Magic Number: 3
You couldn’t have scripted a day much better than this for the Red Sox.
On a warm, summer-like Sept 25 in Fenway, the Red Sox win a game with Schilling pitching very well, Manny Ramirez and Kevin Youkilis returning after long absences, JD Drew getting hotter at the plate, and the Yankees losing in extra innings, their 3rd extra inning game in 5 days.
How about some plot twists and drama for the script? Julio Lugo (31) faced his younger brother and former Tampa Bay teammate Ruddy Lugo (26) for the first time ever in the major leagues. After a steady diet of curveballs and outside fastballs, with Julio fouling off a couple curves, Julio watched a low fastball go by for ball 4, and stared at his brother for a few seconds as if to say "are you afraid to throw a fastball in the strike-zone to me"? Julio finally flashed a smile at first base as he danced around, trying to draw throws from his brother. He later scored on a sacrifice fly. Big bro wins the first battle! I’m sure they had dinner together after the game and razzed each other.
Another bit of drama. Gagne comes into a 4-1 game in the 8th inning and promptly gives up a weak single down the 3rd base line. Will the fans get on his case? They seemed supportive, but then suddenly they were cheering loudly. Are they really that supportive? No! Just after the single, the leftfield scoreboard posted that Tampa Bay had just gone ahead of the Yankees 6-5 on a grand slam. High fives all through the stands! The stupid anti-Yankees chant starts up, then is quickly replaced by "Let’s Go Red Sox!". Gagne gets a happy crowd behind him, and proceeds to get the next 2 hitters on 2 fly ball outs which could have easily been worse if the hitters had been better, then walks a batter on a 3-2 changeup. He went with his curveball on the outside edge for called strikes, then fastball for foul balls with 2 strikes, then his changeup late, which the hitter laid off for the walk. He seems to be nibbling instead of confidently challenging hitters. Gagne is still a concern.
After the walk, Francona brought in Papelbon, who got a popup on his first pitch to end the inning. The Sox scored 3 more in the 8th, so that was it for Papelbon. 1 pitch. Job done. Corey pitched a shaky 9th, giving up 2 runs, and was helped by Oakland’s baserunning blunder, getting doubled-up to end the game on Pedroia’s nice running catch of a soft liner over his head.
At least the Gagne trade helped the Sox in one way tonight. David Murphy got an RBI for Texas to help them to a 3-1 win over the Angels, giving the Red Sox a 1.5 game lead on the Angels for best record.
Cleveland won an extra inning game in Seattle, and maintain a half game lead over the Red Sox. Tomorrow they play a doubleheader after tonight’s extra inning game, so don’t expect either team to be sharp. Expect a split.
The Yankees had another extra-inning game, and lost their second straight game, so they might soon be showing signs of fatigue (or perhaps they are already).
The Red Sox only need to go 3-2 to clinch the division, no matter what the Yankees do. The division is now less of a concern than winning the best record in baseball, and home field advantage in the playoffs.
Manny Ramirez returned and promptly singled the other way.
Kevin Youkilis pinch hit in the 5th and stayed in for the game. He didn’t look sharp at the plate, but did battle.
JD Drew was 3 for 4, with all 3 hits to center or leftfield, meaning he’s no longer trying to pull everything, and that bodes well. He also drove in a run with a walk! He’s hitting over .390 in his last 14 games.
Jacoby Ellsbury came up with a sac fly and a run-scoring single… both key runs driven in. His consecutive games reached base is now 25, the second longest active streak in baseball.
Although Coco Crisp was out, it was due to illness, not injury.
Curt Schilling pitched another excellent game, and seems ready for postseason. He’s getting more comfortable with his new style of mixing up pitches and throwing any pitch in any count.
Papi blasted a 2-run homer on an inside fastball, which allowed Papelbon to take the 9th inning off. You’ve gotta get your inside fastballs WAY inside, or Papi will clean you out!
Lester will pitch well in a 5pm start, with shadows accross Fenway. It will be hot weather. Any mistakes by pitchers after the first few innings (when the shadows finish creeping) will be punished for hits. Both teams will score a lot late, but the Red Sox’ early lead will give the margin of victory. It should end up something like 9-5.
Given the time of the game, there won’t be any scoreboard watching. No distractions. Just play ball!