Magic Number: 6
Playoff bound! Yes! Ahem. Let’s not celebrate too loudly!
No need for big, boisterous celebrations, like the last time the Red Sox clinched a playoff spot while in Tampa Bay. Back then, all they’d hoped for was a wild card. This time, they expect to get a division title, and further.
The usual post-win high-five line on the infield was replaced by a mob of smiling, hugging, back-slapping Sox players congratulating each other on clinching a playoff spot. But that was about as boisterous as the celebrating would get.
The Tigers lost to Kansas City, then the Red Sox won, clinching over the Tigers and Seattle at the same time, to clinch a playoff spot.
Had the Blue Jays played some defense, they wouldn’t have kept letting the Yankees back into their game, and the Sox would have even more cause for joy.
The good news is that the Yankees used 10 pitchers, the day after having used a lot of pitchers for a lot of pitches, so their bullpen might be a bit depleted, and McGowan will be pitching for Toronto. In his last start he shut down the Red Sox.
Conditions look good for a Sox win and Yankees loss on Sunday. The Red Sox have Wakefield pitching in Tampa Bay, which has always been a good combination for them.
As for the clinching game, there were a lot of good signs. Varitek was on base all 4 times he came up, going 3-for-3 with a walk, his last hit a game-tying homer on the 2nd pitch of the 9th inning. That’s Tek’s second straight game with an important late-inning home run. When Tek’s bat is going, that’s a big bonus.
Another good sign: Gagne pitched well in the 8th inning with the Sox down by only 1 run and still very much in the game. He got a popup and 2 K’s sandwiched around a walk. That’s 2 straight scoreless performances, and it’s true to what Francona said about using him as much as possible to "get him going".
Another good sign: Lugo hitting well against his old team, and coming up with a clutch game-winning home run. Lugo is another guy whose bat would be a bonus if it gets hot.
Another good sign: JD Drew had a good game, with a double, an important 2-run homer, and 3 RBIs. He’s 15 for 40 in his last 12 games, for a .375 batting average with 3 home runs in that span. His overall numbers for the season will look bad for such a high-priced player, but if he gets hot in the playoffs, especially if playing against National League teams in the playoffs, all will be forgiven.
Another nice sign: Jacoby Ellsbury continues to impress. In the 9th inning, he hustled to get a double on a hit which was cut off in the right-center gap. Most Sox hitters would have settled for a single on that. When Pedroia hit a foul pop behind first base, near the stands, Ellsbury tagged and took 3rd base! Carlos Pena was a bit surprised. It made sense, though, since Pena had to go far and was heading away from 3rd with his back to the infield.
As for Matsusaka, the reviews are mixed. He gave up a homer to Pena, which a lot of others have done this year. After the first 2 batters of the 7th inning, Daisuke had worked 6 2/3 innings, giving up 6 hits and 3 runs, with 1 walk. His pitch count had just gone to 101. Suddenly, his control was gone, as he walked the next 2 batters, with one wild pitch, and many pitches missing badly. Fortunately, his pitch count was already very high, reaching 114 at that point, so Francona didn’t waste time pulling Matsusaka as he has in the past. Unfortunately, Lopez gave up a bomb to Pena, giving Daisuke 2 more earned runs.
So it’s a mixed bag on Daisuke’s performance. We might conclude that the extra rest allowed him to throw 100 pitches before his control left him. In any case, there were some good signs in there. Perhaps the extra rest this late in a long season will help in his upcoming playoff starts.
This win lifts the spirit of the Sox. Playing in front of a home-away-from-home crowd must have helped, too. 90% of the fans leaped for joy when Lugo hit his homer in the 9th. For the Sox it’s like playing their last 9 games of the season at home, and so far they’re 2-0 in those last 9.
Sox bats are heating up and they’re facing a pitcher, Edwin Jackson, who has been pitching poorly all season (5.99 ERA), and of late (9.15 ERA in last 4 starts).
Wakefield has gotten "less bad" in each of the 3 games since returning from injury. He should do well in Tampa. This looks and smells like an easy win for the Red Sox.
The magic number should be down to 5, and very likely 4, after Sunday’s games.