Rays rocket 3 more HRs to take 3-1 series lead

Published 1:45 am Wednesday, October 15, 2008

They fluttered in and rocketed out: Three more homers sent sailing over the Green Monster, and Tampa Bay was on its way to another blowout in Boston.

Suddenly, the upstart Rays are one win from their first AL pennant.

Evan Longoria hit his rookie-record fifth home run of the playoffs, and Carlos Pena and Willy Aybar also homered off aging knuckleballer Tim Wakefield on Tuesday night to give Tampa Bay a 13-4 victory over the Red Sox that left the defending champions on the brink of elimination.

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‘‘We know we’re real close now to going to the World Series,’’ said Carl Crawford, who tied an AL championship series record with five hits. ‘‘A lot of guys won’t say it: There’s a nice vibe right now.’’

Aybar had four hits and five RBIs, and Andy Sonnanstine pitched 7 1-3 sharp innings as Tampa Bay took a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven playoff. After an off day, James Shields will have a chance to pitch the Rays to the Series when he faces Game 1 winner Daisuke Matsuzaka on Thursday night at Fenway Park.

‘‘They’re dangerous, they play loose and have good chemistry. Sometimes it’s an advantage when there aren’t a lot of expectations,’’ said Red Sox pitcher Paul Byrd, who was on the Indians when they blew a 3-1 lead over Boston in last year’s ALCS. ‘‘I don’t think anybody thought we would go back to our place and get beat up like this.’’

Tampa Bay had never even approached a .500 record during its first decade in the majors before edging wild-card Boston for the AL East title by two games. But the Rays were poised and powerful against a Red Sox team that has made the playoffs in five of the last six years, advancing to the ALCS four times and winning it all twice.

Facing the 42-year-old Wakefield, the oldest pitcher to start an ALCS game, the league’s newest team homered three times in the first three innings to take a 5-0 lead. The Rays scored another in the fifth and blew it open with five more in the sixth when seven straight batters reached base to make it 11-1.

‘‘Sitting through that wasn’t a whole lot of fun,’’ Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. ‘‘We’ve been on the other side. When it happens to you, you’ve got to get through it the best you can, and we’ll need to regroup as quickly as we can.’’

Fans lined up for the exits after the Red Sox went down 1-2-3 in the sixth — the third inning in a row they were retired in order; TV showed horror-master Stephen King reading a book in the stands, bored.

On the field, it was twice as scary.

One night after the Rays hit four homers to beat Boston 9-1, they hit three more and totaled 14 hits against five Red Sox pitchers.

‘‘Last night was nice,’’ said Crawford, who rushed back from hand surgery to be ready for the playoffs after missing most of the last two months of the regular season. ‘‘But tonight was even better.’’

Wakefield, who was making his first appearance in 16 days, lasted just 2 2-3 innings, giving up five runs, including Longoria’s fifth postseason homer to break the rookie record set by Florida’s Miguel Cabrera in 2003. Red Sox reliever Justin Masterson allowed another run; Manny Delcarmen gave up five more while getting just one out; 42-year-old Mike Timlin gave up two more in the eighth.

‘‘Right now it’s kind of contagious,’’ Rays manager Joe Maddon said. ‘‘I don’t want to see us do anything different.’’

Sonnanstine retired 12 consecutive batters in all after Kevin Cash’s homer to lead off the third and make it 5-1. The Rays right-hander, who pitched 13 shutout innings against Boston in a pair of September no-decisions, allowed just two hits before David Ortiz’s leadoff triple in the seventh.

Ortiz, who had been hitless in his first 12 at-bats in the series, scored on a groundout to make it 11-2, and Boston chased Sonnanstine while adding two more in the eighth.

Notes: Timlin made his record-tying 25th appearance in the ALCS. … Longoria committed two errors at 3B on a single play in the second inning, bobbling Jason Bay’s grounder and then throwing it away. Those were the first two errors committed by the Rays in the postseason. Center fielder B.J. Upton also made an error. … There were no fisticuffs between the teams that had a bench-clearing brawl in June. Masterson threw a pitch behind Longoria in the fifth. … Cash became the first Red Sox player to homer in his first postseason at-bat since pitcher Jose Santiago in the opener of the 1967 World Series against St. Louis. … Wakefield’s outing was the shortest postseason start by a Boston pitcher since Bronson Arroyo lasted two innings in Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS against the New York Yankees. Also that night: Yankees outfielder Hideki Matsui went 5-for-6 — the last player with five hits in the ALCS before Crawford. The Red Sox lost the first three games of that series, then won the next four before sweeping St. Louis in the World Series.