Rays 6, Red Sox 5
The Red Sox' collapse continued, and they now stand just one game away from their nightmare scenario of a sweep at the hands of their greatest competition in the wild card race: the Tampa Bay Rays.
If there's one thing the Sox have gotten bette at over the course of this streak of terrible play, it's their ability to instill some drama in the game--and not for the better, necessarily.
The Sox stayed close throughout the match Saturday night, tying the score after the Rays scored a run in the first, and then matching the two additional runs they put up in the second and third when Adrian Gonzalez put a big uppercut swing on a 2-2 changeup, drilling a two-run shot to right.
The 3-3 tie would not last long, as Alfredo Aceves joined the line of relief pitchers failing to do their duty in recent games. Just two outs after replacing Kyle Weiland in the fifth, Casey Kotchman took a 96-MPH fastball deep to right. One inning later, and it was a leadoff hit batsman scoring on a sacrifice fly to make it 5-3.
If that were the end of things, then the loss would have been just another in a now far-too-long series of losses. Instead, the Sox made it interesting, gave their fans hope, and then crushed them. With one out in the top of the ninth, Jarrod Saltalamacchia got an unexpectedly hittable 0-2 fastball on the outside part of the plate. He crushed it, sending a solo shot to right. Up next was Jacoby Ellsbury, and once again Farnsworth delivered something in the zone--this time a backdoor slider that came too far in. Ellsbury jacked a bomb of his own, and within two batters, the game was tied.
Jonathan Papelbon worked through two economical innings, but things did not go so well for Daniel Bard. Facing Desmond Jennings to lead off the inning, Bard allowed a fly ball towards the gap. As both Jacoby Ellsbury and Darnell McDonald closed, McDonald veered off and Ellsbury made a last-ditch dive that came up short. It's not exactly clear what happened for sure, but it seems clear that a lack of communication or poor decision making cost the Sox at least one base, as Jennings sped into third. With his back against the wall, Bard would get one out on a ground ball without the run scoring, but not a second. Inexplicably choosing to pitch to Evan Longoria, Bard got ahead 0-2, and then delivered a chest-high fastball on the outside corner. The pitch was exactly where Bard wanted it, but Longoria had no trouble cashing in on it, lining the ball into center field and sending the Red Sox into even deeper depths.
Three For The Road
Nightmare Scenario Approaches
By Sunday evening, the Sox could well find themselves stuck in the nightmare scenario, with a double-digit lead whittled down to 3.5 games, and for the first time since May starting down an all-too-real possibility of missing the playoffs.
The Sox will still have time to recover no matter what, but if a streak nearly as bad as the start to their season can't wake them up, what can?
Pitching to Longoria
Once again Terry Francona has made a confusing decision with Daniel Bard on the mound. With Jennings on third base and one out, Francona told Bard to go after Evan Longoria, the best hitter the Rays have on their team whether the numbers currently say so or not.
It's another difficult to defend position. Typical strategy tells you to walk the batter at the plate to set up a potential inning-ending double play--even more so if it's a legitimate batter at the plate. It's possible that Francona didn't want to face Zobrist, who hits righties better than Longoria, but barring some freak double play at third, Bard would have had to face him anyways, and unless he got the out on the Rays' third baseman, the impetus to strike him out would be no different--Zobrist, for the record, strikes out more often than Longoria.
Chances are the answer in Francona's mind lies in the splits, but that's a terrible bit of logic given the situation. Especially with Johnny Damon next up in Tampa's lineup.
Ease Up On Bard
The Red Sox' setup man has come under an unreal amount of fire for just two games worth of work. The votes of no confidence popping up throughout comment sections and Twitter are astounding given that Bard has been arguably the most sure thing on the team up until Tim Wakefield's game. Next thing you know, Jacoby Ellsbury will be on the outs for an 0-for-4 game.
Red Sox MVP -- Adrian Gonzalez
Ellsbury and Salty had their bit of magic, but it wouldn't have had a chance to happen were it not for Adrian keeping the score close in the middle innings. Add to that a pair of walks, and you've got a strong night for the Sox' first baseman.
Up Next -- Sunday, 1:40 p.m. | Jon Lester (15-6, 2.93 ERA) vs. James Shields (14-10, 2.77 ERA)
This is the closest thing the Sox have had to a "must win" game so far this year. Jon Lester needs to put a stop to the madness, and that's all there is to it.