Game 154: September 24, 2005
Red Sox (90-64), 4
Orioles (70-84), 3
BS: Craig Hansen (1)
W: Jonathan Papelbon (2-1)
S: Mike Timlin (11)
L: B.J. Ryan (1-4)
Tied for the lead in the division
1.5 games behind in the wild card
2 game winning streak
I once overcame the debilitating habit of nailbiting. It is now back with a vengence.
Looking through the medicine cabinet to see if I had some sort of nail biting deterrent compound to stop my gnawing, I noted that the house isn’t well equipped with the supplies that every Red Sox fan needs during this time of year. Automatic electronic defibrillator, Tums, rosary, Nexium, serenity beads, Xanax, voodoo dolls. You know, the usual. I’ll need to be stocking up for the next eight games of the regular season.
The pitching staff had a particularly bizarre game. Matt Clement had a no-hitter up until he saw Melvin Mora up the third time through the lineup in the 5th inning, when the third baseman weaved a single through the infield. You might wonder how in the world did Clement have a no-hitter going if he saw Mora so many times so quickly. Things like that happen when you walk 6 batters. Over the course of 6 innings, Clement also struck out 4, allowed 4 hits, and gave up no earned or unearned runs. This is one of the stranger lines you’ll see.
Hansen had his baptism by fire in the 7th inning. After striking out Luis Matos with ridiculous ease (3 straight strikes), Bernie Castro hit an infield single to third. Melvin Mora displayed patience, forcing Hansen to throw strikes with the rookie’s vaunted though hittable fastball. The third baseman’s patience, as it so often does, paid off with a 2-run homer pithily deposited shallow into the left field stands. That’s how a major league hitter uses a pitcher’s power against him.
How Hansen responded to this would be key. Former MVP Miguel Tejada was up next, and Terry Francona stayed with his prospect. Hansen induced a ground out from the aggressive shortstop, but gave up a single and double to the fourth and fifth hitters, respectively. Encouringly, Hansen continued to go after subsequent hitters, throwing strikes and not shying from contact. Francona kept him in long enough to show that he hadn’t lost faith in the fledgling but short enough so that the game did not get out of hand. With the score tied, Mike Myers came into get the final out of the 7th with runners on second and third and the Orioles’ potential rally lay unhatched.
The Red Sox played defense as a playoff team should and had fortune smile on them for one game. In the 4th inning, Clement had walked two batters to begin the inning. Kevin Millar displayed his jumping prowess by diverting B.J. Surhoff’s liner in mid-trajectory. The first baseman did not catch the ball, but the ricochet ended up close enough to Tony Graffanino for him to field it and force out Jay Gibbons at third base, where Bill Mueller had shifted in time to complete the 3-4-5 fielder’s choice.
The Boston infield also turned three key doubleplays. Tejada, swinging at the first pitch as usual, shot a ball right up the middle to rebound off Clement to Graffanino, who relayed briskly to Edgar Renteria then Millar for an inning-ending twin killing. The 6th inning saw a garden variety 6-4-3 double play grounded into by Javy Lopez, who might still be smarting from Greg Maddux’s rejection of him. Lopez was also the victim of stellar outfield defensive play in the 7th when Ramirez cut off his line drive before it reached the wall, holding Gibbons to third and aborting another Baltimore scoring opportunity.
Perhaps best of all was in the 8th inning. After Chris Gomez had reached first on a single up the middle, David Newhan’s pop-up bunt ended in Mueller’s glove for the first out. With Matos at the plate, Jonathan Papelbon seemingly had pinch runner Ed Rogers picked off, showing that the rookie has a fairly good pickoff move in the works. Papelbon and Jason Varitek combined for a strike ’em out, throw ’em out to end the inning with Matos hacking futilely and Rogers hung out to dry on the basepaths on a failed hit and run.
It’s one of the few games this season where you could say the defense won the game.
The Red Sox offense was not prolific but generated runs when necessary. Manny Ramirez had a chance to hit his 21st career grand slam in the 1st inning but hit a sacrifice fly for Boston’s first run. Edgar Renteria tagged from second base, putting him into position to cross home when Erik Bedard pitched wildly to Varitek. They would be shut out until the 9th, when Graffanino went to the opposite field with Trot Nixon on first, enabling Nixon to get to third. Francona replaced Graffanino with Adam Stern and Johnn Damon walked to load the bases. With ducks on the pond, Renteria blooped a single over Tejada, a hit positioned so perfectly it scored 2 runs and gave the Red Sox the lead and an insurance run.
An insurance run that proved necessary with Timlin as closer. On 5 pitches Timlin walked Castro to begin the inning. The Baltimore second baseman would score on a Gibbons double. Two-out magic failed for the Orioles as Lopez flied out to end the game. As erratic as Timlin can be, he is still the preferred option over Keith Foulke, who, depending on with whom you speak, is shelved for the season after a dismal year, both professionally and personally.
Stern will be flying to California for surgery on his right labrum shortly and played his final game of the season. Who will be the speedy pinch runner in his stead? I vote Alejandro Machado.
The Red Sox are now 26-15 in one-run games and go into the final game against the Orioles in a dead heat with the Yankees. It’s as if the season is beginning all over again with the AL East contenders starting from zero.
Where’s that antacid?