Marcum Out-duels Wakefield to Avoid the Sweep
With rain clouds looming, the Red Sox looked to Tim Wakefield for an afternoon series sweep of their division foe Toronto Blue Jays. Wakefield pitched well in his first start in a few weeks, but Shaun Marcum just pitched better. Marcum went 7 strong innings, allowing just 2 hits, while walking 1 batter and striking out 6. Wakefield was strong as well, going 7 innings and allowing just 5 hits and struck out 5, but gave up 3 earned runs. A late surge by the Sox made the game close, but Dale Scott had other plans.
After a Kevin Youkilis single and a J.D. Drew double to drive in the Sox first run in the bottom of the 9th, David Ortiz stepped up to the plate. Both hits against Marcum on the day came at the hand of Big Papi, so he was primed and ready to make some magic and bring the Sox back. After falling into a quick 0-2 count with a called strike and a foul ball, Ortiz worked pitcher Kevin Gregg to a full count. The 7th pitch of the at-bat appeared to be significantly outside for ball 4, but umpire Dale Scott called Ortiz out on strikes. Ortiz was angry, and unlike his disgust with strike 3 calls recently, this one he had a legitimate beef about.
Peter Abraham of Boston.com posted 2 graphics from Brooks Baseball that clearly shows the umpiring disparity on the afternoon. The next batter after Ortiz, Adrian Beltre, faced a tough check-swing called strike from Dale Scott and Terry Francona flew off the handle in defense of his hitters. He was immediately tossed, but there isn’t a single person who can look at the charts linked above and not agree that Francona, Ortiz and Beltre all had legitimate complaints. Beltre proceeded to single in a run, but then Sox fans watched Darnell McDonald pop out to end the game with the tying run on 1st.
I can’t predict what would have happened had David Ortiz’s ball 4 been properly called and Adrian Beltre came up to bat with runners on 1st and 2nd, but it certainly would have changed the complexion of the inning and would have taken a little bit of weight off the big man’s shoulders if the call was made. Umpires are human and make mistakes, I get that, but looking at the pitch chart, it is disturbing how frequently Toronto pitchers got generous calls and how infrequently Boston pitchers got those same calls.
No matter how you look at the 9th inning, the Sox got out-pitched in the game and didn’t deserve to win. The good news overall, is that the Sox ended their 10 game home stand at 7-3 and appear to be clicking. They are gaining momentum, which is important with the stretch of games ahead against high quality, top tier teams (Detroit Tigers, New York Yankees, Minnesota Twins, Philadelphia Phillies and Tampa Bay Rays). David Ortiz has begun to hit a little and look less awkward against fastballs, while Mike Cameron appears to be progressing towards a return after a few rehab starts.
The Sox are sitting 6.5 games back in the division still, but if they continue to play well, that deficit will begin to shrink as the other division foes begin to settle in and cool off. The main focus for the Sox needs to be on lowering the 3rd worst era in the AL from 4.90 to the low 4’s or below over the next month or two. If they can accomplish that feat, this team will find themselves rising to the top of the AL East.