Going, Going, Gonzo
Sunday, May 27, 2012 – Fenway Park, Section 32
Rays 4, Red Sox 3
In the past few weeks, the Red Sox had begun to climb out of their early season hole. A decent road trip saw them split in Tampa, win two of three in Philadelphia, and take another two of three in Baltimore. After splitting the first two of this series with the Rays, they came into Sunday’s game with a 23-23 record, the fifth time in the season that they had reached the .500 mark, although they had yet to cross above it. As usual, I drove in early, found a spot at a meter a block down the street from Kenmore Square, and went in when the gates opened. Neither team was taking batting practice, but the pitchers were long-tossing in right field. Big Papi was strolling out to the outfield with a bucket of baseballs, followed by Felix Doubront and their sons, 7-year-old D’Angelo Ortiz and 5-year-old Noah Doubront.
As the pitchers wrapped up and went in (Daniel Bard stopped to sign autographs on the way by), Papi and friends set up in centerfield. The kids took turns batting, with switch-hitter D’Angelo swatting a few up over the centerfield wall to the fans in Section 35. Noah’s bat seemed a little too heavy for him, but he hit some line drives and enjoyed running around and chasing down all the balls.
With Cody Ross out after breaking a bone in his foot and Ryan Sweeney on the 7-day concussion D.L., this was my first chance to see the new fielding configuration that allowed the Sox to keep their best hitters in the lineup every night. Will Middlebrooks, the promising young third baseman who debuted when Kevin Youkilis was injured, didn’t have to go back to the minors when Youk returned. Youk slid over to play first base, the position he held from 2006-10, and Adrian Gonzalez, himself a gold glove winner at first, played right field. It was one thing when Gonzo played in right in interleague road games, but Fenway’s spacious, sunny right field is another story, so it was admirable that Adrian was a team player who didn’t mind going out of his comfort zone for as long as was needed. He was tested right away, and made a running catch of a shallow fly to end the first inning.
Adrian got another chance in the fourth, when Matt Joyce hit one down the right field line that hugged the wall and rolled toward the deep part of right. Gonzo got to it quickly and fielded it without letting it get by him. That’s a play that a lot of fielders have trouble with at Fenway, and we were relieved he had fielded it capably… until his throw sailed over the cutoff man and the runner wound up at third. The next batter grounded out, but it drove Joyce home, and the Rays led 1-0.
(Scoring rant: A double plus an error followed by a 3-1 groundout which drives in the runner from third means the run is unearned, right? Not so fast – when the next batter singled, the run which had already scored became earned because he “would have scored” even if the error hadn’t given him an extra base. This rule bothers me. Sure, he probably would have moved to third on the groundout to first and scored on the single, or even if he had held at second for the groundout he could have scored from there on the single – but if everything that could happen in baseball did, we wouldn’t have to play the games! Not to mention that if the runner was still at third after the groundout, they may have pitched differently than they did with the bases empty, and the next batter may not have even gotten a hit. It’s even weirder because the batter who hits the groundout gets credit for the RBI either way, not the one whose single might have knocked in a run.)
Clay Buchholz had really struggled to start the year, coming into the game with an ERA over 7. But today he had a strong outing. The only blip in the first six innings was the cheap run that followed Gonzo’s error, and he allowed a second run on a couple of hits as he started to tire in the seventh. Unfortunately Clay had nothing to show for it. Despite being among the leaders in run support, today Jeremy Hellickson had held the Sox offense to four hits and needed just 68 pitches for the first six innings. But Ortiz walked to open the seventh, and Youkilis followed with a single. That brought up Gonzalez, who still needed to redeem himself after his costly error. He launched a fly into left field, and it settled in the first row of the Monster seats, just inside the fair pole, giving the Sox an instant 3-2 lead. Suddenly it was all good. Clay was turning it around, Adrian was heating up, and the Sox were finally poised to get over the .500 mark.
Lefty Franklin Morales and righty Vicente Padilla combined to throw a 1-2-3 eighth, and Alfredo Aceves came on for the ninth. He walked the leadoff batter, which is never good, but then got a popup for the first out. But then Sean Rodriquez took him deep over The Wall for a deflating 4-3 Rays lead. The Red Sox went down in order in the ninth. It was really disheatening to lose one that way, after being close to getting so many positives out of the game. Now they were back under .500 again, and my personal record dropped to 3-5.