Welcome to Game 4 of the ALDS between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Boston Red Sox where the home team is down 2-1 in their best of five series. Or as it is called in the Bay Area, another day, another elimination game; this time at least it is at home at Tropicana Field.
Last night’s come from behind 5-4 win over Boston was huge, and the sellout crowd at “the Trop” did their part by being loud. A dramatic walk-off blast by an unlikely hero in Jose Lobaton has helped to keep the Rays’ season alive for yet another day.
So now the managerial wizardry of Rays manager Joe Maddon rests tonight on the right arm of a former Rookie of the Year, Jeremy Hellickson. Boston will counter by sending Jake Peavy to the mound for what they hope will be the clinching game.
Maddon is rolling the dice by starting Hellickson, but then again what is new. The Rays skipper, win or lose, never plays it safe. He likes living on the edge, and we will find out tonight if his gamble with Hellickson pays off with a win and a return trip to Boston for a Game 5.
Hellickson is getting the call to the mound tonight over rookie sensation Chris Archer because of Maddon’s gut. He thinks that with the extra rest that Hellickson will be able to stop the Red Sox express. Then it is back to Boston for a Game 5 with David Price on the mound.
The Rays’ right hander has struck out more batters and walked fewer batters than he ever has in his career. He has gotten ground balls at a higher rate and allowed home runs at a lower rate than last season. But here is where the gamble comes into play; his 3.06 ERA from last year has grown to an alarming 5.17 this season, mostly because opponents hit .308, a huge jump from .224 his rookie year and .264 last year.
Take nothing away from Boston, but these issues that have plagued the Rays in both their losses are fixable. What has defined the “Rays way of winning” starts with stellar defense that often uses multiple shifts based on statistical data about the opposing teams’ hitting tendencies.
To pull this type of defense off requires that the players on the field actually catch and throw the properly. Thus far the Red Sox, who by the way do not need extra help, seem to get it as the Rays’ stars like Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist, James Loney and even rookie sensation Wil Myers have simply cost the Rays runs by not playing the team’s signature style of defense.
The Rays’ other weapon, their starting pitchers, have picked a bad time to have issues with what constitutes a strike zone in the ALDS. Matt Moore and David Price have not been sharp and focused putting the Rays in a win or go home position. I think that Tampa Bay knows if they can get this win today then heading back to Boston with Price on the hill would suit them just fine.
So, Maddon the gambler and his starting pitcher Hellickson need to prove that this was the right move. But rest assured that the Rays to a man feel that their boss is making the right move and that Hellickson is the man to get the ball to keep their season alive.
We will see tonight 8:30 p.m. EDT live from the Trop on TBS and ESPN Radio if Maddon man has the right plan. He is the wizard after all, and the Rays hope to follow the yellow brick road back to Boston and beyond.