Or, really, Monday morning.
That fans were in for a pitchers’ duel was apparent from the early going. Josh Beckett, who had authored a one-hitter against the Rays just one month before, was in similar form Sunday—right down to the one hit being an infield single, this one bouncing off Beckett’s foot in the first inning.
After that, the Rays just could not reach base against the Sox. They would hit a number of long fly balls, but as would happen so often as the game went on, the balls simply died on the track. Beckett would leave the game after eight innings, having retired 22 straight batters.
Amazingly, though, Jeff Niemann was ready to match him nearly pitch-for-pitch. While the Tampa Bay starter would allow two hits—a ground ball single through the shift for Adrian Gonzalez, and a line drive to Dustin Pedroia—to go with two walks, he kept the Sox batters baffled all night, picking up a career-high ten strikeouts along the way.
With only a few incidents of note in the first eight innings (a pair of terrific plays from Dustin Pedroia and a broken light from a Tampa Bay foul ball that prompted a delay filled with the music from The Natural come to mind) The game entered the ninth as a tie, and it was there that the Sox would blow their first real chance. With Dustin Pedroia hitting a gapper for a leadoff double, the Sox seemed in excellent shape to take the lead in the late-going. But it was not to be. Adrian Gonzalez failed to play to the situation, flying out to left on the first pitch without moving Dustin Pedroia along. The Sox would increase the threat with Kevin Youkilis and J.D. Drew drawing walks, but Josh Reddick flew out to right-center to end the inning.
Daniel Bard worked around a couple of baserunners to send it to the tenth, where the Sox left another pair of baserunners on (Adrian Gonzalez nearly broke things open when, with two men on, he hit a long fly ball to left that bounced off the wall a few inches left of the foul line). It was the eleventh, though, which proved truly painful. J.P. Howell and Jake McGee both proved entirely incapable of throwing strikes as the inning began, walking the bases loaded without recording an out to set up a situation where it seemed the Sox could not help but score. Somehow, though, they found a way. Josh Reddick worked the count full, but struck out after a nine pitch battle, and Jason Varitek went down swinging right behind him. Marco Scutaro fared little better, popping out to the catcher in foul ground to end the threat.
The next few innings passed relatively uneventfully, sending the Sox and Rays to the sixteenth. Once again, the Sox threatened early, with Josh Reddick drawing a leadoff walk. But this time they actually made good. Jason Varitek bunted Reddick over to second, and the Rays couldn’t come up with Marco Scutaro’s high chopper, allowing the left fielder to move to third with just one out.
For a minute, it looked as though the Sox were ready to squander yet another opportunity, with Jacoby Ellsbury flying out weakly to left, leaving Reddick stuck at third. But up stepped the only man who didn’t seem to have a problem swinging the bat that night: Dustin Pedroia. He didn’t wait long, taking ball one, and then taking a good swing at the second pitch, lining it into right field and finally, finally bringing home a run.
For all that it had taken to get to that point, the end of the game came quickly and painlessly. Jonathan Papelbon, held in reserve all this time, struck out the first batter, induced an easy ground ball to third, and then covered the bag at first as Adrian Gonzalez made a diving stop and tossed it to him for the final out.