Sonnanstine has track record on side
Rays righty stifled Red Sox in two crucial September starts
BOSTON -- Check out Andy Sonnanstine's numbers, and they look like he didn't face the Red Sox at all this season. No record, no ERA.
Check out the box scores, and they'll make the case that Sonnanstine's outings against Boston pitched the Rays to the American League East title. His next one could pitch the Rays to within a win of the World Series if he can help the Rays take Game 4 of the American League Championship Series on Tuesday night.
Sonnanstine matched up against the defending World Series champions twice in September, about a week apart. Both games pitted him against Boston ace Josh Beckett. And both were critical in the Rays' hopes of holding off the Red Sox in the division race.
Neither time did Sonnanstine earn a decision. More importantly, neither time did he allow an earned run. He yielded a lone unearned tally over each outing -- seven innings at Fenway Park, six innings next time around at Tropicana Field -- to essentially keep his team in each game.
The first matchup went 14 innings before Carlos Pena's three-run homer powered the Rays to a 4-2 victory. Dioner Navarro's walk-off single in the ninth inning decided the rematch with a 2-1 Rays win that broke Tampa Bay out of a tie atop the division and put it ahead for good.
Sonnanstine received plenty of reminders about those games from reporters on Monday. He wasn't going to overplay it.
"That's one of the things that I think I do well, just keeping even-keel and just go about my business and stay to my game plan and work towards my strengths," Sonnanstine said."
Sonnanstine vs. Red Sox in 2008
He's pretty much like that every time out. He said many of the same things heading into his last outing in Game 4 of the AL Division Series at Chicago, where he helped pitch the Rays to the series-clinching victory by keeping the White Sox bats relatively quiet.
He threw better than two-thirds of his pitches for strikes, and didn't reach a three-ball count after Jermaine Dye's first-inning walk. He gave up two home runs, but both were solo strikes.
Sonnanstine tried to treat it like any other game. This time, however, he admits that he looks back to those September matchups with the Red Sox and takes something out of them, even though he'll be pitching opposite knuckleballer Tim Wakefield this time instead of Beckett.
"It should help me a lot -- you know build up my confidence a little bit, knowing that I can come in here and do well against the Sox here and Tropicana Field," Sonnanstine said. "So I know in my mind that it can be done. I think it was pretty essential for my confidence."
TALE OF THE TAPE
|Andy Sonnanstine||Tim Wakefield|
|Overall||32 GS, 13-9, 4.38 ERA, 39 BB, 124 K||30 GS, 10-11, 4.13 ERA, 60 BB, 117 K|
|Key stat||3.35/1 K/BB ratio (8th in AL)||.228 OPP BA (3rd in AL)|
|2008||1 GS, 1-0, 3.18||First start|
|Career||1 GS, 1-0, 3.18||17 G (6 GS), 5-6, 6.42|
|2008||1 GS, 0-0, 0.00||14 GS, 7-4, 3.10|
|Career||3 GS, 1-0, 4.24||182 GS, 84-68, 4.31|
|2008 reg. season||2 GS, 0-0, 0.00||3 GS, 0-2, 5.87|
|Career||6 GS, 1-1, 5.40||31 GS, 19-5, 3.32|
|Loves to face||Kevin Youkilis (1-for-12)||Carlos Pena (4-for-30)|
|Hates to face||J.D. Drew (4-for-11)||Akinori Iwamura (10-for-24)|
|Why he'll win||13 innings vs. BOS, 0 runs||19 career wins vs. TB|
It did nothing for his nerves, which in his case is a good thing. He's still going in with that understated approach.
"You have to wake him up to talk to him," manager Joe Maddon said with a smile.
It isn't a strategy; it's his personality.
"I've known him for three years now. He's the same cat that I met on the first day," Maddon said. "I think it's beautiful. I love guys like that. There's guys that get totally amped up, but there's other guys like him that are really able to process everything well. And for those reasons, I love it."
That confidence could prove big in a series where none of the pitching matchups have gone as expected. Daisuke Matsuzaka presumably put the Red Sox in control of the series when he took a no-hitter into the seventh inning of the opening game en route to a 2-0 shutout. But what seemed to be a pitching advantage for the Red Sox in Games 2 and 3 didn't pan out thanks to Rays onslaughts against Beckett and Jon Lester.
In a series where history doesn't seem to mean much except in the final results, Maddon is hoping Sonnanstine's recent history with the Sox holds true and at least gives the Rays a chance to keep their momentum going.
"Winning here and pitching well here boosts any pitcher's confidence," Maddon said. "When you get on this particular platform here and succeed and do well, it permeates your entire game and really can elevate you for not only now, but for years to come.
"Andy has always been successful, but I know that [the September success] is on the hard drive right now in a way that he's really going to benefit from it."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.