David Price is the Rays' biggest weapon, and the Red Sox completely disarmed the lefty and his team in a big way on Saturday night at Fenway Park.
Coming through with a collection of timely hits against Price, Boston notched a 7-4 victory that has put Tampa Bay in an 0-2 stranglehold in this best-of-five American League Division Series.
This, after the Red Sox throttled Matt Moore, another ace-caliber lefty, en route to a 12-2 rout in Game 1.
"Are you surprised? Come on," bemused Shane Victorino.
The Red Sox don't have a bunch of hitters with gaudy individual numbers. Instead, they have a bunch of grinders who make life very difficult for just about any pitcher who comes in their path.
"It's been fun all year," said Red Sox hitting coach Greg Colbrunn. "We've had it since Day One. It's one thing to do it a couple of weeks at a stretch, but guys with their approach, that's been since Day One of the season and they just grind out at-bats. In the playoffs, we'll just keep doing what we've been doing all year."
Though the Red Sox have also gotten good pitching and defense through the first two games, the offense -- which has been ridiculously balanced and relentless -- has taken center stage.
"Yeah, I think [that's] the 2013 Red Sox," said Jonny Gomes. "We've got the best offense, and that showed tonight and last night."
David Ortiz put on the most emphatic display of offense in this one, hitting two prodigious solo shots, the latter of which nearly soared over the foul pole in right.
Price had given up two homers to lefty batters all season. Ortiz took him deep twice in this one game.
"Like I tell you guys, we've faced Price many times, so you've got to make up your mind," Ortiz said. "You can't let a pitcher change your mind, and I stuck with the plan and it worked."
Though it's hardly time to start plotting for the AL Championship Series, teams which have taken a 2-0 lead in the DS are 38-5.
"It's not over," Ortiz said. "We've got to keep on fighting. We know we're playing against a good ballclub. They always find a way to win games, and you can't take anything for granted."
There were a couple of starts at Fenway earlier this season when Price simply manhandled the Red Sox, but the Boston bats have been in a relentless frame of mind lately, and it started from the outset in this one. Ortiz's solo rocket in the bottom of the first was a tone-setter. From then on, Price (seven-plus innings, nine hits, seven runs) never looked in rhythm.
It was Ortiz's first multihomer game in the playoffs. With 14 career homers in the postseason for the Red Sox, Ortiz extended his team record.
This, from a man who will turn 38 in November.
"I feel like I'm 20," beamed Ortiz, as he exited an interview with a mob of reporters.
Right-hander John Lackey relied more on guile and breaking stuff in this one, and he did enough to get the win. Over 5 1/3 innings, Lackey scattered seven hits and four runs, walking three and striking out six.
"It definitely wasn't the best stuff or the best I felt this year," said Lackey. "It was probably pretty far down there, actually, but we got through it. And guys scoring runs, doing what they did against Price was the story of the day, for sure."
The second story was the bullpen, which got big performances from lefty Craig Breslow and Junichi Tazawa, setting up Koji Uehara for an overpowering (11 pitches, 11 strikes) save in the ninth.
As David Ross caught the pitching clinic by Uehara in that final frame, he couldn't help but take in the atmosphere.
"That was amazing," said Ross. "I had so much fun. I wanted to look up in the stands and take that all in for a minute. The first strikeout was loud. The second was as loud as I've ever heard it in this stadium. It was rockin'. I don't know how Koji kept his emotions. I could throw down anything almost, and he seems to execute the pitch."
Following an off-day on Sunday, the teams will resume action with Monday night's Game 3 at 6 ET on TBS, as Clay Buchholz tries to lift the Red Sox to a sweep.
The Red Sox rallied early. Jacoby Ellsbury, who had a three-hit night, led off the game with a single. And not only did Ellsbury steal second, but he moved to third on a throwing error by catcher Jose Molina. With one out, Dustin Pedroia lifted a flyout to center that was plenty deep to score Ellsbury. Ortiz followed by mauling a home run into Boston's bullpen in right-center.
"He was born to hit," Victorino said of Ortiz.
Back came the Rays in the second. Delmon Young's sacrifice fly cut Boston's lead to 2-1.
But the Red Sox again got to Price in the third. Ross, making the start in place of Jarrod Saltalamacchia, led off with a double off the Monster. Ellsbury followed with a blooper just over third base that somehow turned into an RBI double. Then it was Victorino's turn and he hit a single up the middle. Pedroia hit a grounder to third, and Victorino made sure it wasn't a double play as he barreled into Ben Zobrist at second. Ellsbury scored on the play to make it 4-1.
Stephen Drew's triple to left in the fourth brought Gomes home, and Lackey had a four-run cushion.
"I'm just glad I'm a catcher on this team and don't have to figure out how to pitch to this lineup," said Ross.
Despite the continued onslaught of productive at-bats from the Red Sox, the Rays didn't make it easy for Lackey. They roared back in the fifth on a two-run double to center by James Loney to make it 5-3. Evan Longoria kept the rally going with a walk. One big swing by Zobrist could have reversed the momentum of the game. It didn't happen though, as Lackey caught him looking on a 3-2 fastball on the inside corner to end the threat, and elicit roars from the Fenway faithful.
"Lack had to battle today," said Ross. "He really had to make some tough pitches. He didn't really have his fastball command, but he worked the quadrants really well. Backdoor breaking ball, sliders away in fastball counts, heaters up, heaters down -- he just tried to work on their weaknesses as well as his strengths. That's the guy who should get a lot of credit tonight. He really, really battled his tail off today."
Each time the Rays inched closer, the Red Sox seemed to have an answer. Ellsbury kept jump-starting rallies, and he did it again in the fifth with a single up the middle. With one out, Pedroia belted a double off the Monster and Ellsbury roared all the way around from first to make it a 6-3 game.
Yunel Escobar belted an RBI single to right in the sixth that knocked Lackey out of the game. Entrusted with a two-run lead, lefty Craig Breslow came on and retired the next two batters to end the threat.
Breslow came back out for the seventh and nearly got himself into some big trouble, hitting Loney and walking Longoria. With two on and one out, Breslow gave up hard contact to Zobrist, but Pedroia had quick instincts as always, fielding it and feeding Drew for a 4-6-3 double play.
And after Ortiz's second homer sent Fenway into a frenzy, Uehara took the crowd to an even higher decibel level in the ninth.
As tough a couple of days as the Rays had in Boston, they can only hope to return for a winner-take-all Game 5 on Thursday. For Price, that would be the ultimate chance at redemption.
"I have the utmost confidence in our team," Price said. "We're not down. We know we have those 25 guys in our locker room that are ready to go. We're not worried about anything else, and we're going to try to bring it back to Boston."