Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Who Needs Pitching?

The Red Sox and Rangers adopted a new strategy last night. They abandoned the silly notion that you need good pitching to win games. Instead, both teams opted to forget about pitching and focus on a little hitting! By the time the dust had settled, the Red Sox had managed to cling to a 19-17 victory, inching a game closer to the "what are you doing in first place this late in the season" Rays.

Charlie ZinkI attended the game last night, and was thrilled that I got to my seat in time for the first pitch. Charlie Zink looked nervous, but settled in nicely after retiring the first three Rangers he faced. He threw a pretty nice knuckleball, although not with quite as much movement as Wakefield's. He does mix in a fastball that was clocked around 84 mph, as well as a reasonable curve. His key to success is to keep hitters off balance and guessing.

David Ortiz homersThen, the Sox came to bat with a vengeance. JD Drew lead off with a walk, followed by a single by Dustin Pedrioa, his first of 5 hits last last. Then, Big Papi stepped up with his waskally wist all wested from a night off, and planted a home run deep in right field that landed about 40 feet to our left as we were sitting. The guys in the seats next to me missed the home run waiting in line for food. When I filled them in on what they missed, they calmly replied, "well, he'll just have to do it again for us now that we're here". Who knew prophets still walk the modern day earth?

Papi sat on the bench watching 8 teammates take their turns at bat, and when his name came up again, he saw a familiar situation. JD Drew was standing on second base, and Dustin Pedroia was on first. Just like back in the first inning. Oh, wait, this is STILL the first inning. In fulfillment of my neighbors' prophesy, Papi crushed a long shot into the seats in center field for his second 3 run home run of the inning. The only two Red Sox batters who failed to reach base in the first inning were Coco Crisp, who flied out, and Kevin Youkilis, who struck out twice, amazingly enough.

So, the Sox were winning ten to nothing after one inning. My friend realizes this game is over and decides to make an early exit to beat the traffic (just kidding - but he did leave after the 7th inning with the Sox losing 16-15, a sure sign that a dramatic win was coming up shortly thereafter). Zink, with a more than comfortable lead, settled in and pitched quite well through the 4th inning. The Rangers put two runs on the board in the second inning, but the Sox erased those with 2 of their own in the 3rd inning. The 12-2 score held up until the 5th inning, and then the wheels came off the wagon, and no one knew how to put them back on.

Zink, who was pitching on only 3 days rest, clearly began to tire out and started leaving pitches out over the plate. The Rangers are not a team to refuse gifts like that and went to work on the unfortunate rookie. Soon enough, the Rangers had scored one run and had runners at first and second with only one out. Time for a nice double play ball? Not exactly. When Zink chatted with pitching coach, John Farrell, at the mound, I think Farrell asked for a double play, but Zink only heard the word "double". Which might explain why he proceeded to give up back to back to back doubles, allowing 3 more runs to score. With the score now 12-6, we began joking about the possibility of losing the lead as we watched Javier Lopez take over for Zink. How silly was that? After all, the Rangers were starting to score, but those runs were all against a poor rookie in his first outing on only 3 days rest. Surely the well seasoned bullpen will shut things down and ensure the victory, right?

Ian Kinsler homersNot exactly. Lopez gave up a single to score another run, before striking out Ramon Vazquez for the second out. That was all Tito wanted from Lopez, and he called for David Aardsma to take a shot at the Rangers. This was only Aardsma's second outing since coming off the DL, and I'm not sure coming off the DL was a good idea, based on what we saw. Aardsma gave up a two run home run to the first batter he faced, before striking out Michael Young to end the inning. The Sox were now clinging to a 12-10 lead.

The action was far from over. Big Papi lead off the bottom of the 5th with a towering drive to center field for, what looked like, his third home run of the night. A fan caught the ball, but from our vantage point it seemed like the ball had cleared the wall before being caught. The umpires apparently did not have the same angle we had, and ruled the ball a ground rule double due to fan interference. That cost Papi a home run, and the poor guy who caught it got thrown out for his troubles. But, Youk, tired of missing out on all the fun, quickly made up for it, sending a long drive into the Monster Seats in dead center field. We all breathed a sigh of relief. Surely this 14-10 lead would now hold, right?

