Monday, April 17, 2006

Game 13: Excellent Game, Excellent Ending

Final Score:

Boston Red Sox 7, Seattle Mariners 6

Patriots’ Day. It’s an annual event celebrating a battle in the Revolutionary War in a state that loves obscure holidays (did you know St. Patrick’s Day is also Evacuation Day in Boston?), with the running of the Boston Marathon and Red Sox at 11:00 in the morning; an excuse to take the day off and watch some baseball in warm Spring sun. It isn’t always pretty for the home team (and it isn’t always sunny), but today it was certainly both; in a hard fought contest, Boston emerged victorious with last-out heroics from both Youkilis and Loretta.

As a starter, Lenny DiNardo still makes me a bit nervous, but it’s clear he’s got some ability – he scattered six hits and two runs over five innings and battled his way out of a few jams that could have turned this game into a rout very quickly. Although he never held the lead during the day, he kept things close enough to keep Boston in the game and it’s clear that while he’s certainly not an overpowering pitcher, he’s clever enough to work outs. If we traded up David Wells for these sorts of performances and DiNardo can build his strength to get above 80 pitches, I’ll be happy. Mariners starter Gil Meche deserves credit for his performance, too; he stymied the Boston offense enough to keep the Sox in a position where they could answer each Mariner run with a run of their own, but never take the lead. In other words, he kept the game close and very interesting…and that’s what we really care about, right?

The two teams kept pace until the very end, when Foulke, after a seven pitch top of the eighth that shut the door long enough for the Sox to tie the score in the bottom of the inning, ran into trouble in the top of ninth, allowing runners to get to first and third. Timlin came on and preserved his perfect ERA for another outing by getting two outs, but not before Roberto Petagine knocked in a run with a pinch-hit grounder to deep second base that Loretta just managed to grab and flip to first. With Seattle ahead at the middle of the inning and the possibility of yet another comeback seeming slim, NESN played one of their “Classic Moment” clips: a 10 second flashback to last year when Renteria bunted his way on and came home moments later when Big Papi (who hit two home runs today, keeping Boston in the game) drove a three and two fastball into center to win the game. In the karma department, this move was probably about the functional equivalent of bringing in a truckload of Red Sox greats to be on hand for ring presentation, although it took a few minutes for the baseball gods to signal their approval.

It’s now the bottom of the ninth. “Everyday” Eddie Guardado, who’s got a seven and one record in save chances against Boston, is on the mound, trying to slam the door. The sun comes out and gives the field an angelic cast as Wily Mo Peña, pinch-hitting for Alex Cora, works his way to a count of three and two. The crowd is on their feet, Peña looks expectant, Guardado rears back…and blows Peña away with strike three. Some of the air goes out of the mood, but possibility still dances in the mind’s eye as Dustan Mohr, pinch-hitting for Adam Stern, comes to the plate and tries to get something started. Four pitches later, Guardado catches Mohr looking and we’re all looking at two outs. Crap. All’s not lost, though: our man Youkilis is on the job, one for three with a walk today and ready to kick ass, take names and hopefully get on to base to make sure we all go home happy.

A ground ball to deep second base. Jose Lopez snags the ball, but he had to dive for it and his throw is just behind the hustling Youkilis, who practically stumbles into first base with an infield single. Phew. Now Loretta just needs to keep things moving and then we’ll have Papi and another huge hit. Suddenly, Guardado can’t find the plate, going to two and nothing on two pitches. A walk is as good as a single here, although a pitch to hit would be good…and there it is. It’s high, it’s deep, it’s gone into the Monster Seats and just like that, Loretta goes from the second baseman that makes some good plays and has a good bat to a game-winning hero. With the win, Boston win the series, three to one.

Tomorrow the Sox wind up the first home stand of the year with the first game in a set of three against Tampa Bay, Clement facing Casey “The Blade” Fossum (now sporting facial hair that makes him look like he’s taken to snorting speed and driving big-rigs) and hoping to bounce back after his last bad outing against the Jays. GO SOX!!!