At 9 o’clock last night, things looked like they might get real interesting in the American League Eastern Division. Clay Buchholz was cementing his lock on the 2010 AL Cy Young award, the Sox were clinging to a one-run lead, and if things held, Sunday’s night game against Tampa would have huge implications, as the Sox could slash Tampa’s lead in the wildcard to a mere three games.
And then it fell apart. Clay Buchholz was inexplicably asked to hold Carlos Pena tight at first, he then butchered a throw that handed third base to Pena and finally, JD Drew inexplicably caught a foul ball that easily allowed Pena to score. So the one-run lead was gone and when BJ Upton tied things up again in the 8th, the Sox were headed to extras and a gruesome defeat. Goodbye interesting Sunday night because the Sox can no longer floor the Rays. Instead, the Sox are playing for their lives tonight and even a victory might be little more than a salve at this point.
I can’t for the life of me figure out what the “bench” was doing there in the 7th calling for all those throws over to first. For god’s sake it was Carlos Pena and there was one out. He wasn’t going ANYWHERE. Plus, the Sox had Clay Buchholz pitching his ass off so even if Pena did take second, it would not have been fatal. Now Buchholz gets some blame here for throwing the ball away but again, this is on the bench for over-managing that situation. I often think managers get too much credit and too much blame for some of their decisions but in this instance, nothing short of a public flogging will be fair justice for Francona’s crime.
And Drew? Well, his crime was no less egregious, especially since it came with two strikes. Had he let that ball drop, Buchholz could have easily got the second out (Matt Joyce) on the next pitch. And with two outs, Pena would have become less of an issue. In fact, given how well Buchholz has thrown with runners in scoring position this season, the bet here is Pena would have been harmlessly stranded by Dan Johnson. Clearly, Drew just stopped thinking which is odd because I really think that guy has an excellent baseball IQ. But instincts trumped IQ on that play and for that, Drew has to take a hit. And you may think this is an over-reaction but given the circumstances and the weight of the moment, this brain fart is a strong candidate to make my year-end “worst moments” roll call. Yes, it was that bad.
So the Sox head into tonight’s rubber match in a greatly weakened state. That “Big Game” James Shields gets to throw tonight without any added burden is a shame because I think he would have crumbled under the pressure. I’m not saying Lackey would have been aces either but I LOVED Boston tonight if they were playing for the sweep. Unfortunately, the Sox are now just playing for their lives. And make no mistake about it, they are still alive with a win. But a loss will be pretty debilitating at this point. In fact, it might just may kill the Sox off just as they are hitting the top of the stretch.
POINTS OF INTEREST:
* Despite getting a no-decision, Clay Buchholz pitched his ass off last night and as we head to September, he has clearly broken away from the Cy Young pack. He now leads the chase for the ERA+ crown by twenty lengths and it should be noted that Clay is further ahead of frontrunner CC Sabathia in this race than Sabathia is ahead of the last place finisher in the whole league. And the beauty of it all is Buchholz looks like he is getting better as the season goes along.
* Victor Martinez had a terribly soft August but you can’t say he didn’t show up for this series. He has absolutely punished the Rays the last two nights. Martinez is a pretty streaky player and let’s hope that this wave has about two more weeks of life.
* Outside of the errant pickoff, I thought the biggest moment of last night was in the sixth. Two on and nobody out for Beltre. 2-0 count. Things were set up for Beltre to break the game open but he hits it sharply to third and that starts a 5-4-3. The Sox don’t get many opportunities to open things up on Garza but that was one and Beltre came up empty. And now Beltre looks gimpy.
* How is it possible that Carlos Pena has grounded into just ONE double play this year? The Sox may have three or four more wins if Beltre’s 23 GDP’s were swapped for Pena’s total.
* Bill Hall has looked over-matched in these two games which is no shame against Price and Garza. But it helps illustrate why Hall can’t really be considered an everyday player. He can feast on bottom rung pitchers but against guys who can mix things up, Hall is a liability.
* They really don’t have much flexibility until Salty comes back, but Mike Lowell is playing way too much. It’s funny how this guy couldn’t buy his way into the lineup three months ago but today, he is a mortal lock to be playing every night. If the Sox are still around a week from now, it will be interesting to see whether Lars Anderson gets some time at first against right-handed pitching. My guess is if Lowell sits, it more likely will be for Martinez at first and Salty behind the dish.
* What the hell is Hideki Okajima doing back on the team? This is a great quote from Francona: “We’ve leaned on him for a couple of years and he’s been such a big weapon for us.” Uh Terry, Okajima hasn’t been a weapon since 2008 and even that was a bit illusory. He was an assassin in 2007 but hasn’t the statute of limitations expired on using that year as evidence?
FARM REPORT: Two more doubles last night for the hottest bat on the planet. If this keeps up another week, it would stand to reason that Josh Reddick gets some play when rosters expand.