Rested and Ready

Current Conditions:

The stormy conditions are subsiding.  Let’s hope it’s not because we’re in the momentary lull of the eye of the storm. 

The Sox win a gratifying one.  Beckett gets win #20.  Another outstanding performance.  He showed rust in the first inning, then settled into a groove, as is his pattern.  He got run support again. 

Kazmir was on a pitch count of no more than 100 pitches, so with all his walks and strikeouts, he got up to 91 pitches after only 5 innings (about 16 more than a "normal" pitchcount), so he didn’t even start the 6th.  Four innings of Tampa Bay bullpen was plenty for the Sox to tack on insurance runs, and allow Gagne to get a confidence-building inning.

Key moments:

1) Before the game, when Big Papi told Francona to put him in, despite his lack of past success against Kazmir (5 for 34), and despite his achy knees.  Papi only went 3-for-5, driving in the go-ahead, game winning run with a single in the 3rd inning which was the only RBI off Kazmir (the 1st & 3rd runs scored on a throwing error and wild pitch, respectively), then put the game away in the 9th with an opposite-field 3-run blast.  His other hit was an excuse-me check swing which dribbled up the 3rd base line, and which he hustled and beat out, bad knees and all!  Go Papi!

2) Jacoby Ellsbury, making a daring circus catch down the left field line while tripping over the bullpen pitchers mound and instinctively going into a slide to stay upright and keep his eye on the ball and catch it as he slid into a chair and some bullpen equipment.  They’ve gotta get rid of those sideline bullpens!  Ellsbury was lucky.  Most Sox relievers got out of the way in time, and some even grabbed chairs, but one of the coaches barely moved, and seemed surprised when Ellsbury flew by, inches in front of him.

3) Jason Varitek’s 8th inning solo home run.  Emotionally, this one was even bigger than Papi’s 9th inning 3-run bomb.  After the Red Sox had gotten the reward of reaching the Rays’ bullpen early, they didn’t score off them in the 6th or 7th.  Varitek had even been hit by a pitch his previous time; one of 3 Sox hit by pitches in the game.  Varitek had also been in a horrible slump.  This home run represented the first time the Red Sox had scored more than 3 runs in a game since Saturday.  All that combined to make this a psychological "opening of the floodgates". 

It was a solid, deep bomb, too.  I remember watching it go, and thinking "that’s a big mental boost to the Sox… the Captain has broken his slump to go yard authoritatively off the Rays’ bullpen for their first reasonable lead since Saturday.  That’s the turning point, folks."

The next inning, 2 other leaders on the team hit homers: Ortiz & Lowell, back-to-back. 

Things are looking better for the Sox.

For a while, though, it looked like the party would be spoiled by a 4-run rally by the Yankees in the bottom of the 9th to tie their game at 4.  The last 3 runs were unearned, as a Blue Jay infielder made a throwing error on what would have ended a complete game victory for Roy Halladay.  How depressing if Toronto had lost (especially after sweeping the Sox)!  Fortunately, they hung on to win a 14-inning marathon game.  Yankees’ Rookie sensatation Joba Chamberlain had to throw 30 pitches over 2 innings, so he won’t be available for the rest of that series, which is more good news for the Red Sox. 

Sometimes those long losses can set a team into a funk.  A few years back, the Red Sox lost an 18 inning game in Texas with about a month to go in the season, and playoff hopes alive, and that set them into a tailspin from which they never recovered, and they didn’t make the playoffs.

That’s not likely to happen here, but at least it could mean that in the short-term, Toronto is likely to win 1 or both of their next 2 games, which would give the Sox a big boost.

Magic Number:  7

Playoff Spot Magic Number:  2

Forecast for Saturday:

Sonnanstine has pitched extremely well in 4 of his last 5 starts, including 8 shutout innings against the Yankees August 31.  However, his one bad start was against the Red Sox on Sept 11, giving up 5 runs in 3 1/3 innings. 

Matsusaka pitched out of a lot of jams against the Yankees in last Friday’s demoralizing loss, and overall had a very good performance before the bullpen blew it in the 8th inning.  He has always pitched better on extra rest, with 2 days’ extra rest being better than 1 day extra rest.  This time, he’ll have 3 days of extra rest.  He might have some rust at first, but the extra rest should help his performance, especially at this time of year.

The pitching matchup favors the Red Sox for Saturday.

For whatever reason, it feels like a high scoring game will result, with the Red Sox coming out on top by 2 or 3 runs, with a Papelbon save.


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