Monday, October 7, 2013

“He’s Not Going to Hear the End of It”

By Jeff Kallman

Reality check: it's going to be up to all the Tampa Bay Rays as much as rookie Wil Myers as to whether or not Myers' lapse Friday marks him for the rest of his career. The good news, if you don't count Myers himself owning his mishap, is that he can't pull the Rays back in an American League division series by himself. Nor can he sink them all by himself.

And he sure as hell couldn't stop the Boston Red Sox from finishing what they started, a 11-2 Game One, Fenway Park bushwhacking, all by himself, either. He needed lots of help accomplishing that, and the Rays did their part to provide it, unfortunately.

"[A]ll of us kind of reiterated the fact that he's not going to hear the end of it," Rays third baseman Evan Longoria told reporters after the carnage finally ended. "Tomorrow he's going to hear it. If we come back here, they're going to remember. These are good baseball fans. They understood the importance of that play and how it changed the course of the game. Hopefully he's able to turn the page."

"It," of course, was the crowd chanting "My-ers! My-ers!" almost from the moment he vapor locked in right center field as David Ortiz's fourth-inning fly dropped its landing gear and headed for the turf.

The Rays had jumped Jon Lester for a 2-0 lead when Sean Rodriguez (in the second) and Ben Zobrist (in the fourth) sent solos over the Green Monster. With Dustin Pedroia aboard on a leadoff single in the bottom of the fourth, Ortiz lofted Tampa Bay starter Matt Moore's 2-0 service. Myers ambled back signaling he had it, then — almost inexplicably — froze off the ball, with center fielder Desmond Jennings close but not close enough, and the ball hit the turf and bounced into the bullpens for a ground rule double.

"I don't know what happened, man," said Boston pitcher Ryan Dempster, who was watching up close and personal from the bullpen himself. "I was in between both of them. I was watching the ball come, and all of a sudden I heard footsteps on the warning track. They were Jennings'. Myers was camped under it, and all of a sudden, footsteps. Even I looked over."

Still, Moore had Mike Napoli on 1-2 when the Red Sox first baseman popped out to second base. Unfortunately, Jonny Gomes — facing his original team, and perhaps itching for a little revenge over their leaving him off their 2008 postseason roster — jumped on a strike-one pitch and lofted one all the way out to the Monster that grazed it before hitting the track and not Rodriguez's glove on a play attempt, thus doubling home Pedroia and Ortiz to tie the game. Moore struck out Jarrod Saltalamacchia on three pitches and it looked as though the Rays would get out of the inning with a tie.

Looks aren't everything. Moore himself helped facilitate what began next, when he arrived at first base covering just a step too late to stop Stephen Drew from beating out his infield single, whacked almost nonchalantly toward first baseman James Loney. With two outs Gomes took off almost the moment the pitch left Moore's hand in the first place. Moore seemed so occupied with the play at first, facing away from the plate, he didn't even think about Gomes blasting all the way home, the Boston outfielder sliding as though he expected a throw and springing up as though he was shocked to see none.

Then Moore had Will Middlebrooks down 0-2, but Middlebrooks doubled into the left field corner to score Drew all the way from first. Finally, it looked like the Rays would escape in no worse than a 4-2 hole when Moore struck out Jacoby Ellsbury. Except that catcher Jose Lobaton let the pitch escape and Ellsbury alertly darted to first as Middlebrooks likewise took third. And Shane Victorino sliced a strike-one pitch through the right side of the infield for the fifth run of the inning, before Pedroia, who'd started the carnage in the first place, grounded out to second.

Myers would say after the same he saw Jennings out of the corner of his eye, that nobody distracted him (there was speculation someone in the bullpen tried to deke the rook with an "I've got it!" shout), that nobody did anything except himself miscalculating on the play. He was too occupied with owning his mistake to suggest what should have been obvious, that the Rays could have escaped with no worse than a tie.

Almost. "I messed it up, and it won't happen again," Myers told a throng of reporters after the game. "That play kind of gave them a spark, and a good team takes advantage of it."

Victorino agreed. "That Myers play obviously gave us some momentum," he told reporters. "All those kind of things and it became a snowball effect. Plays like that happen. You've got to thrive and you've got to get as many runs as you can when a mistake like that is made."

Part of the Rays' problem was that if you didn't count the solo homers Lester — who'd started his day's work by striking out the side swinging in the top of the first — was in cruise control. The next part of the problem was what the Red Sox did in the fifth, as Moore was running out of petrol vividly enough. With one out and two on (Napoli, one-out double; Gomes, intentional walk), Saltalamacchia atoned for his previous inning's swishout with a two-run double to left.

Wesley Wright relieved Moore, swished Drew, and put Middlebrooks on intentionally to pitch to Ellsbury, who swatted one up the pipe to send home Saltalamacchia. Chris Archer came in to see Victorino beat out a grounder to shortstop before swishing Pedroia to keep the carnage at a mere 8-2.

Somehow, the Rays' bullpen managed to keep the frisky Red Sox in check until the eighth inning. With Jamey Wright in for the Rays, Ellsbury opened with a single and stole second as Victorino prepared to single him home. Pedroia singled Victorino to third and Ortiz worked himself to a full-count, bases-loading walk and Napoli worked himself to an RBI walk on four straight balls following one called strike. Pedroia then came home as Gomes hit into a step-and-throw double play, leaving Ortiz on third for Saltalamacchia to single him home.

When it was finally over, the Red Sox had equaled a few precedents. They were baseball's first postseason club to have all its starters hit and score at least one run since the 1936 Yankees (in the World Series). They were the first since the 2001 Diamondbacks (Game 6, World Series) to score 12 or more runs in a postseason contest. And this was the first Red Sox team since 1999 (against the Indians in Game 4, ALDS) to have 8 or more hits with men in scoring position in a postseason game.

And it made the Rays — who'd won three win-or-be-gone games in three different cities to get to Fenway Park and the division series in the first place, and who'd surrendered pitching horse James Shields to the Kansas City Royals last winter to get the touted Myers in the first place — look momentarily humbled.

None more so than the likely American League Rookie of the Year.

"These are the moments where you either fold up the tent or you rise to the occasion," said Longoria, continuing to hold his teammate's back. "I'm hoping that he rises to the occasion. We need him. I think that he will be able to respond. He's a tough kid. If you take the positive out of it and say, 'That's not going to happen again, I'm not going to make that mistake,' then you're better off, you're a better player for it."

Besides, those Fenway chants can be murder if you let them.

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