BOSTON - The Boston Red Sox felt pretty good about their chances in the AL championship series after winning Game 1 and having two pitchers who have won World Series clinchers waiting in the wings.
Two losses later, they're hitching their hopes to a 42-year-old knuckleballer to avoid falling into a 3-1 series deficit. After watching the Tampa Bay Rays tee off on Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, Boston will turn to Tim Wakefield in Game 4 of the ALCS Tuesday at Fenway Park.
They're also benching slumping leadoff man Jacoby Ellsbury in favor of J.D. Drew. Coco Crisp will play center field instead of Ellsbury. Ellsbury is hitless in the ALCS, going 0-for-14. He emerged as a rookie star during last year’s World Series.
Daisuke Matsuzaka struggled with his control all season, but pitched seven solid innings on Friday as the Red Sox took Game 1 at Tropicana Field. That win allowed Boston to take away home-field advantage from the Rays with Beckett and Lester looming.
But Tampa Bay jumped all over Beckett on Saturday in a wild 9-8, 11-inning win, and then did something no opposing team had done at Fenway since early April - beat Lester. The Rays hit four homers in Game 3 on Monday - two off Lester - and chased Boston's ace in the sixth inning of their 9-1 rout.
Lester had won 11 straight decisions at Fenway.
"They feel like they belong here, and that's a big reason why they've been able to perform with calm and permit everybody see how good they are," Rays manager Joe Maddon said of his players. "Knowing them on a daily basis, it does not surprise me."
Beckett won Game 6 of the 2003 World Series for Florida and Lester was on the hill in Game 4 of Boston's title-clincher last year, but neither was even in high school when Wakefield (0-0, 0.00 ERA) made his postseason debut in a NLCS win over Atlanta while with Pittsburgh in 1992.
Wakefield has made 16 more playoff appearances since, and most of them haven't gone well. He earned a pair of complete game victories with the Pirates in that NLCS, but is just 3-6 with a 7.54 ERA in the postseason with Boston. Wakefield is 0-2 with a 9.22 ERA in three playoff starts since the 2004 World Series.
He faced the Rays three times in 2008 — all in St. Petersburg — and went 0-2 with a 5.87 ERA. Wakefield gave up three homers in his last start against Tampa Bay on Sept. 17, when he allowed six runs in 2 1-3 innings in a 10-3 loss.
Wakefield was 19-3 lifetime against the Rays heading into 2008.
"We've had a little bit better success more recently against him, and I really don't know why,'' Maddon said. "When (the knuckleball) is righteous and on, nobody hits it on any given day."
"He did the same thing to the White Sox (in the division series),'' Boston manager Terry Francona said. "Plays center field, steals bases, and he has a chance to get better, which is kind of scary.''
Upton went deep in games 2 and 3, as did third baseman Evan Longoria. The front-runner for AL Rookie of the Year has four homers in the postseason, and he's 4-for-9 in his last two games after being mired in a 1-for-16 slump.
Upton is 5-for-22 (.227) without an extra-base hit in his career against Wakefield, while Longoria is 3-for-6.
Andy Sonnanstine (1-0, 3.18) will get the ball in Game 4 for the Rays, and he's coming off a solid outing from a previous Game 4. Sonnanstine got the victory for Tampa Bay in its clincher over the White Sox in the division series, allowing two runs and just three hits in 5 2-3 innings.
"He is a winner," Maddon told the Rays' official Web site. "And again, you have a lot of faith in him. The guys love playing behind him."
The Red Sox certainly didn't love facing Sonnanstine this season. The right-hander didn't get a decision in two starts against Boston, but he limited the Red Sox to two unearned runs in 13 innings.
The two Red Sox to have had some success against Sonnanstine won't be in the lineup on Tuesday. Third baseman Mike Lowell (6-for-14) isn't on the team's ALCS roster after suffering a hip injury, and catcher Jason Varitek (5-for-10, four RBIs) will be on the bench in favor of Kevin Cash, Wakefield's personal catcher.
Varitek, though, has struggled lately. The 12-year veteran is hitless in the ALCS, and has just three singles in 24 at-bats (.125) in the postseason.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
"With a big bat, those kind of numbers can change in one game," Francona told the team's official Web site. "He's always that threat in the middle that they have to respect, and over the course of a series, those things can change dramatically."
Ortiz is 3-for-16 (.188) with no homers against Sonnanstine.
The teams have an off day Wednesday before Game 5, set for Thursday at Fenway.
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