We may very look back on tonight's game as a turning point of our recent troubles. I sure hope so; while troubles look less, well, troubling in the rear view of a hard fought one run win (a win that tastes all the more delicious after the nasty ashes in the your mouth taste of the two losses against the Yankees), taking tonight's progress and building something solid would sure be sweet. One of the ESPN broadcasters closed out tonight's game by saying he believes the Sox will win the AL East, and despite the bombast, I'm too bathed in a euphoria borne of seeing wrongs made right to call him totally off base. Here are the three things that brought the love:
- The Return of Dice-K. After a poor return from the DL on the 27th, Daisuke's had two decent outtings punctured by high pitch counts that took him out of the contest after the decision minimum number of innings. With the bullpen doing its best impression of a drunk man drowing in two inches of water, early exits are not what the doctor ordered; Boston needs some coverage for the shellshocked victims, not more exposure. Tonight, Matsuzaka delivered in quality and quantity, keeping the Twins off the board and the relievers in the pen.
- Okajima Conquers His Demons. I'm referring, of course, to the vicious Inherited Runner oni, a beast that slinks from the shadows in late innings and rips out the tender throats of helpless leads. Deprived of his normal demon-hunting weapon (the still mysteriously absent splitter), Okajima came in to the eighth inning with one out and two runners on. In truly dramatic fashion, he walked Morneau to load the bases before saving the day with a pop foul/groundout combo and - surprise of surprises - not a runner scored. Good thing, too, because the Sox just went into panic mode and sent Masterson down to Pawtucket to make him into a reliever for use "later in the season," which probably means next week or something like that.
- Manny Comes Clutch With the High Fastball. Manny and the high fastballs have not been BFFs lately. Problems with high fastballs lead to problems with low pitches, slumps result, everyone cries, the end. Not tonight, though: Manny picked up a single in the fourth off a high heater and - more importantly - another one off a fastball in the heart of the zone in the eighth to score Pedroia and the winning run. Sure, he struck out swinging reaching for an outside fastball in between, but tonight could be the start of something magical.