EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 8, 2013

Pressure now on Sox to avoid Price

On Pro Baseball
Christopher Smith

---- — The Rays are right back in this series. And all the pressure now falls on the Red Sox.

Clay Buchholz could not shut the door when ahead 3-0 in the fifth. Franklin Morales predictably walked the leadoff hitter in the eighth with the game tied 3-3. The Red Sox self-destructed defensively in the eighth.

And then, Jose Lobaton, a career .228 hitter, blasted a walkoff homer against the hottest closer in baseball, Koji Uehara.

The Rays prevailed 5-4 and have life left in them. Can you hear them coming?

Boston will face Tampa righty Jeremy Hellickson today in Game 4 at 8:37 p.m. at Tropicana Field.

The 26-year-old Hellickson won the 2011 AL Rookie of the Year. But he was awful this season, posting a 5.17 ERA. Still, he was 1-0 with a 3.44 ERA, 0.98 WHIP in three starts against Boston this summer — and Red Sox hitters batted just .209 against him.

Hellckson grew up in a Iowa household that didn’t show any love for the Red Sox. His dad Steve rooted for the New York Yankees.

“He was a Reggie Jackson fan,” Hellickson told The Eagle-Tribune.

So this is it in a nutshell: The Red Sox better beat Hellickson today because if they lose, they would have to face 2012 AL Cy Young winner David Price in a do-or-die Game 5 in Boston on Thursday.

Believe me, Red Sox players don’t want to give Price a chance to redeem himself after he surrendered seven earned runs in 7.0-plus innings in a loss to Boston in Game 2. Price has been way too good against the Red Sox and way too good against everyone to throw two straight playoff stinkers.

But the challenge today might be greater than it appears.

Hellickson, who loved watching Greg Maddux and Roger Clemens when he was a youngster, had a bad year but he has good stuff. He showed it in 2011 as a rookie and also posted a 3.10 ERA in 31 starts in 2012.

He throws a fastball that averaged 90.5 mph this year, according to fangraphs.com. He also goes to a cutter, curveball and changeup, although he hardly threw the cutter this year. He likes to watch pitchers similar to him before a start and how they have approached the lineup he’ll face.

“Just find a righty with low 90s that has a changeup,” he said.

Hellickson stressed during his press conference at Tropicana Field yesterday that he is glad the regular season is behind him.

“I can’t really dwell on what I did in the regular season too much,” he told reporters. “It wasn’t my best, but I get another chance (today).”

Opposing Hellickson will be Red Sox right-hander Jake Peavy, who Boston added at the non-waiver trade deadline and who has not had success in two previous playoff starts, allowing a combined 13 earned runs in 9.2 innings. One of those starts came in 2005. The other was in 2006. But Peavy said he feels healthier now than he did back then.

A former NL Cy Young winner, Peavy has something to prove in the postseason. This is a good time to prove it.

“He’s intense, he wants to win, he has great preparation,” Red Sox catcher David Ross said about Peavy. “He’s got the background, the resume of a winner.”

Today, will go along way in showing whether he is a true winner because this is a huge game.

Follow Christopher Smith on Twitter @SmittyOnMLB