Both the Red Sox and Seattle Mariners left their bats with many of the hits in them elsewhere Thursday night. Felix Hernandez and Franklin Morales, in what would look like the Venezuela Express, went steaming along the tracks at Safeco Field Thursday night and didn’t pick up many passengers .
After a solid 7-2 home stand and winners of nine of their last 11 games, Boston had a chance to gain ground or put distance between every team in the AL East. Both the division-leading Yankees and second place Orioles had lost earlier in the day. Tampa Bay, on a four-game losing skid, had also lost to the Tigers 5-2 on Thursday, giving Boston the opportunity to take sole possession of third place. The last place Blue Jays lost their third in a row to drop 8.5 games off the pace. The stage was set.
Hernandez did to Boston what he has done to so many teams in the past; dominated. For the second game in a row Hernandez struck our 10 or more batters, striking out 13 Red Sox hitters – Ryan Kalish three times – over his nine innings of work. Boston advanced a runner to second base in the third and seventh innings and left them there. It was that kind of game.
Boston’s ever-surprising new starter Franklin Morales was every bit Hernandez’ equal, going the longest distance in his major league career – seven complete innings – while more than holding his own. Morales struck out seven and allowed just three hits over seven frames.
After giving up a single to Justin Smoak in the seventh with one out and throwing a wild pitch to advance Smoak to second, Morales looked to be tiring but dug deep. He struck out Miguel Olivo on a gift call from home plate umpire Adrian Johnson as Olivo clearly foul tipped the third strike into the dirt. Jarrod Salatalamacchia sold the scoop, Johnson rung up Olivo and first base umpire Gary Cederstrom backed up Johnson. Two umpires missed the same call and Boston was the timely beneficiary.
Morales would have escaped the inning unscathed had Adrian Gonzalez not chosen a very inopportune time to make his first error of the year at first base. Seattle’s Dustin Ackley hit a slow roller to Morales, which Morales fielded and flipped to Gonzalez for what would have been the third out of the inning. Inexplicably, Gonzo took his eye off the patsy toss and dropped the ball. Ackely was safe and Smoak advanced to third.Morales induced Brendan Ryan to ground out to Will Middlebrooks to end the inning and keep the game knotted at 0-0.
Boston had their shot in the ninth as Hernandez started to tire. David Ortiz singled and Salty walked with one out. Brent Lillibridge was sent in to pinch run for Ortiz. With both Lillibridge and Salty on the move, Gonzo gave a 3-1 pitch a long ride to the left-centerfield gap that Michael Saunders ran down, sending both runners scampering back to their bases. Will Middlebrooks popped out to end the inning and Boston’s best opportunity of the game to push a run across. The Sox had threatened. Hernandez had bent but not broken.
With Scott Atchison pitching in the ninth after an Andrew Miller scoreless eighth, Casper Wells doubled with one out to put the winning run in scoring position. Atchison intentionally walked Smoak to force a play at any base and increase Boston’s chances for an inning-ending double play. Pinch hitter John Jaso had other ideas. Jaso ripped a single to right field. Cody Ross scooped up the scalded ball on the dead run as Wells rounded third, gunned a great throw slightly up the third base line to Salty that easily had Wells but Salty let the ball come loose on the sweep tag. Wells scored and the Mariners won 1-0 in a heartbreaking loss for the Red Sox. Oh cruel fate!
These are the kinds of woulda, shoulda, coulda games that happen to .500 teams. Lucy does in fact pull the football away at the last minute and Charlie Brown does end up on his back looking skyward wondering why. Here’s hoping that by the time the Old Towne Team returns to Boston after this long road swing they’re not playing for peanuts.