Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and Jason Bay have batted in the same inning six times this series. The Red Sox have scored in all six innings, amassing nine runs in that time. In the other 14 innings of the series, they have scored just once.
Particularly since David Ortiz is 0-for-6 with four walks and no runs batted in this series, the significance of that pattern is fairly plain. The team right now depends almost entirely on Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and Jason Bay to start and sustain rallies.
Pedroia (4-for-8), Youkilis (6-for-10) and Bay (4-for-8) have a combined .538 average in the series.
The rest of the Sox lineup is batting exactly .100 (5-for-50). Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury, Mark Kotsay, J.D. Drew, Jed Lowrie and Jason Varitek are a combined 2-for-44 (.045). The very top-heavy nature of the lineup came into sharp focus in Game 2 of the ALCS.
“It was brought to my attention that we had 12 hits, and four guys (Pedroia, Youkilis, Bay and Coco Crisp) had three hits apiece,” said Bay. “That’s kind of unheard of. There were a handful of guys who were seeing it well, and another handful who weren’t. That’s just kind of the way it goes.”
Bay, it is worth noting, has been nothing short of a postseason monster. He’s hitting .440/.517/.920/1.437 with three homers and nine runs batted in. His homer in the fifth inning of Saturday's game was absolutely destroyed--the ball sounded like an explosion off the bat.
Incredibly, eight of the runs he’s plated have been with two outs. For his comfort in these situations, he credits the transition from Pittsburgh to Boston, a phenomenon that dwarfed the change embodied by the regular season versus the postseason.
“The drastic difference in the last two months compared to where I was at the last five years has a huge hand in preparing me for that,” Bay said.
EMPTY AT THE TOP
Because the heart of the order has been so productive, Jacoby Ellsbury’s lack of production has been particularly important. In the ALDS, he hit .333 with a .400 OBP and led the Sox with six runs batted in and proved a catalyst. He entered the ALCS with a .349 career postseason average, and Angels skipper Mike Scioscia said that the fleet outfielder changed the dynamic of Boston’s lineup.
Against the Rays, however, Ellsbury has yet to reach base, going 0-for-11 with three strikeouts. He was also hitless in his last six at-bats against the Angels.
Given what the two through five hitters have done, and the fact that Tampa is approaching David Ortiz with extreme caution, Ellsbury’s odds of scoring if he reaches base would have to be considered excellent. Instead, Dustin Pedroia’s first career multi-homer game in Saturday’s marathon generated exactly two RBIs for the simple reason that Ellsbury had ended the previous innings.
CLOSER THAN ANYONE THOUGHT
Though Rays relievers allowed opposing hitters to bat just .220 (lowest in the majors) and forged a 3.55 ERA (fifth in the majors) during the regular season, the Sox seemed to possess a game-ending difference-maker. The presence of Jonathan Papelbon, it was presumed, represented a decisive advantage for Boston.
But in Game 2, Dan Wheeler represented something even beyond the historically dominant Papelbon. Wheeler inherited an 8-7 lead with two on and no out in the eighth. He got Kevin Youkilis to hit into a double-play grounder but then tied the game with a run-scoring wild pitch.
No matter. Wheeler returned for the ninth, and the 10th and even for the start of the 11th, punching in with 48 pitches over 3.1 shutout innings, an outing that prompted a challenge to the English language.
“It couldn't get any bigger. It was gigantic,” said Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey. “It was behemothian.”
Papelbon, meanwhile, ran his postseason scoreless innings streak to 22 innings by recording four outs in the ninth and 10th innings on just 18 pitches. Despite that efficiency, however, Papelbon admitted that there was no way that he could match Wheeler by returning to the mound for the 11th.
“Not the way I felt. I felt pretty tired,” he explained. “(The fatigue) is just the fact that I warmed up for two innings prior to that. Nothing but workload.”
In 2007, Papelbon threw 69 combined innings in the regular season and playoffs. This year, he is at 76.2 combined innings (7.1 in the postseason).
That refrain has been offered quite regularly by Papelbon dating to September, and so one must wonder whether his second straight seven-month season is taking a toll, and what kind of weapon (six outs? four? three?) he will be going forward.
The Sox, of course, may have the last laugh. There seems little question that Papelbon will be available in Game 3. The same can’t necessarily be said of Wheeler, who last logged that many pitches in June 2006. The Rays are optimistic, but declined to say with certainty that Wheeler could pitch in Game 3.
“I would be surprised if he wasn’t available,” said Hickey, who also worked with Wheeler in Houston. “But I would also agree with what (Rays manager) Joe (Maddon) said, just wait until the emotion type of stuff goes away and then see where we are.
“I had seen him do it before in Houston where he would pitch two-plus innings, three-plus innings, parts of four innings, extra-inning games where it was do-or-die, winner-go-home type of a thing, and I told Joe he would be fine, and I knew he would be fine, and I've seen him also rebound from that well. I would anticipate that he would be able to pitch Monday.”
THE REST OF THE ‘PEN IS MIGHTY
It is almost amusing to reflect on the notion, popular in the middle of the season, that the bullpen would be the great weakness of the Red Sox. While Papelbon faces some fatigue, he and his fellow relievers have been brilliant.
The bullpen has allowed one run in 8.1 innings (1.08 ERA) in the ALCS, and five runs in 23.1 innings (1.93 ERA) overall this postseason.
“(The performance has been) very, very impressive,” said Mike Timlin, who lost Game 2 after giving up the only relief run conceded by the Sox bullpen in the ALCS. “These guys have been throwing the ball really well. I seem to be the only blemish.”
That said, the Rays bullpen has shown its own impressive ability to dominate the Sox. Tampa’s relievers were 7-0 against the Sox during the regular season, and are now 1-0 in the postseason.
Suffice it to say that if a game gets to the bullpen, both teams seem to have the talents to match zeros and create more drama along the lines of what was seen in Game 2.
A.L. EAST: NEW RIVALRY, FAMILIAR PHENOMENON
The Sox won Game 1 by two runs. The Rays won the second game by a single run. Already, the series has taken a number of wild turns:
The unexpected six no-hit innings and overall dominance in Game 1 by Daisuke Matsuzaka; the seven homers that were launched in the first five innings in Game 2, the zero longballs that followed in the next six innings of Game 2; a historically good postseason starter (Josh Beckett) getting shelled in Game 2; one 23-year-old Justin Masterson) who recorded a key double play in Game 1; another 23-year-old (David Price) who collected his first big-league win in Game 2; another 23-year-old (Evan Longoria) snapping out of a slump with three hits, a homer and three RBIs in Game 2…
The regular season series between these two teams was little short of spectacular. The Rays took 10 of 18 contests, and the games were typically decided in the later innings. The two teams were evenly matched A.L. East combatants, reminiscent of the 2003-05 dynamic of the Sox and Yankees. In that context, the taut playoff series should come as little surprise.
“That’s pretty much the game that we play with the Rays,” said David Ortiz.
If that remains the case, the series could prove memorable.
Alex Speier is a Senior Writer for WEEI.com.