Sunday’s Red Sox 3-2 victory over the Orioles looked like a more "normal" baseball game than most of the recent Sox games. This had good fielding, some power, some small ball, and our setup man and closer preserving a one-run lead, on a day with perfect weather for baseball. It was "a-typical" because of the lineup full of rookies who made the big plays, and the lack of offense, but "typical" because that’s how you set up your team to win games.
Jacoby Ellsbury was the star of the game with a nice running catch near the triangle/bullpen area in deep center field in the 2nd inning, a base hit and stolen base (2nd in 2 attempts) in the bottom of the 2nd, his first career home run in the 4th, and an outstanding, highlight reel catch in the 6th, diving forward to nab a short, soft liner.
He gives the Sox added speed and offensive production off the bench, and is likely to be added to the playoff roster (more on that in the "Forecast").
Mike Lowell just keeps coming through with quality at-bats and RBIs. With slow runners on first and 2nd in the first inning, he lined a single off the wall in left to score Pedroia, then later hit a sharp liner to deep left in the 5th for a sacrifice fly, again bringing Pedroia home, for the only 2 runs other than Ellsbury’s solo homer. Lowell leads the team in RBIs and is filling the offensive gap left by Manny’s lower-than-normal numbers.
Kevin Youkilis has been struggling, with 3 strikeouts in the game, and a lot recently, even though his last strikeout was a Youkilis-like 11 pitch battle.
The real story of the game was some excellent fielding:
1st inning: Youkilis saves a double or triple with a reflex diving grab of a hot one-hopper down the line, on a play where the runner at first was off with the pitch and would have scored. That saved a run.
2nd inning: Ellsbury made a nice running catch near the triangle in center
3rd inning: Jonathan Lester helped his cause with a hockey-goalie save on a fast grass-cutter, sticking out his left foot to block the ball, then his right inner thigh to keep it in front of him, then picking it up to throw the runner out.
4th inning: After a bases-loaded 0 out soft liner to Pedroia for 1 out, JD Drew caught a ball in short right and fired a strike to Cash to get Tejada trying to score.
5th inning: Pedroia made a diving stop to his right and got up quickly to throw the runner out, similar to the outstanding play the previous night in the 7th to save the no-hitter, although not quite as high on the level-of-difficulty. Then with 2 out, Ellsbury made the aforementioned great catch of a soft liner.
6th inning: On a 2-out single to left with runners on 1st and 2nd, rookie Brandon Moss fired a perfect strike in the air, not to the catcher, but to cutoff man Mike Lowell. How about that for a rookie! Put your ego aside and hit the cutoff man! Tejada was going to score anyway, but the Sox were able to end the inning right there as Lowell fired the ball to 2nd to nab Kevin Millar rounding the bag too far. I love it!
7th inning: Mike Lowell made 2 excellent short-hop plays on high 2 hoppers, the first one a do-or-die, stick your glove out and hope it goes in then throw a bullet on the run to nab a speedy runner type play. Wow!
8th inning: No plays to be made, as Okajima struck out 2 to strand a runner at 3rd after a leadoff double and sacrifice bunt.
9th inning: Coco Crisp makes 2 catches just after coming in for defense, the first of which was an excellent sliding forward catch on a low line drive in front of him.
Great defense, innings 1 through 9!!! Rookies scoring all 3 runs! A "rookie" (kinda) setup man in the 8th and last year’s rookie phenom closing out the 9th. Some smallball with a Cora sacrifice bunt of Pedroia to 3rd followed by a Lowell sac fly, and earlier an Ellsbury stolen base. A nice clean, crisp game, with lots of youthful energy. We want to see more of this!
While a 10-0 no-hitter definitely gives a team a "spark" and makes it fun to come to the ballpark the next day, a 3-2 all-around well-played win like this does more to inspire confidence in a team, especially with so many young players contributing. A division title looks much more certain after these last 2 days, not so much because they were wins, but because of the WAY they won with September call-ups.
This begs the question: while the September callups will help the Sox to a division title in September, how many of them will be on the playoff roster to help then?
The playoffs don’t require as many pitchers with the rotation going down to 4, so there should be 11 pitchers and 14 position players. Barring injuries, the Sox have:
Definite starters Beckett, Schilling, Wakefield and Matsusaka, relievers Papelbon, Okajima. That leaves 4 mid-relief spots for these guys: Timlin, Delcarmen, Lopez, Tavarez, Gagne, Lester, Buchholz, Snyder. A good problem to have, but a problem nonetheless. I’ve gotta think they’ll take Timlin, Delcarmen and Gagne, with either Lopez as a lefty, or Tavarez or Buchholz as long relief, but a lot depends upon how things go over the next few weeks. Injuries might help decide. Performances might. It would be sad to see Tavarez left off the playoff roster after all he’s done for the team, bopping between the starting rotation and the bullpen at a moment’s notice.
For position players, it’s more clear-cut, with the 9 regular starters, plus a backup catcher (Mirabelli if he’s healthy), then infielders Cora and Hinske, and outfielders Kielty and Ellsbury. Ellsbury gives them speed on the bench which they otherwise don’t have, and some offense and defense, so he’s in.