Thursday, September 17, 2009

Last Minute Heroics

Sometimes you're good. Sometimes you're lucky. And then sometimes you get a big heaping of both. Last night, in a game the Red Sox seemingly threw away, they got a large dose of lucky and good.

Down 3-0 going into the bottom of the sixth inning, the Red Sox exploded for five runs. Paul Byrd had pitched a decent game to that point: three runs on nine hits. Saito had come in to finish the sixth for him, but it was a solid outing and one that Byrd should feel good about. Saito got the first out of the seventh but then was pulled after hitting Guerrero.

Enter Ramirez. Ramon has been hot and cold as of late. I said just the other day that it looked like he was past that late August slump. But last night he fell right back into it. He got the second out of the inning to start and actually struck out Morales for the final out. But Varitek lost track of the pitch and it got by him, allowing Morales to get to first and load the bases. At which point Ramirez mentally collapsed. The next three batters went single, double, double and just like that the Angels were ahead 7-5. Oki then came on to get the final out.

The Sox went quietly in the seventh and it was looking bad in the top of the eighth when the Angels had the bases loaded with one out. But Manny Delcarmen, who had come in for Oki, came through in a HUGE way. His strikeouts of Morales and Kendrick were two of the biggest in his career. In an up-and-down year for Manny, this was a big deal. If he could just maintain this kind of mental composure, he would be a reliable and devastating late-inning set-up man.

Boston then manned up in the eighth. With men on first and third with one out, Josh Reddick made a heads-up play and ran to second on a wild-pitch. That paid huge dividends when Casey Kotchman hit a ground ball. Instead of an inning-ending double play, Ortiz scored from third and Reddick moved to third. After a walk to Gonzalez, Ellsbury hit a single to bring in Reddick and that tied the score.

Then that tie slipped away as Daniel Bard came on in the ninth, got two outs and then allowed three straight singles that brought in the eighth run for the Angels. Bard is going to have these moments as he adjusts to the major league. Kudos to him though for coming back and getting that last out with runners on first and second.

And that set up the wild bottom of the ninth. The Angels brought out their closer Brian Fuentes and got two quick outs. Then Ortiz walked and Gathright came in for him. Drew hit a weak single over Fuentes. And then Jed Lowrie, who hasn't had a major-league at bat in forever, came in and laced a worm-burner down the third base line to load the bases. Remember, all this is with two outs.

Nick Green has been a great sub for the Sox. He has done everything that has been asked of him. But last night...last night should be a lesson to everyone about manning up and playing hurt.

Green went to bat, pinch-hitting for Kotchman. Green was also playing on one leg. After the game, he admitted that he was trying to work a walk because each time he swung it felt like his leg would collapse. He went down 0-2 quick and then checked his swing by the barest of margins for a ball. After more pitches and numerous fouls, Green had a full count. And then Fuentes threw what looked like a knee-high strike. Hell, let's be honest, it was a knee-high strike. But sometimes it's better to be lucky. Green held his swing, got ball four and that brought in Gathright with the tying run.

Once that happened, you knew the Sox were going to win. Much like how Varitek's passed ball got into Ramirez's head, that non-call on ball four got right into Fuentes' head. Gonzalez went to the plate and looped a 1-2 pitch down the left-field line for the winning run. And just like that, the Sox had one of their most improbable wins of the season. And left the Angels yelling at the umps, which bodes poorly for them tonight. So does this quote from Fuentes after the game:

"Especially here and some other places, they seem timid to make calls," he said after twice failing to get a third strike called on pinch-hitter Nick Green, who wound up drawing a bases-loaded walk to score the tying run. "I've heard it from other guys that come in here and say that. That's either because it's a mistake, or they're scared.

Luckily for the Angels, umpires aren't known for taking things personally and being vindictive. I am sure that they will respond with goodwill and friendly banter tonight in the series finale.

The lineup hit the ball well. Every starter except for Varitek had at least one hit. Ellsbury went 2-4 with a run scored and RBI. Bay went 2-5 with two RBI, bringing his team-leading total to 104. But the big hitter was Gonzalez, who went 2-3 with 3 RBI, including the game-winner. He has been every bit as important to this team trade-wise as Victor Martinez. He's hitting .299 with an .801 OPS since coming to Boston. What more could you ask for from your shortstop? You know would be great? If we actually hold onto him this time when the off-season comes around, as opposed to taking another flyer on some other shortstop based on past performance. That'd be great.

And so after all that the Sox have a chance to sweep the Angels tonight. Beckett takes the mound against Ervin Santana. Beckett looks like he has regained his form with Santana has had a very up-and-down season. The Sox tangled with him on May 14 in Anaheim and chased him off after five innings in a 5-4 win. Santana is also winless in his last four starts. Combine that with a resurgent Beckett and all the negative emotion from last night, and you get a really good chance for the Sox to win tonight.

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