Less Lester, More Morales
Tuesday, July 5, 2011 – Fenway Park, Section 34
Red Sox 3, Blue Jays 2
The Red Sox were back from a less-than-successful interleague road trip. In fact, if it hadn’t been for a three-game sweep in Houston to end the trip, it would have been a disaster. But now, after playing 9 straight games without being able to use their full lineup, they were back at home sweet home, playing under the American League rules under which the team was built. Even though they lost the opener of the series on Monday night, I was excited for Tuesday’s game. After seeing John Lackey pitch the previous three games I had been to, I was glad it was Jon Lester’s turn tonight. And with my next game 5 days away on Sunday, I was looking forward to seeing him twice.
The weather was perfect, which was a welcome departure from my usual luck, and our seats were at the far end of Section 34, right next to the centerfield camera well. I always like sitting there, because it feels like a private little section in the corner. And when the game started, Lester did not disappoint. He struck out two in a 10-pitch first, then fanned two more in an 11-pitch second. In the third, he allowed a walk but quickly got out of the inning before the runner could advance.
For their part, the hitters got going early against Brett Cecil. Doubles by David Ortiz and Jason Varitek, and a smash off the second baseman’s glove by J.D. Drew (which was originally scored an error and then later changed to a hit) in the second inning accounted for two of the runs. With Kevin Youkilis out of the lineup after being hit by a pitch the night before, Dustin Pedroia was batting cleanup tonight, and he cleaned up in the third with a solo shot into the back row of the Green Monster seats that gave the Sox a 3-0 lead.
Lester continued to cruise, and at the end of the fourth he was pitching a… very good game where the only baserunner had reached via a walk. (Even writing about it later, I still don’t feel right saying that there was a you-know-what in progress.) So we were shocked when Matt Albers came out of the ‘pen to start the fifth. For Lester to have come out of a game like this, something was obviously wrong. There had been a comebacker to the mound that he had fielded in the fourth, but we couldn’t think of anything else that looked awkward in his last inning. Clay Buchholz was already on the D.L., and if Lester was hurt too, that would be a big problem. (And now who was I going to see on Sunday?) It was a couple of innings later that we finally got word that he had left the game with a strained lat muscle. Hopefully the upcoming All-Star break would be enough rest to get him back soon.
Albers picked up where Lester had left off and pitched a quick fifth. In the sixth, with the Blue Jays still looking for their first hit, centerfielder Rajai Davis tried to bunt for a hit, but he was thrown out by Jason Varitek. Corey Patterson walked (though it looked like he was preparing to bunt on one of the pitches too), and then Jose Bautista lined a single past shortstop for the first hit of the game. There was a slight pause while we seemed to collectively wonder if it was too early to be thinking about a no-hit bid, but the concensus was that a round of applause was in order for keeping the game hitless as long as they did. It would still be an amazing feat, even if it took multiple pitchers, and making it into the sixth was deep enough into the game. Albers was able to get out of the inning with the shutout intact when he picked off Patterson heading for third.
(Bleacher moment of the day: When Davis came out to centerfield for the bottom of the sixth, a guys in the row in front of me was giving him a hard time for bunting with a no-hitter in progress. “Hey Davis, what are you doing bunting in a no-hitter? I can’t believe you did that!” His buddy added, “And your friend Patterson too!”)
Franklin Morales was next in from the ‘pen, and he worked a 1-2-3 seventh. Daniel Bard handled the eighth. And that meant, with a 3-0 lead, it was Papelbon time in the ninth. Here’s a video of Jonathan Papelbon’s entrance to “Shippin’ up to Boston”:
It’s always festive when Paps enters, but nothing’s ever easy. Patterson greeted him with a single, and Bautista launched a towering home run that left the Sox with only a slim 3-2 lead. After a strikeout, Edwin Encarnacion singled, and a fly ball to left accounted for the second out of the inning. With everyone in the park standing, J.P. Arrencibia somehow worked a full-count walk, even though, as I noted in my scorecard, “That ball 4 to Arrencibia was right down the middle.” But that put runners at first and second, and John McDonald looped a hit into shallow left. As Encarnacion rounded third, Darnell McDonald fielded it and threw past the cutoff man straight to the plate. From our vantage point, the throw seemed to beat the runner by a mile with Jason Varitek standing out in front of the plate, and we rejoiced when the umpire signaled that he was out, and the game was over. The Red Sox rushed onto the field as if someone had just had a walkoff hit and congratulated Darnell on his game-saving throw. Big Papi wrapped him in a bear hug, while Papelbon moved in for a high-five.
We stuck around in our seats to see a replay of the final play at the plate, but they didn’t show it, moving right into the usual end of game stuff. Eventually there was a highlight montage with all the other plays of the game, but it cut off right before the end. It wasn’t until I got home and saw it on TV that I realized how close the play at the plate actually was. Tek had his leg out in front to block the plate, but Encarnacion had a good slide to try (unsuccessfully) to get around the tag that made the play really close. (There was even some suggestion that his foot hit the back corner of the plate before the tag, but as far as I could tell his foot was merely in the air over the plate. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.) As far as I’m concerned it was an exciting play that put an exclamation point on a fun win.