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Rays Blow 7-0 Lead, Red Sox Stay Alive 8-7

No matter how much you may dislike or hate the Red Sox, you have to hand it to them when it comes to "back against the wall" ALCS magic. It is hard to imagine a scenario more unlikely than down 3 games to 0, down a run in the 9th, with Mariano Rivera on the mound. Yet four years later, perhaps an equally improbable Houdini act had the Red Sox, on the brink of elimination, erasing a 7-0 7th inning deficit with four in the 7th, three more in the 8th, and one in the 9th to send the series back to Tampa.

In the post-mortems, Rays' manager Joe Maddon will have some difficult questions to answer. Why, with the Rays up  7-1 in the 7th, two on and two out, and David Ortiz at the plate, did he not opt for one of his left-handed relievers? This question came into focus even more sharply when J.P. Howell faced Ortiz in the 9th and struck him out - and that only after Ortiz, even representing the winning run, still tried to drop a bunt down the third base line. That's the matchup you want; instead Grant Balfour served up a three-run HR and the Sox were back in the game.

Then after the horse had just left the barn, Maddon went to his closer, Dan Wheeler, asking for a seven-out save - instead of asking middle relievers Howell or Chad Bradford to handle the innings they have handled well all series and all season.

It just seemed as if every time you looked, Maddon had made a move and the matchup favored Boston. Very odd, especially coming from a manager I have generally observed to be an especially astute tactician.

So a reluctant "hats off" to the Red Sox and a "go get 'em Saturday" to the Rays. At this moment, it's hard to say which team has the edge and which team should feel the pressure. The Rays let a big opportunity slip away tonight, and you don't always get two.