Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Sox Miss Chance at First Place

It was the bottom of the ninth inning, and all of us Red Sox fans in the audience were still rubbing our eyes and asking ourselves if what we saw really happened. Did Jonathan Papelbon really just give up a home run and back to back doubles to blow a 4-3 lead? We were all filled with joy a mere 1/2 inning before, when we watched Jason Bay crush a laser beam line drive that barely cleared the top of the Green Monster for a 2 run home run that did away with the Rays' 3-2 lead. The woman sitting behind me quietly said, to no one in particular, "Manny Who?", as Jason rounded the bases to the roar of the packed house.

Jason BayBut, we all know a one run lead in the ninth inning can be quickly erased, and we knew Big Papi would be batting this inning. Mark Kotsay lead off the inning against Troy Percival with a walk. We all thought, "okay, here we go". Then, Jason Varitek stepped up, and began to work on laying down a bunt to move Kotsay to second. Percival has been around a long time, and was not about to make it easy on 'Tek, and threw him terrible pitches - high and off the plate, to bunt at. While this futile battle was being waged, I turned to those around me and asked, "If Francona wants to get the runner in scoring position, why doesn't he send in Jacoby Ellsbury to pinch run? He can steal second, then we'd have the runner in scoring position with no outs. That would let Varitek be able to swing away, and with Ellsbury's speed, we increase the chances of safely scoring from second on a single." Everyone agreed, this made sense. But, we continued to watch as Varitek fouled off strike two, then froze as Percival snapped a curve ball across the strike zone for strike three.

Then, Big Papi stepped in and worked the count to 3-1, then put the bat on a fastball, only to fly out to right field. Now, with two outs, and the hot hitting Coco Crisp coming up, Terry Francona send in Jacoby Ellsbury to pinch run! We all looked at each other and said, what the heck has he been waiting for? Why wait until there are two outs to send in Ellsbury? So, Ellsbury takes off for second, is safe by a mile, and to top it off, the throw gets away from the second baseman, and Ellsbury wastes no time flying over to third base. Unfortunately, Coco popped out to second base to end the game.

Now, picture how differently this inning would have gone for Troy Percival had Ellsbury been sent in to pinch run immediately. No outs, and the league leading base stealer on first base while clinging to a one run league in Fenway Park with the division lead on the line. Percival would have spent half of his concentration on trying to keep Ellsbury close to first, and Varitek would have been swinging away, no trying to bunt. Had Ellsbury executed a similar steal, we could have had him on third with no outs. Big Papi's fly to right may have scored him to tie the game!

So, I am not trying to be revisionist here, and I am not at saying this is why they lost. They may have lost anyway. But, I still just don't get why they waited until there were two outs to send in Ellsbury! It just made no sense.

Dice-K MatsuzakaDaisuke Matsuzaka was okay. As usual, he had one clumsy inning, this time it was the third inning. He slipped and fell trying to field a bunt with no outs, then walked the next two batters to load the bases. Dice-K then threw a pitch more or less in the dirt, but it nicked the foot of Cliff Floyd, giving the Rays their first run. The good thing is that he stopped the bleeding pretty quickly. He retired the next 3 batters in a row, giving up only one more run on a sacrifice fly. Dice-K gave up one more run int he fourth, and left the game after 5 innings, already up to over 100 pitches, with the Rays leading 3-2. Not a great outing, but good enough to keep the Sox in the game. The bullpen, Javier Lopez, Manny Delcarmen, and Hideki Okajima, held the Rays silent until Papelbon imploded.

Jonathan PapelbonPapelbon, from where we sat, looked off right from the first pitch. I don't know why, he just was not on his game. Hopefully it is nothing but a bad night. The game tying solo home run was given up to Dan Johnson, who had just been called up from AAA Durham. It was Johnson's second at bat of the season. His first at bat came on April 2nd against Boston when he was with the A's. In that at bat, he grounded out harmlessly to Dustin Pedroia. So, it seemed like a match up in favor of the home town team. That is, until Papelbon left a fastball out over the plate, and Johnson planted it out in to the center field stands.

The rubber match takes place tonight. Josh Beckett against Andy Sonnanstine. The Sox don't "need" to win this game, they seem to be in pretty good control of the Wild Card spot. But, winning this game, and pulling back to within 1/2 game of the Rays would be a big boost. We'll take whatever playoff spot we can get, but the Division Champ gets home field advantage, and we'd love to see that.


Suldog said...

Yeah, it made little sense to not use Ellsbury as the PR right from the get go, rather than waiting.

Get 'em tonight and all is (almost) right with the world.

Rooster said...

Yup, that's all you can do is get back at it again. Such a shame to waste a thrilling come back in the 8th, but, what can you do?

I knew this was going to be a fun month of baseball!

Peter N said...

And even after another loss (Wed. night), it's great to know we have our Josh back!

Rooster said...

Very true, Peter! It was a well pitched game, on both sides. Josh deserved better than that, but that's how it goes sometimes.

Good to see him strong and confident!