Red Sox 2, Rays 0

Sweet nothings

Matsuzaka, Red Sox blank Rays in opener

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / October 11, 2008
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - There is time for David Ortiz. In between at-bats, in between trips to the cage, the designated hitter has time to observe the game, and his teammates. His opposition. And that was where he saw the differences. This was no longer the regular season, no longer the time when the Tampa Bay Rays had flattened the Red Sox in Tropicana Field.

Things change in the postseason. To Ortiz, the Rays seemed to change.

"In the regular season it's totally different than the playoffs," Ortiz said after the Red Sox won Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, 2-0, last night over the Rays. "I'm the kind of guy that I watch everybody's faces. I've got the opportunity because I don't have to go out there and play defense. I'm telling you, I saw faces tonight different than what I see in the regular season. I don't blame nobody. It's a lot of pressure out there right now in this game because you have to win; otherwise, you go home.

"That relaxed type of thing that you have during the regular season, that wasn't out there tonight."

He watched the Rays, when they were down a run, when they were down two runs. He didn't see what he'd seen from them previously, the "it don't matter, we're going to come in and get it done" attitude.

"I don't think I really saw that," Ortiz said. "This is their first time in the playoffs. Those guys, they've been doing a [heck] of a job this year. It's a totally different feeling."

Not for the Red Sox. For the Sox, it was the same as always, with Boston winning Game 1 of a series for the fifth straight time. This occasion was slightly different, as there was no way to stop the noise, the ear-splitting, migraine-inducing mix of songs over the sound system and shaken cowbells taking over The Trop. But there was one good way to silence the 35,001 playoff neophytes: by no-hitting the Rays through six innings, and finishing off a shutout of the AL East champions.

And so it went, the Sox earning just their second win in 10 games here in 2008. Perfect timing, too, as the Sox got the jump in this series by taking away home-field advantage from the team with the best home record in the majors. Plus, it took away what had seemed, prior to last night's starts by Daisuke Matsuzaka and James Shields, to be a matchup that favored the Rays. Not quite.

This one favored Matsuzaka, yet another tumultuous start giving way to brilliance. And this one was better than most.

Despite Matsuzaka's contention that his fastball wasn't up to par, he was in control for most of the evening. Until the seventh inning, when the Rays found hope.

"He gives himself a lot of opportunities, but he doesn't give in," said Sox manager Terry Francona. "He throws all his pitches so hitters have to respect, even in tight situations, he doesn't become a one-pitch pitcher, throw his two-seamer, cutter, changeup, fastball, so they can't sit on one pitch even in tight situations like that."

Or, as Ortiz said, "When you watch Daisuke pitch, at one point you kind of run out of patience, but then they hit like .164 off him. I don't know how he does it, but he does it."

And the Rays weren't hitting anything in this one. Matsuzaka's pitch count was at 89 at the start of the seventh inning. That must have sounded a siren for the Rays. There just might be life (in their bats) after Matsuzaka.

Relievers began warming in the bullpen as Matsuzaka worked to Carl Crawford. And then it happened. After 22 futile plate appearances before him, Crawford knocked a solid single into right field for the Rays' first hit.

Before that, the one that could have gotten through, by Carlos Peña in the sixth inning, played right into the Sox' decision to employ the shift, as Dustin Pedroia gobbled up the hard shot on his backhand in short right field. Meanwhile, the Rays were getting nearly as impressive a start from Shields.

"It's a mortal sin to waste good pitching," said Rays manager Joe Maddon, laughing. Confession, then, might be in order for the Rays this morning.

Still, the Rays did come close to breaking through in that seventh inning, as Cliff Floyd followed Crawford's hit with a single. There were runners on first and third, no outs, and Dioner Navarro at the plate, with relievers at the ready. But Navarro flied to left, and Gabe Gross struck out. (That shouldn't be surprising, given that it gave Gross 18 strikeouts in 52 at-bats against the Sox this season). Jason Bartlett then grounded into a force out, as Matsuzaka escaped again.

"I'd take Daisuke any time," Ortiz said. "He knows how to get out of trouble. How? I don't know. I would be dying out there, watching on TV. But he's got such a bunch of different kinds of ways to get a hitter out that it's unbelievable. He's got so much movement on his pitches and he's got so many different ways to throw strikes. It's hard to hit like that."

But the game didn't end without incident. With Iwamura - who hits Matsuzaka at a .375 (9 for 24) clip - at the plate, Francona decided to leave in his starter, even though he was at 107 pitches to start the eighth. Iwamura singled to left, followed by an infield single by B.J. Upton to third, where Kevin Youkilis wasn't able to field the ball cleanly.

That was it for Matsuzaka, and ultimately for the Rays in the eighth, as Hideki Okajima (fly out to right) and Justin Masterson (double-play ball to shortstop) closed out the inning. Okajima retired Peña, and Masterson got Evan Longoria, who dropped to 1 for 16 since hitting two homers to begin his postseason career.

"That was the big factor," Francona said of bringing back Matsuzaka for the eighth to face Upton, who had been 1 for 16 against him. "We didn't intend to have him start the inning, but we don't have three miles down there. So we had [Okajima], [Jonathan Papelbon], and Masterson, hopefully all available, and it paid off."

So, too, did Francona's decision to stick with Mark Kotsay at first base. Kotsay's excuse-me swing ("I got lucky," he said) resulted in a double in the fifth inning off Shields, pushing Jason Bay to third base, from where he scored on Jed Lowrie's sacrifice fly.

The Sox scored again in the eighth when Youkilis got his third hit, and first RBI, doubling home Pedroia. His first two hits had come off Shields, notable because Youkilis had been 0 for 17 against the righthander coming in, before doubling and singling in his first two at-bats.

It's just one win out of a necessary four, but with a loose and happy clubhouse after the game, it somehow seemed like more than that.

"They always say the first one is the hardest, so just to get that on the board was big," Lowrie said.

American League Championship Series
Series Overview
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