That said...the Sox almost blew a decent effort from Paul Byrd last night. After that horror show in his last outing, Byrd went five innings and gave up two runs on six hits and walked three. Not exactly a great night, but one that was more than enough to give Boston the edge. Byrd didn't throw a ton of strikes, but he was able to limit the damage and get out of key moments with little or no damage.
The second inning was the key moment for Byrd. He loaded the bases quickly with no outs. Then he went 1-0 on Izturis before getting him to hit into a double play. Yes, a run scored but the threat of major damage was averted. The next batter flied out and the Sox took a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the second. That was THE moment of the game; it could have easily been a 3-2 or 4-2 Baltimore lead at that point.
So what went wrong? Delcarmen went wrong. The Sox carried a 3-2 lead into the sixth and Byrd was pulled for Delcarmen, who has been up-and-down lately. Well, last night was down. He went single, strikeout, fielding error, single, walk and just like that the game was tied at three. Delcarmen was pulled for Ramirez, who gave up a RBI single to Felix Pie (run charged to Delcarmen) before striking out the next two batters to close out the top of the sixth.
It was a brutal display. And with the Yanks and Rangers winning, the kind of thing that can deflate a team. It didn't, thankfully. In part because of -- am I really saying this? -- Billy Wagner. In his first high-stakes appearance, Wagner came through in a way Eric Gagne never did. With the game tied at four, Wagner walked in and mowed down the side on 16 pitches. Made it look easy, really. If he can keep performing like this for the Sox, I will gladly eat my earlier words about him. Gladly. And it was enough to earn him his first win of the season.
Bard came out in the eighth and looked a little shaky, enough so that Papelbon was called on for the four-out save after Boston took a 7-4 lead in the bottom of the seventh. Paps got two of the outs before running into a little trouble, surrendering one run on a sac fly. But the bottom line is he closed the game out and got his 35th save of the year. That means Papelbon has gotten 35+ saves in each of his first four years in the majors. That is something Trevor Hoffman, Mariano Rivera, Lee Smith, Troy Percival, John Wetteland or Goose Gossage never did. Hell, I went through closer after closer and couldn't find anyone else who has pulled this trick off. I think Papelbon may be the first one. So while there is a lot of discussion about his WHIP and struggles this year (and the trade rumors that never completely die) we should recognize the singular job that Papelbon has done thus far in Boston in his career.
Oh, the hitting? The Sox racked up 15 hits, making last night the 15th time in the last 22 games that Boston has had 10+ hits in a game. The big spark plug was Jason Bay, who went 3-5 with a run scored and a two RBI single in the second. That single gave Bay 100 RBI on the year and gets him to his 30/100 markers we all expected him to make this year. Pedroia went 2-5 and tied the game at four in the sixth on an RBI single that scored Gathright, who showed the speed that makes him a valuable pinch-runner. But the bat of the hour belonged to Victor Martinez.
On a night where he was on the bench, V-Mart came in as a pinch-hitter for George Kottaras with the bases loaded and one out. On the first pitch from Danys Bayez, Martinez drilled a double to where the Monster meets the center-field wall and cleared the bases. That gave Boston the lead for good at 7-4 and extended V-Mart's hitting streak to 12 games. Since coming to Boston, V-Mart is hitting .326 with a .923 OPS, six homers and 28 RBI in 36 games. Not too shabby.
The Sox have two days off the rest of the regular season. Today is one of them. Then it's a quasi-critical series with the Rays starting Friday. Winning the series would be nice, a sweep even better. We get Lester first, which is how you want to start a series.