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Friday, April 23, 2021

St. Pete community helps Rays to ALDS lead with extra innings rally

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Tampa Bay’s own Manuel Margot made a difference on Wednesday night, with a third-inning solo homer, and a speedy, fifth-inning triple, for a game-clinching single. The Tampa Bay native and former St. Peter’s Prep star closed out his career by helping his team land a 2-1 victory in the most crucial contest of its postseason run.

Margot has been a warm, outsized presence in the Rays’ lineup over the last three weeks, and his heroics were a welcome joy for the Rays, who trailed the Boston Red Sox in the American League Division Series by a two-run margin after nine innings. Boston rallied from two runs down to take the game in 13 innings and is now 2-1, and awaiting Game 3 of the series when Boston opens Friday night in St. Petersburg.

Led by a two-run single by Denard Span, the Rays overcame early deficits twice to take a 3-2 lead in the game, and even take it to extra innings when the home-run derby specialist, J.D. Martinez, hit a home run off the new Rivera Stadium in the sixth inning.

Both teams traded blows into the late innings, and it looked as if the Red Sox would cruise to a fourth victory in five games. But with one out in the bottom of the 12th, Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers knocked one down the left-field line. It hit a railing on the wall, and spun across the field and back towards the infield, before landing in front of Reddick at first base. Red Sox manager Alex Cora replaced left-handed hitter Mitch Moreland with right-handed pinch hitter Blake Swihart, who pinch-hit for first baseman Steve Pearce.

Swihart led off with a bloop single, and that put runners on the corners. Reddick then single Swihart to third, and on a 1-2 pitch from Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes, Greg Bird made a nice diving catch to rob Span of a potential extra-base hit.

Red Sox manager Alex Cora countered with right-hander Rick Porcello, who was dominating the Rays in the series up to that point. Porcello had allowed three runs in 13 innings, and struck out 26 batters while only walking one. But in the top of the 12th, Rocco Baldelli extended the game when he homered off Porcello.

Before the bottom of the 12th, Red Sox starter David Price had pitched seven innings, giving up two runs on five hits, with seven strikeouts. When he left the game, Rays pitcher Ryne Stanek shut down the Red Sox for 2 1/3 innings, giving up just one hit, until he was lifted for a pinch hitter.

The improbable start for the Red Sox in this postseason was spoiled by the Rays’ dogged patience, persistence and extraordinary play down the stretch. Span led off the fourth inning with a single, and for the third time in the game, he was unsuccessful at second.

Starters Drew Smyly and Eduardo Rodriguez have faced 36, 71 and 42 batters respectively in this series, and have only allowed four runs.

The only one who took advantage of that inability of each starter to get the key hit in this series was Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi. He collected a two-out RBI single in the fifth inning, but has done little else to contribute to the team’s run.

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