Sunday, September 14, 2008

Red Sox Split Double Header With Toronto

The Toronto Blue Jays, wallowing through most of the season, have come on like gangbusters in September. They have been so hot, tearing through the AL East, that they have even surprised themselves. Suddenly, they looked up at the standings to see they had passed the Yankees to take over third place, and were making ground on the Wild Card spot. This had Red Sox fans worried. Would the Red Sox become the latest team to get steamrolled by the Blue Jays?

Seeing they had an outside chance of capturing the Wild Card spot, the Blue Jays went into playoff mode, all guns blaring. The pitching rotation was juggled, forcing their top 3 starters to face off against the Red Sox, all on 3 days rest. This not only gave them their optimum pitching match ups in this series, but set them up to repeat those match ups in the next series against the Sox in Toronto. Now, if you ask me, the Jays were probably so hot because they were playing loose, no longer concerned about the standings. They were out of contention after all, right? Then, the winning streak put them back in contention, and they got serious, and tightened up.

The Sox, behind a brilliant performance by Tim Wakefield, won the Friday night game, 7-0. Toronto put up their own brilliant pitching performance out there and won the first game of the double header behind AJ Burnett, 8-1. A win in the afternoon game for the Sox would ensure they did what they needed to do, at least split the four games with Toronto.

Bartolo ColonSo, last night, Bartolo Colon faced off against Jesse Litsch. The Jays jumped on the Sox for 5 runs in the second inning, but only two were earned, thanks to an error by Jed Lowrie at third base. It looked bad for the hometown team, and as I left the room, my wife said to my daughter, "I think Dad's giving up on this game". My daughter calmly replied, "Mom, this is the Red Sox, you never give up until the very end". That's my girl! Colon settled down and faced the minimum 3 batters per inning for the next 4 straight innings (thanks to inning ending double plays in two of those innings). That is what the Sox needed. Shut down Toronto and hold them to five runs, while they try and chip away.

The Sox had put 2 runs on the board in the first inning, both scoring on a sloppy Toronto play. A wild pitch, followed by a throwing error scored the first two runs of the game. The Blue Jays were no longer playing loose! Now, if you were scoring this game, I'd love to see your scorebook. By the 6th inning, both managers, knowing they had expanded rosters to work with, started substituting players like this was the All Star Game. The Red Sox scored a run in the bottom of the 6th on a bases loaded sacrifice fly by Jed Lowrie with one out. Then the moves started.

Jesse Carlson went in to pitch, and Terry Francona sent in Mike Lowell to pinch hit for Alex Cora. After Lowell popped out, Brandon League went in to pitch to Kevin Cash, but Francona sent in Coco Crisp to replace Cash. Crisp grounded out to end the inning. Now, how does your scorebook look to reflect the defensive changes in the 7th inning? With Coco in the game, Jacoby Ellsbury moved to right field and Coco took center. Kevin Youkilis moved from first to third base and Mark Kotsay came in from right field to play first. Jed Lowrie slide from third over to short to fill in for Cora, and finally, David Ross replaced Mike Lowell and came in to catch. Phew! If you were at the game and left to get a beer, when you got back it would look like a totally different ball game. By the way, Javier Lopez also came on to pitch (and get the Jays out 1-2-3). So, only Jason Bay and Dustin Pedroia remained at their positions.

David Ortiz was the hero of the 7th inning. With Ellsbury on third, Ortiz walked with one out. Then, Youk hit a ground ball that had double play potential. Ortiz had a good jump, and slid to get in the way of shortstop Mark Scutaro. Ortiz slid cleanly and within the base path, but managed to clip Scutaro and prevented him from making the throw that would have ended the inning. That allowed Ellsbury to score the Sox' 4th run. The score was now 5-4 with 2 innings to go. Ortiz' slide allowed the Sox to inch closer.

Jacoby EllsburyThen, in the 8th inning, the Red Sox fought their way back into the lead, with a little bit of luck. The inning started with a Jason Bay double, then a single by Lowrie that scored Bay and tied the game at 5. A sacrifice bunt and a ground out put Lowrie at third base with two outs. Then, Jacoby Ellsbury came up and battled back and forth with Scott Downs. Downs could not get strike three past Ellsbury, and Ellsbury could not get solid contact. With the count full, Ellsbury swung and again just nicked the ball, but this time it rolled fair down the first base line like a well placed bunt. Ellsbury sped to first and when Downs rushed to get the ball, he slipped and fell. Ellsbury reached safely, and Lowrie scored the go-ahead run. Pedroia followed with a single, and Ortiz hit a double to bring home Ellsbury for the insurance run.

The final score held at 7-5, and the Sox have taken two of the first 3 from the Jays. If the Jays manage to win the fourth, four games would have come off the schedule, and they'd be sitting in the same spot. The clock is ticking. The Yankees, who should be eliminated from the playoffs sometime in the next week, did the Sox a favor by beating the Rays 6-5 last night. The Sox have played 2 more games than the Rays and are 3 behind them in the loss column, 2 games overall. The Sox play 3 games in Tampa starting tomorrow. Those games had better be sold out! They are, by far, the biggest games in the Rays' history. If the Rays take the series, they should be able to easily hold on to their first ever Division Title! However, if they lose, the battle will continue to wage on. The way it looks today, the Division winner will get to play Chicago (or the Twins), and the Wild Card has to play the Angels. The Angels seem like they are the team to beat this year. That Division title is important!

Finally, an interesting story. Catcher, George Kottaras, is one of the Sox' September call-ups. He has never been in a big league game, and there were no plans to use him this weekend. Then, with the Sox being so far down on the first game of the double header, Tito called down to George to warm up. The next thing you know, Kottaras was heading in to the game to pinch hit. His parents, not expecting he'd be playing, were out shopping for a couch at Sears. Sears had the game on their TV's, and while his parents were trying out furniture, they glanced at the screen to see their son stepping up to the plate! Isn't that fun? Kottaras nearly homered down the right field line, but the ball curved foul. He ended up striking out, but the ball got away from the catcher and he reached first base safely. As the inning progressed, he ended up scoring the Red Sox' only run of the game on a sacrifice fly.

Behind me, the rain is coming down hard, but it is supposed to let up. Let's hope the Sox get the game in, we don't need too much schedule juggling this time of year!

(Photos Courtesy of ESPN)

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