Homer, diving catch overshadowed by inability to corral balls off wall
BOSTON -- Before Friday's game, when he was still a little surprised to be in the starting lineup, Sean Rodriguez stood in the visiting dugout at Fenway Park and talked about the hardest part of playing left field in front of the Green Monster.
He'd played there before, and he said he was comfortable doing so in the American League Division Series opener. But the biggest challenge, he said, would be balls that ricochet off the wall and back into the outfield grass.
So, of course, Rodriguez had to deal with plenty of them in the Rays' 12-2 loss to the Red Sox on Friday in Game 1.
"It's called a monster for a reason, right?" Rodriguez said afterward.
The course of Rodriguez's afternoon closely followed the Rays' fate. He couldn't have started out much better, rewarding manager Joe Maddon's faith by giving the Rays a 1-0 lead in the second with a home run and bouncing back in the bottom of the inning with a diving grab in left.
But in an uncharacteristically sloppy defensive game for the Rays, Rodriguez misplayed several balls off the Green Monster. Jonny Gomes tied the game with a two-run double off the wall in the fourth inning. Will Middlebrooks and Jarrod Saltalamacchia each did the same later on, crushing balls to left that hopped away from Rodriguez.
"The wall obviously can play its way on some people," Rodriguez said. "It did to them on that ball Kelly Johnson hit in the last inning as well. They're used to it being out here every day."
Before things got ugly for the Rays, Rodriguez showed why Maddon had him batting sixth against Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester.
After Lester retired the Rays' first five hitters -- four on strikeouts -- Rodriguez worked a full count before crushing a home run, the first of his career in the postseason, into the last row of seats atop the Green Monster to give the Rays a 1-0 lead in the second inning.
Lester's pitch was right where any hitter would want it -- a 94-mph fastball in the middle of the strike zone. It was the pitch before that, however, that stirred up some controversy. Lester threw a 2-2 changeup that Jarrod Saltalamacchia appeared to catch at the bottom of the strike zone, but home-plate umpire Chris Guccione called it a ball.
Lester stared down Guccione as Rodriguez rounded the bases, and he talked to Guccione as he left the mound.
"I thought it was a pretty good pitch," Lester said. "I asked him, you know, did he have it down or did it come -- did it miss in or where he had it? And he just said it was borderline down. And he had it down, so nothing you can do after that."
Rodriguez had a similar outlook when asked about the Rays' disastrous defense Friday. The only thing they can do Saturday, he said, is make sure it doesn't happen again. And perhaps they can be thankful, in a weird way, that they made so many mistakes on Friday as opposed to later in the series.
As important as each game may be in the postseason, they have a chance to redeem themselves Saturday in Game 2 (live on TBS at 5:30 p.m. ET).
"Definitely fortunate. It's just one loss," Rodriguez said. "But again, you have to put all those little things behind us and make sure we come out and just be efficient as we have all year on defense."