Not exactly. Aardsma started off the 6th inning giving up a walk, followed by back to back singles, allowing one run to score. Francona realized that Aardsma was just throwing batting practice up there, and sent in Manny Delcarmen to move the game along. Well, Manny moved it along all right, but not in the direction we were hoping for. Six batters later, the inning thankfully ended. Manny had given up a double, a single, two sacrifice flies, and watched Youk make a rare error on a hard hit grounder, before it was over. The Rangers had just scored 5 more runs to take an incredible 15-14 lead!

Okay, joking about losing the lead was no longer funny. This was now serious. The Sox failed to score in the 6th inning, ending the inning with Coco Crisp getting thrown out at second while trying to steal himself into scoring position. But, the Rangers were on to him as they executed a perfect pitch out to cut him down. Then, to our surprise, Francona sent Delcarmen back out to start the 7th inning. Manny started the inning off by giving up a double, struck Milton Bradley out, then gave up an RBI single to allow the Rangers to put an insurance run on the board.

Now, Tito, in frustration, yanked Manny off the mound by the ear and dragged him into the clubhouse for a sound beating (we hope). Tito finally stopped fooling around and went for the big guns, starting with Hideki Okajima. Oki got the first batter he faced to fly to right for out number two. Then, he decided to have a little fun with the crowd by loading the bases with a walk and a hit batter. He looked around playfully at all the worried faces, gave a quick chuckle, and proceeded to get Vazquez to fly to center to end the inning. So funny, Hideki, so funny!

The Sox still had some making up to do, and managed to send 6 batters to the plate in the 7th, but only scored one run off of an error. Okajima saw his joke did not go over so well, so rather than repeat it, he dispatched the Rangers 1-2-3 for a quick 8th inning. Time was running out, and the Sox were still losing 16-15. The bottom of the 8th did not start out promising. Crisp and Drew both flied out, while Jacoby Ellsbury, pinch hitting for Kevin Cash, managed to get on with a walk. So, two outs, a man on first, and a one run lead for Texas. Dustin Pedroia, who had already recorded 4 singles on the night, upped his average with a 5th hit, this one a double that scored Ellsbury all the way from first base to thankfully tie the game. Now, Big Papi stepped to the plate. Well, the Rangers were not going to fall for that again. After watching Papi light up the night sky over Boston, they decided not to pitch to him with the game on the line, and walked him to face Youkilis instead. But, wait. didn't Youkilis homer tonight too? I guess the odds "seemed" better, but odds can be rather odd sometimes.

Kevin Youkilis homersThis time the odds were on the Red Sox' favor. Kevin Youkilis joined Papi in a two home run night, this one a clobbered shot to left field off the Sports Authority sign. The Sox were now back in the lead by a comfortable score of 19-16. All we need is for Papelbon to wrap things up. Papelbon starts off striking out Milton Bradley, and the crowd was on their feet. Then, the odds came back to bite Youkilis. Youk had moved over to third base to take over for Mike Lowell, who had left the game with a strained oblique (I don't like the sound of that). Marlon Byrd laced a grounder to Youk at third, and the ball just ate him up. Two errors in one night for Youk? Would this game ever end? Brandon Boggs then put a scare into the Fenway Faithful as he laced a double to score Byrd who had stolen second base. The Rangers were coming back again!

Thankfully, this tale has a happy ending. Paps got the next two batters to line out, and a sigh of relief went out from the entire crowd, one moment before "Dirty Water" began to blare out of the speakers.

Well, that was exhausting, but incredible to witness. The last game I attended was a near no-hitter. This one was pretty much the opposite. Not sure what to call that. Maybe a "no-pitcher"?


Peter N said...

A NEAR no-pitcher, maybe, because Paps FINALLY ended it. Welcome back, Rooster and what a great post! Boy, you sure can pick the right games to attend!

Rooster said...

Good point, there was a smattering of good pitching in among the batting practice.

That sure was a game to remember.