David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- It's a moot point now. But for anyone who enjoyed the delicious tension of Tuesday night's Game 4 at Tropicana Field, the sight of David Price warming in the bullpen had to have you jonesing for more.
Please, Joe Maddon.
Give us one more pitcher.
Know this much. The Red Sox were getting Price. If the Rays somehow tied it in the ninth inning off Koji Uehara, Maddon was going to his Game 5 starter for the 10th -- anything to keep this Division Series going.
Maddon already had tied the record for a playoff game by using nine pitchers, and broke the nine-inning mark. The Mets used nine in the 14-inning Game 5 against the Braves in the 1999 NLCS. The White Sox needed nine for the 15-inning Game 3 against the Astros in the 2005 World Series.
Price would have been No. 10.
"Yeah, he was going to go in the 10th," a weary Maddon said after the Rays finally were eliminated, 3-1, by the Red Sox. "It was an interesting game. We needed to score more runs against their pitching. We've had a hard time with that. But I thought our bullpen was fabulous."
Prolific, too. If not for Jake McGee (No. 5) walking rookie pinch hitter Xander Bogaerts in the seventh, and Joel Peralta (No. 6) later bouncing a wild pitch on his first delivery to Shane Victorino -- allowing Bogaerts to score the tying run -- who knows how this might have ended. Peralta had allowed only four of 30 inherited runners to score during the regular season and had thrown just one wild pitch, back on May 28.
A different bounce, here or there, and then we'd get our Game 5 Thursday at Fenway Park. But then Maddon would have needed a starting pitcher. That was something he couldn't concern himself with as the Rays were fighting to stay afloat in their fifth elimination game in 10 days.
"It would have looked a lot like Game 4," Maddon said, grinning. "Without winning a Game 4 there is no Game 5. So you just would piece it together after that in a similar fashion. If you have a sturdy bullpen, which we do, there would have been a day off, so I thought by game time Thursday, we would have been fine by then."
From the jump, Maddon made it clear he was not messing around. Despite a 1-2-3 first inning, as soon as Jeremy Hellickson walked the first two batters in the second inning, Jamey Wright got up to throw in the bullpen. Once the bases were loaded with none out, Maddon was on his way to the mound.
Hellickson seemed a bit shaken. Didn't even have the chance to give up a run. He now has the dubious distinction of owning the shortest start in Rays postseason history -- crushing the old mark of four innings, which also belonged to him. Going into Game 4, Maddon said he had a good feeling about Hellickson, that he believed he was ready to do big things Tuesday night.
Apparently, those feelings went away quickly, sort of like nausea.
"I could see it was just not going to work," Maddon said, "and we had to do something differently. We became a little bit more extemporaneous at that point."
The sheer speed of the changes surprised the Red Sox. They knew the Rays could not afford to be patient, but this was getting ridiculous. It looked a lot more like a Grapefruit League game at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers than Game 4 of the Division Series.
"This was a very unique game," Sox manager John Farrell said. "We faced nine different pitchers, and early on we had to remain patient not making wholesale changes with our lineup, not knowing who they might go to next. It was testing our patience early on."
As crazy as it looked, burning through a staff like that, Maddon's madcap pitching strategy actually worked for a while. Thanks to a great leaping catch-turned-double-play by James Loney, the Rays escaped that bases-loaded jam in the second. For Wright, it was the first time in his 18-year career that he inherited the bases loaded with none out and did not allow a run to score.
In the sixth, after Yunel Escobar doubled and scored on David DeJesus's one-out single, the Rays were nine outs away from a 1-0 victory.
"It was there," Maddon said. "It was all there."
Until it wasn't. And unless you're a Red Sox fan, that's too bad. What great theater that would have been, seeing Price get a shot at redemption for his Game 1 clunker, pitching until God knows when, maybe deep into Wednesday morning.
Imagine if it worked. Now we'll never know.