Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Earth, Wind and Fire

Last night began with the Red Sox remembering Earth Day, turned utterly thrilling as Jacoby Ellsbury flew around the bases like the wind, and ended with Jonathan Papelbon raining fire down upon Angels in the ninth inning. A terrific night at the ballpark.

I was not feeling overly confident heading into the game. Three hours before the game, Josh Beckett, who has been battling the "clubhouse flu", was scratched with a stiff neck. The Sox were concerned the stiffness would cause him to alter his arm motion, and potentially create an injury. Jason Varitek was already out with the flu, and Mike Lowell is still rehabbing his left thumb. Dave Pauley was called up from Pawtucket to start the game, and would be throwing to backup catcher Kevin Cash. My only solace was that Jered Weaver was starting for the Angels, and I was sure the Sox could get to him.

Sure enough, Jacoby Ellsbury leading off in the first inning launched a solo home run to welcome Weaver to Boston. But, Weaver managed to wiggle out of trouble in the first inning, escaping with only the one run and stranding 2 runners. He ended up throwing 30 pitches in the inning, which would eventually be his ticket to a shortened outing. But, he surprised us all by making it through the first 4 innings holding on to a 5-2 lead.

But the Sox finally pounced in the 5th inning. Dustin Pedroia doubled, which was significant. With a runner on second, the defense cannot put the same kind of shift on David Ortiz. Big Papi took advantage and sent a single up the middle (which would have been fielded by the shortstop had the shift been on) to drive home Dustin. Then Manny Ramirez created some excitement. With an 0-2 count, he went with a fastball on the outside of the plate and drove it down the right field line. A classic Pesky Pole home run swing. The ball sailed down the line, wrapped around the pole and tried to land in the first row of the stands, and would have except for the terrific play of Vladimir Guerrero. Vladi raced to the stands, leaped, crashed into the wall with his glove extended into the crowd while his rib cage withstood the collision, and he snared the ball and held on. The play was a mere 50 feet from my seat, and was incredible. I was sure he had injured himself, but he stayed in the game to entertain us with his caveman swings at the plate.

Just as we were about to lament the loss of a sure home run, we looked up to see the ball sailing into the green monster seats. Kevin Youkilis had Manny's back and made sure we would get that 2 run homer we felt we deserved. It tied the game and brought life back into the crowd.

Red Sox pitching was just good enough to keep them in the game. Dave Pauley looked impressive at first, erasing the first 6 batters he faced. But, he dug himself a huge hole in the third inning with a bases loaded, no outs situation and the Angels' 2, 3 and 4 hitters coming up having already scored one run. He almost got out of the jam unscathed, inducing pop-outs to both Gary Mathews and Vladi. But, Garrett Anderson jumped on the first pitch he saw hitting a single to center scoring two runs. Pauley's night was essentially over, but the coaching staff tried to squeeze one more inning out of him. It did not work as he surrendered a two run home run to Jeff Mathis putting the Angels up 5-2.

In the 8th inning, Hideki Okajima gave up his first run of the year as Casey Kotchman led off the 8th inning with a home run to nearly the identical spot that Vladi caught Manny's. But, Casey's ball had enough legs to land in the third row, easily out of the reach of JD Drew, who made a good effort to try to snare it.

The real hero of the game was Jacoby Ellsbury. In the 6th inning, he treated the Fenway Faithful to yet another solo home run to give the Sox their first lead of the night. So, now we fast forward to the 8th inning. The Angels had tied the game, there was one out, and everyone was wondering if Ellsbury could possibly hit his third home run of the night. Everyone including the Angels. After the first pitch, Ellsbury noticed Angels' first baseman, Casey Kotchman taking a couple of steps back. Ellsbury capitalized on the move and laid down a picture perfect bunt on the next pitch sending it deep, and just to Kotchman's right. Kotchman had no choice but to field it, and the pitcher had no prayer of beating Ellsbury to first. He made that look simple. With one out and Dustin Pedroia at the plate, the only question in Fenway was which pitch would Ellsbury steal on? His very presence on first completely distracted the Angels who practically forgot about Dustin Pedroia. With the count 2-1, reliever Scot Shields fired to the plate, Ellsbury faked towards second and stopped, and Pedroia ripped the pitch down the left field line into the corner. Ellsbury had to restart towards second and immediately went into overdrive. He had not even reached second base when the ball bounced in the corner, but his mind was already focused on home plate. In a flash, he was around third and effortlessly crossing the plate with no throw from the defense. He scored from first, unchallenged, on a ball hit to left field!

The crowd went crazy, and everyone remained on their feet throughout the ninth inning as Jonathan Papelbon threw fastball after fastball right by the heart of the Angels' lineup. Gary Mathews struck out on three straight pitches, and Vladimir Guerrero improved on that striking out on four pitches. The night ended when Garrett Anderson swung an 0-2, 98 mph fastball and actually managed to get a piece of the bat on it, popping out foul to Kevin Youkilis at third.

One of the more fun games I've been to. The Sox winning streak extends their winning streak to 6 games as Dice-K Matsusaka takes the mound tonight against the Angels' Jon Garland. Can Dice-K extend the streak? Can he work the strike zone better to get farther into the game? Will the Celtics' playoff game pull focus?

(Photos courtesy of


redsox.njdevils said...

These come-from-behind wins are so exciting! Jacoby and Dustin were so awesome last night--it makes me so happy to know that the future of this team is in good hands!

Rooster said...

The young guys are tremendous. You have to give a lot of credit to the minor league systems - they are the ones that prepared these guys to be ready when they got here.