ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - The way Kevin Cash sees it, the Red Sox would have needed perfection to prevent last night's extra-inning loss to the Rays.
Because anything short of a perfect throw wasn't going to nail pinch runner Fernando Perez at the plate as he tagged up from third base on a shallow fly ball to right field in the 11th inning. Perez beat the throw from J.D. Drew to lift the Rays to a 9-8 win over the Red Sox at Tropicana Field in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series.
"That guy is as fast as anyone in the game," said Cash. "It would have taken a perfect throw to get him.
"It's weird, on a play like that, the turf out there, when the ball hits it's like a sponge. It kicks like a changeup and you don't get a true skip like you do on a regular field."
Perez entered as a pinch runner for Dioner Navarro after the Rays catcher drew a walk to start the 11th inning. Aided by a walk, a fielder's choice, and an intentional walk, Tampa Bay loaded the bases against reliever Mike Timlin, who was activated for the ALCS after sitting out the Division Series against the Angels. With one out, B.J. Upton lifted a lazy fly down the right-field line.
Drew, who wasn't in the starting lineup but pinch hit for Jason Varitek in the ninth, came charging in on the ball. He seemed to settle under it a bit and didn't carry his momentum into the throw.
The toss sailed up the line and Perez slid in behind Cash to even the best-of-seven series as it shifts to Fenway Park.
"My grip on the ball wasn't the best because I was trying to get rid of it so quickly," said Drew.
"You do what you can. Like I said, in that circumstance, my grip wasn't the best, so I had to be fast with the release. It tailed up the line a bit."
Like Cash, reliever Mike Timlin absolved Drew of any blame. The veteran reliever took full blame for putting his team in the position to need a perfect throw to the plate.
"They came back, we came back, it was definitely a back-and-forth game," said Timlin. "We both played well, but looking at my performance, I was the one who messed it up. We should have won that game."
Drew didn't make any excuses and didn't lean on a recurring back problem or the throwing shoulder that got drilled by Grant Balfour in Game 1.
"I think, I'm not quite sure, but that's where he got hit the other night by Balfour, might be a little bit sore," said Cash.
Drew flied to center leading off the ninth and walked in the 11th to put two runners on with one out, but was out on a fielder's choice to end the inning.
Chris Forsberg can be reached at email@example.com