Thursday, July 2, 2009

Redemption

Watching Boston and Baltimore yesterday was like watching a game in Bizzaro World. Or maybe through a tear in the time-space continuum where you watch the game in a parallel universe. Because less than 24 hours after Boston blew a winnable game in Baltimore, the Orioles returned the favor with Boston scoring four times in the top of the ninth before winning 6-5 in the eleventh.


In a way it was even worse for the O's. Boston's debacle unfolded over two innings while Baltimore completely fell apart in just one inning. And the last two runs in the ninth came with two outs on the board. That's hard for any team to take, but I would imagine it's even harder on a team that pulled the same stunt the previous night.


Conversely, this win for Boston must take the sting out of their Tuesday night debacle. To dig down deep and score those runs, to have the bullpen be flawless and to win the game in the eleventh...it's a cure for what ails you.


But early on it just looked bad. Brad Bergesen was chewing the Sox up, going eight innings with just one run allowed. The only rough spot he faced was in the third when Pedroia doubled home Drew. But then Pedroia tried to make it to third and got thrown out, ending the inning. Boston pretty much flailed the rest of the way.


At the same time, Beckett was struggling and throwing his worst game in over a month. Seven innings and five earned runs along with a pair of homers was his line, not your typical Beckett outing. He looked like it took a lot of effort for him to pitch, which you don't like to see. But he did do one thing very well; he went long. Seven innings allowed Tito to manage his bullpen and set the stage for Boston's comeback.


Enough cannot be said about the incredible job Daniel Bard did over the eighth and ninth inning. No hits or runs, four strikeouts and just 23 pitches over two innings. Without that gutsy performance, the Sox would never have had a chance to come back.


On the other side, Jim Johnson and George Sherrill utterly collapsed. And I think that points to a difference between a team like Boston and a team like Baltimore. In Boston, you have to be tough to play. Every game is an important game and you are expected to win. Whereas in Baltimore, the pressure isn't there. Hell, half the time Boston comes to town they outnumber the Orioles fans. So when it comes to a situation like this, a team like Boston is more apt to make something happen and a team like Baltimore is more apt to wilt*.


The big comeback began with the continuing re-emergence of Kevin Youkilis. After battling a slump for most of June he has found his bat over the past week. In that time he batted .320 with a 1.134 OPS, 2 homers and five RBI. Last night accounted for one of those homers and two of the RBI. After cutting it to 5-3, the Sox experienced two quick outs thanks to strikeouts of Bay and Papi. Bay has noticably hit a dry spell recently, with just two hits in his last six games. Over the last week, Bay is hitting just .077, which is stunning considering the production he has provided for most of the season.


So with two outs, it looked bleak for Boston. But then Ellsbury singled and Bailey walked, which completely rattled Sherrill. He was rubbing his cap and working his jersey...you could see the nerves. Then a second straight walk to Varitek loaded the bases and you just knew the Sox were going to tie it up. And sure enough, the Pride of Woonsocket came though. Baldelli's two-run single tied the game at five and at that point the question was not if the Sox would win, but when.


That moment came in the 11th when Ellsbury, again, gave the Sox a chance to score with a deep double. Bailey moved him over to third and then Julio Lugo, of all people, came to the plate. Now before you expect me to go "Oh, this redeems Julio!" let me stop you there; Julio Lugo was lucky. The infield was playing in and expecting a bunt with Ellsbury on third. Lugo hit a weak-ass grounder to short that in any other situation is an easy 6-3 putout that holds Ellsbury at third. But because the infield was in, that piddly little grounder eeked it's way into the outfield and gave Lugo a game-winning RBI single. So bravo for being lucky, Lugo. I still want your overpaid ass gone when Lowrie comes back.


And then the final moment of redemption. After Ramirez pitched a clean 10th and the Sox went ahead in the 11th, it was time for Papelbon to close the game. After blowing his second game of the season the night before, Paps got three straight pop-ups to win the game for Boston while registering his 20th save of 2009. That was also Papelbon's 133rd save in a Boston uniform, making him the all-time saves leader in Boston. He's also on pace to challenge for the Boston single-season saves record. That is currently held by Tom Gordon, who registered 46 saves in 1998**. Paps is on pace for around 42 saves right now, but the mark is definitely within reach.


This was a huge, huge win for Boston. A loss like the one Tuesday night can damage a team's psyche. I think that was the case for most of Wednesday's game; Boston looked beat down. But after closing down the win, that dugout looked charged and alive. And now they get to bring a 6-3 road trip back to Fenway for 10 games against some weaker competition. It starts Friday with Boston's only 10-game winner (Wakefield) going against Seattle's Felix Hernandez. Hernandez has all the talent in the world but is wildly inconsistent when it comes to wins and losses. But this year he looks good; 8-3 with a 2.54 ERA. And he has had luck against the Sox in the past. If there is one game Seattle has a chance of winning in Boston, it's the series opener on Friday.


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* Of course that isn't always the case; just look at Tuesday night. But by and large, I would wager that if you look at teams that play in pressure situations (Boston, Yankees, Phillies) day-in and day-out, they will tend to comeback more, or squash comebacks more, than a team like the Orioles or Giants.


** Woo-hoo. It still didn't keep him from blowing Game Four against the Indians in the ALDS. Thanks for nothing, Flash.

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