ST PETERSBURG // It took Gary DiSarcina one series in Tropicana Field during Tampa Bay's inaugural season in 1998 to coin perhaps the best description for games played in the catwalk-ringed, bandbox of a domed stadium. "It's Arena Baseball," the former Angels shortstop said.
The Boston Red Sox and Rays provided the latest reminder of how zany indoor baseball on the Gulf Coast can be, turning the second game of the American League Championship Series into a home run derby Saturday night. The teams combined for an ALCS-record seven home runs, but it was BJ Upton's sacrifice fly in the 11th inning that gave Tampa Bay a 9-8 victory, ending a near five-and-a-half hour marathon and tying the best-of-seven series, one game apiece.
Catcher Dioner Navarro started the winning rally with a leadoff walk against reliever Mike Timlin. Ben Zobrist walked to advance pinch-runner Fernando Perez to second base. Jason Bartlett grounded out to third base, putting runners on second and third with one out, and Akinori Iwamura was walked intentionally to load the bases. Upton, with the infield in and the outfielders shallow, flied to medium right field, and Perez raced home ahead of JD Drew's throw as the Rays poured out of their dugout to celebrate the victory.
Closing pitcher Dan Wheeler worked overtime, throwing 47 pitches over three and a third scoreless innings, but it was the right-hander's wild pitch in the eighth inning that allowed the Red Sox to tie the score. Wheeler entered with two on and no outs and Tampa Bay clinging to an 8-7 lead. He was one out away from escaping the jam, but up stepped Jason Bay, who already had a two-run double, a solo home run and a run-scoring single, and it appeared Wheeler was pitching around Bay when he started him with two nasty sliders well out of the strike zone.
But instead of conceding the at-bat and issuing an intentional walk, Wheeler tried to get Bay to chase a high fastball. It was Navarro who did the chasing. The pitch sailed past the catcher and to the backstop, enabling Pedroia to score to make it 8-8. Wheeler threw a scoreless ninth, and Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon struck out Carlos Pena with a runner on in the ninth inning to send the game into extra innings.
Wheeler and Papelbon each added scoreless 10th innings, Papelbon absorbing a wicked Carl Crawford liner that struck him in the right side and deflected to second, where Pedroia fielded the ball and threw to first for the out. Papelbon, who barely flinched when the ball hit him, waved off Boston's trainers and remained in the game, completing the 10th inning. The Rays rookie third baseman Evan Longoria snapped out of his play-off slump in a huge way, hitting a two-run home run in the first inning and doubling and scoring in the third.
Longoria, who was one for 16 with eight strikeouts since his two-home run game in the division series opener against the Chicago White Sox, also ended a 6-6 tie with a run-scoring double in the fifth inning and scored on Crawford's single for an 8-6 lead. Bay and Pedroia were the offensive stars for the Red Sox. Pedroia snapping a two-for-21 play-off slump with a pair of solo home runs and three runs.
Boston took a 6-5 lead in the fifth when Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and Bay each hit solo home runs, the first two coming off starter Scott Kazmir and the third off reliever Grant Balfour. But the Rays rallied for three runs in the bottom of the fifth, Pena hitting an RBI single off struggling starter Josh Beckett to tie the game, Longoria ripping an RBI double to the left to put Tampa Bay ahead, and Crawford greeting reliever Javier Lopez with an RBI single to right for an important insurance run.
Bay's RBI single off reliever Chad Bradford pulled the Red Sox to within 8-7 in the sixth, but Bradford got Lowrie to fly to centre with runners on first and third to end the sixth and blanked Boston in the seventh. The third game in the series is tonight in Boston. * Newsday