Red Sox 4, Rays 3
For the first time in what seems like months...everything is as it should be with the Red Sox.
The reason for that can be explained quickly:
Josh Beckett with the win,
Daniel Bard with the hold.
and Jonathan Papelbon with the save.
Finally, the Sox had a game which seemed...normal.
Normal, however, does not necessarily mean easy, and by no means was this one easy to watch, starting as it did with a rusty Beckett. Trying to immediately put the returning starter's ankle to the test, Desmond Jennings laid down a bunt on the first pitch of the game, and hurried to second as the throw to first was errant. While Beckett would battle back, inducing a popup off the bat of B.J. Upton, he would come out flat against Evan Longoria, who took a hanging curveball into the Monster seats to give the Rays an early lead.
That was just about all Beckett would personally allow, though a third run would come across when a third-inning single turned into a triple thanks to an airmailed throw to second from Jason Varitek on a stolen base attempt. Meanwhile, the Sox fought their way back into the game, with Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, and David Ortiz providing two runs to tie the game in the bottom of the first, and the latter two again coming through in the third to knot things at 3-3.
The Sox had left one chance by the wayside, however. Called on to bunt in the second inning after a pair of leadoff walks, Mike Aviles' sacrifice ended up costing the Sox two, as Evan Longoria alertly fired to second to start the twin killing. Though he couldn't get the Sox their inning back, Aviles did the one thing he could to make up for it, punishing a mistake pitch from James Shields and putting a hole in the Sports Authority sign above the Monster seats with a solo shot that gave the Sox the 4-3 lead.
Amazingly, that was a lead that would hold up. With Beckett finding his groove and throwing five quality innings after his difficult first, the Sox managed to actually find scoreless innings from their pen. Alfredo Aceves made it cleanly through the seventh, and then out came Daniel Bard. While for a while there it looked like the same old problems for the Boston setup man--he avoided giving Johnny Damon first only on a questionable check swing call, and then walked the next batter--Bard would finally show some life again, striking out the last two men he faced. Jonathan Papelbon finished things with another dominant outing, striking out the side around a ground ball single, and the Sox found a much-needed win.
Three For The Road
Credit To Tito
It took guts to turn to Daniel Bard in the eighth inning, and while many might question the decision to pull Alfredo Aceves given the different directions the two relievers have gone of late, it was a call that had to be made. Without Bard, the Red Sox aren't going anywhere even if they do make the postseason. If he hadn't broken out of his funk tonight, then a win may not have made much of a difference in the greater scheme of things.
Between Josh Beckett's delivery and Jason Varitek's arm, the Rays stole seven bases tonight. While the steal isn't necessarily the weapon it's made out to be, at some point the automatic triple thing has to stop. The difficulty is that it's probably too risky to remove Varitek from the comfortable battery Josh Beckett has formed with him, even in the postseason. Perhaps the Sox can do nothing this year, but it's something worth focusing on when the offseason comes.
Worst Case Scenario
With the win tonight, the revised worst case scenario for the series has the Sox at two games up in the wild card. Not exactly a desirable outcome, but not with nearly the same punch as a tie would have had.
Red Sox MVP -- David Ortiz
If only Aviles' bunt hadn't gone awry! But Ortiz came through twice in big situations tonight against a pitcher who has given the Sox plenty of trouble in the past, only missing a long ball by a few feet on his first big hit.
Of course, on a more...emotional level, Josh Beckett needs to get the nod. The Sox have been in desperate need of some quality innings from their starters, and it's hard to really express the stabilizing effect of having Beckett back in there.
Up Next -- Saturday, 4:10 p.m. | Jon Lester (15-7, 3.07 ERA) vs. David Price (10-7, 3.97 ERA)
If the Sox are going to earn that all-important split, Saturday will be the day to do it. Unfortunately, however, Jeff Niemann has absolutely had Boston's number this year in the same way that Beckett has had Tampa Bay's. Jon Lester isn't likely to be as mediocre as his last outing, but against Niemann, he may need to be perfect.