Butterflies. Not Tim Wakefield’s knuckleballs, but butterflies in the stomachs of Red Sox fans all over. The lead is down to 3.5 games, and fans are getting nervous.
The good news: Wakefield seems to be back. Though he gave up 4 runs in 6 innings, 3 of the 4 runs were on Frank Thomas home runs. Thomas hit a 3rd homer later off Kyle Snyder. The only other 3-home-run game in Frank Thomas’ 512 HR career was 11 years and 2 days before, and all 3 home runs that day were off the same pitcher: Tim Wakefield.
Interesting, isn’t it? Let’s chalk it up to Frank Thomas being a good knuckleball hitter, and consider Wakefield to be officially back.
The other unfortunate matchup last night was that the Red Sox faced a young pitcher with nasty stuff pitching at the top of his game. Sox fans are wondering why McGowan had to pick that game to pull it all together.
Tonight they have to face one of the hottest pitchers in the league, A.J. Burnett.
Things do not look good for the Sox.
On the positive side, although Lester always seems to struggle, the Red Sox usually find ways to win the games he starts. Lester has been outstanding at pitching himself out of the jams he gets himself into. The Red Sox have somehow found ways to score enough runs to win his games.
The Red Sox, with injuries to Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Coco Crisp and Kevin Youkilis, will be playing through some pain, too.
Psychologically, the Red Sox, on the road, with injuries, facing a good team and a hot pitcher, have to view themselves as underdogs in this game. Hopefully for Sox fans, that will bring out a "playoff" attitude in the team. They are feeling frustration mounting. Frustrated by the inability to hit last night, and frustrated by losing 2 of 3 to the Yankees when they could have easily won all 3 and sewn up the division.
The question is whether they’ll turn that frustration into over-aggression, or into more intense focus. There are enough veterans that they’ll probably channel the extra energy into extra focus, which is what you need in baseball. The young players, however, might become overly aggressive, as we saw last night in the 9th inning with Jacoby Ellsbury. Ellsbury singled to lead off the 9th inning. Inexplicably, he tried to stretch it into a double, and was thrown out. That was not a time to show off your speed!
If the Sox were down by 1 run, or tied, it would have made sense, but down by 5 runs in the 9th, all you need is baserunners. Pedroia followed with a single. It could have been 2 on, 0 outs, and a potential pitching change, but any hopes at a 5-run rally were snuffed because of an overly-aggressive rookie mistake.
I’m sure Francona had a talk with Ellsbury after that play, and that type of mistake will not happen again anytime soon.
Can the rookies contain their desire to do too much? Hopefully they’ve learned from Ellsbury’s mistake.
Unfortunately, it does not look good for the Red Sox tonight. I expect a well-played, close game. That’s all. Well-played and close. It might break open in the late innings if the bullpens are reached early enough, but keep in mind that Toronto has a well-rested bullpen, and Boston a good bullpen, so it should be right down to the wire.
It looks like the Sox will not clinch the division until the final series of the season, against Minnesota. I’ll be glad if it happens then, as opposed to not at all. If the Red Sox and Yankees match wins and losses the rest of the way, it would happen on Friday, September 28th.