed rookie. "I don't want to believe it yet, because like you said, it's one win, and we've seen ourselves lose seven in a row, and it can happen in the blink of an eye."
"It's like when we made the playoffs, it was almost scary," reliever J.P. Howell said. "Now it's the same thing, and you try not to even look at it."
For another thing, team officials were huddled at their hotel late Tuesday and early this morning for a most improbable discussion, debating the strategic benefits of moving Scott Kazmir up to pitch the potential pennant clincher Thursday night or sticking with the more dependable James Shields to close out the defending world champions here.
Tuesday, the Rays took charge quickly again, and took the Fenway Park crowd out of the game again, scoring three in the first and two in the third to grab a 5-0 lead for the second straight game.
Sonnanstine kept it that way, working impressively and efficiently into the eighth and allowing only three earned runs, the only three he has allowed in 20-1/3 innings vs. the Sox this season.
"Andy set the tone for us, once again," manager Joe Maddon said.
The suddenly offensive Rays took it from there, hitting three more home runs (Carlos Pena, Longoria and Aybar) to make it a record-tying 16 in their first postseason, and in eight games. They have 41 runs in the three wins in the ALCS.
"It's gone very well," Longoria said, "obviously, in my eyes, a little better than expected. The offensive onslaught we put on the last couple days has been pretty unbelievable."
The Rays not only stunned the Fenway faithful, who were booing and leaving early again, but the players, too.
"It's a little shocking," said Sox catcher Kevin Cash, the Tampa product and former Ray. "It's very deflating and frustrating. We've got to regroup."
The Sox were left with questions about their starting pitching (a combined 12.08 ERA the past three games by Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Tim Wakefield) and just the slight comfort of knowing they have come back before, from a 3-0 deficit to the Yankees in '04 and 3-1 to the Indians last year. Twelve of the 15 previous teams to be up 3-1 have won the ALCS.
"I would say it's a huge factor that everyone in here believes we're going to go out and win Game 5 and so on," Cash said. "You have to take the attitude we'll play Thursday and take it from there."
The Rays figure to be plenty aware of that, too, especially with today off for a TV timeout.
"We were getting it already in the stands, and we're going to get a lot of that," Crawford said. "I know there was one guy yelling, 'Go ask Derek Jeter,' and he was yelling that real loud so I know everyone heard him."
Tuesday got ugly in a hurry for Wakefield, whose knuckler wasn't doing much of anything. After B.J. Upton walked with one out and stole second, Pena hit a shot to left, and two pitches later, Longoria did the same. A two-run homer from Aybar in the third made it 5-0.
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org