From lead to loss in 5 pitches
By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer
RED SOX 10, RAYS 4: Nine outs from victory, the bullpen can't hold a 4-3 advantage, then Boston blows them out.
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 24, 2003
BOSTON - For a while Wednesday night, it looked as if the Devil Rays might be on to something.
Boston players and manager Grady Little had been insisting that even with a huge weekend series against the Yankees looming, they weren't going to look past the Rays, laying it on heavy enough for Rays manager Lou Piniella to reply that it was nice to hear but, "I'm sure they're not shuddering that we're in town."
Yet midway through the seventh, the Rays had the lead, nine outs from what would have been a huge win. Then the Red Sox had the final say, turning a close back-and-forth game into a 10-4 blowout with a seven-run seventh.
"Up and down, up and down, everything was on the good, and then ..." catcher Toby Hall said. "It seems like it always happens here. They've got that magic aura here in Boston."
They've got plenty, what with a payroll in excess of $105-million (compared with Tampa Bay's active payroll of $8.105-million), the ability to fill what holes they have (such as adding a third lefty, Scott Sauerbeck, to the bullpen) and so much depth that Piniella joked a couple of players on the Boston bench were welcome to come over and switch uniforms.
"What is it they need?" Piniella said.
Wednesday, the Sox showed patience and power, and the ability to take advantage of a slight breeze blowing out to leftfield.
The Rays erased the early lead Boston got off Jeremi Gonzalez by manufacturing a pair of runs, thanks mainly to the efforts of rookie Antonio Perez and Carl Crawford, then getting seventh-inning home runs from Travis Lee (a blast over the 420-foot sign in centerfield) and Hall (into the seats atop the Green Monster).
That left them with a 4-3 lead going to the bottom of the seventh, but it didn't last long.
Five pitches to be exact.
Travis Harper replaced Gonzalez, who'd thrown 108 pitches in six innings, but didn't provide any relief. No. 9 hitter Doug Mirabelli reached on an infield single off shortstop Julio Lugo's glove, and Johnny Damon launched a 2-and-0 pitch over the rightfield foul pole to put the Sox ahead 5-4 - "If Damon's ball was fair, the wind kept it fair," Piniella said - and it got worse from there.
"The leadoff guy gets on and I fell behind the next two hitters," Harper said. "Against a good lineup, you're headed for trouble right there. ... It's the recipe for a big inning."
A Todd Walker double, an infield out and an intentional walk to Manny Ramirez ended Harper's night, and Al Levine didn't do any better. After giving up a run-scoring double to David Ortiz and walking Bill Mueller, he gave up a grand slam to Trot Nixon, making it 10-4, over and out.
Piniella didn't regret lifting Gonzalez, but said he should have brought in rookie lefty Mark Malaska, a 25-year-old with two big-league appearances. "I just didn't think this was the time for him, in a one-run game in Fenway," he said.
After making a handful of somewhat complimentary comments - "Tampa Bay is not as bad a team as people think," Kevin Millar said Tuesday - the Sox, still stung by the two extra-inning losses at the Trop three weeks ago, played Wednesday's game like it mattered, using two pinch-runners in the seventh, Sauerbeck in the eighth and, despite a six-run lead, closer Byung-Hyun Kim in the ninth.
"You better be ready to play nine innings when you go up against that ballclub or they're going to come right up and get you," Little said.
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