It’s official. With more than one third of the season gone, the Boston Red Sox are having a very good year. Their pitching to date has been excellent (Clay Buchholz, 9-0, 1.71 ERA) to just OK (Felix Dubront, 4-3, 4.84 ERA) but has not imploded as they did in 2012. The offense has flat out been raking (see an upcoming post on Boston’s highly offensive offense). That is until after the first inning in Tampa Bay on Monday night.
In the first inning of game one against the Rays at the Trop, who by the way have been playing winning baseball lately, the Sox beat Alex Cobb, a pretty darn good pitcher so far this year, like a rented mule. Rather than attempting to wax eloquently and weave a great story let me give it to you straight. In the first inning it went like this:
1. Jacoby Ellsbury: single
2. Shane Victorino: double, advancing Ellsbury to second
3. Dustin Pedroia: single, scoring Ellsbury and Victorino
4. David Ortiz: walk
5. Daniel Nava: double, scoring Pedey and moving Papi to third
6. Mike Carp: single, scoring Ortiz and Nava
7. Jarrod Saltalamacchia: double, moving Carp to third
8. Will Middlebrooks (just activate after a back strain injury): single, scoring Salty
Yeah, Stephen Drew popped out and Jacoby Ellsbury grounded into a double play to end the inning. So what? Boston knocked the Rays to the mat 6-0 in the first inning. No problem, right? Tell that to Matt Joyce and Evan Longoria who smacked solo homers against Sox starter John Lackey in the bottom of the frame to make it 6-2 Sox. As the game wore on, what should have been a laugher turned into a pass the Pepto gut grinder. That’s baseball. The clock can’t run out on you although I wished that were the case at times Monday night.
To say that Lackey was not sharp is an understatement. He slowly labored and was in trouble through his first three innings. With a runner on third, Lackey landed awkwardly on his left foot as it appeared his cleats caught in the dirt on his delivery to the mound. As has happened, however, with Boston’s pitching this season, Lackey bent but did not break, stranding a runner at third to close the second. Lackey was stoked and became even more animated after a chippy exchange with Sean Rodriguez who was in the Tampa Bay dugout. Wasted energy? Possibly. Not taking crap from anybody this year? Priceless.
In the third the Rays continued to chip away at Boston’s lead. Lackey gave up back-to-back-to-back singles by Ben Zobrist, Kelly Johnson and Longoria. Mike Carp snagged a stinging line drive by James Loney for an out and Luke Scott grounded out to score Zobrist but Lackey struck out Desmond Jennings to end the inning, making it 6-3 Sox.
The Rays were back in business in the fourth after back-to-back singles by Jose Lobaton and Yunel Escobar. After getting Joyce to pop out to Middlebrooks, Zobrist singled to score Lobaton and make the score 6-4. Did I mention that Lackey wasn’t sharp?
After an eight-pitch fifth, his first clean inning of the game, Lackey was nailed in the sixth by a liner off his foot. He stayed in but promptly plunked Joyce squarely in the back and the bad blood that has been boiling between these two clubs not just during this game but for years spilled over again. The benches cleared and lots of pushing and shoving ensued. No one was ejected but it did get Tampa’s ire up. Zobrist doubled, Lackey was lifted and Craig Breslow got the Sox out of the inning by striking out Johnson.
Andrew Miller gave up a solo shot to James Loney in the seventh, allowing the Rays to close within one run and it was totally game on thereafter. Junichi Tazawa gave up a double to Escobar in the eighth, who moved to third on a ground out and scored on a Tazawa wild pitch to tie the game 6-6. It was only a fabulous play on a pop up near the mound to end the innings by Pedroia that saved the Sox from going down 7-6.
After a quiet ninth by both teams Pedey, who was quite literally all world in this contest and had his fingerprints all over great game plays, walked to lead off the 10th. Papi grounded out to advance Pedey to second base. When Daniel Nava walked on a sloppy ball four by Fernando Rodney Pedroia alertly stole second base. With Salty at the plate, Nava stole second due to defensive indifference. Both runners were rewarded when Salty lofted a lazy single to center field to score Pedroia and Nava.
Boston’s closer, Andrew Bailey, could not shut the door. Lobaton solo homered in the bottom of the frame to make it 8-7 Boston. Bailey walked Escobar and Joyce back-to-back, only his seventh and eighth walks of the year, to dig an even deeper hole. One run lead, men on first and second, nobody out. Zobrist singled to load the bases. Right on script, Bailey walked in the tying run, bringing Red Sox nemesis Longoria to the plate.
For once Longo didn’t make them pay. He hit a hard one hopper to an already drawn in Red Sox infield. Middlebrooks fielded it and threw to Salty for the force out at home. Salty stepped up the third base line, cleared an ally and fired a low strike to Carp at first for the double play. Pedroia made an outstanding fielding play on a drag bunt by Sam Fuld to end the inning and push the game to the 11th.
Ellsbury walked in the top of the 11th, ultimately making it to third base on two stolen bases with two outs. On a 3-2 pitch, Pedroia thought he had a sure walk but was punched out by home plate umpire Tom Hallion. In the bottom of the 11th Koji Uehara, who was not supposed to be available for the game, threw seven pitches and retired the side. On to the 12th.
Rays reliever Cesar Ramos shut down the Sox in the top of the 12th and Uehara stayed in for the 12th based on his abbreviated outing in the 11th and did the same. At this point both bullpens were empty.
Boston built another two-run cushion to go up 10-8 when Victornino singled in the 14th, moved to second on a sac fly by Pedroia and scored on a base hit by Nava after an intentional walk to Ortiz. Boston got an insurance run when Salty singled to score Jose Iglesias, who was inserted to pinch tun for Ortiz.
Morales mercifully nailed down the win in the the 14th, 5 hours and 24 minutes after Boston’s first offensive outburst just a few minutes after 7 pm…on June 10th.
Ultimately, Monday night’s game was a battle of wills between two groups of guys that really don’t like one another but who have likely gained a full measure of respect after an epic struggle. They started one another down and the Sox refused to blink – although they did get some stuff in eyes more than once. Only one question remains; who relieves for either team on Tuesday?