|ALDS Game 3: October 11, 2009|
||W: Darren Oliver (1-0)
S: Brian Fuentes (2)
||H: Daniel Bard (1)
H: Billy Wagner (1)
BS, L: Jonathan Papelbon (1, 0-1)
|Highlight: Despite cruising at an altitude of 39,000 feet I was able to experience most of this game thanks to Frontier Airlines and DIRECTV. The lower the plane got the less faith I had in the Red Sox winning the game.|
Watching the final game of the series in an Airbus A319 was a 180-degree turn from my Game 2 experience. There was no smoke, no inebriation, just the plane’s pristine interior shining in the dazzling sun.
The sun was as almost as bright at Fenway as it was above the cloud deck. I boarded the plane just in time to see J.D. Drew’s fourth-inning, two-run shot bounce off the post of the camera hut in dead center.
Were it Jon Lester’s or Josh Beckett’s start, a 5-1 score would seem safer. But this was Clay Buchholz’s playoff debut, and his hiccup in the sixth inning revealed his anxiety. Torii Hunter led off the inning with a double to left. Perturbed by the center fielder’s presence, Buchholz balked with Vladimir Guerrero in the box.
Guerrero’s awkward lop made his infield single deflected by Mike Lowell to Alex Gonzalez a close play at first, but it also froze Hunter at third. Remembering Kendry Morales’s fourth-inning solo shot, Buchholz pitched tentatively to the Angels outfielder, walking him in four pitches.
With the bases loaded and none out Daniel Bard took the mound. Just a few months ago Bard made his major league debut accompanied by Terry Francona’s admonition that the rookie wouldn’t appear in high-leverage situations.
But by the time the leaves began to turn color, Bard was ready to pitch in a crucial situation in the pivotal point of a do-or-die game. The Red Sox reliever started off Juan Rivera with a 99 MPH fastball that painted the inside of the strike zone. Bard fell behind 3-1 but then got Rivera to foul off another 99 MPH heater to tick the count full. Rivera impatiently swung at the sixth pitch and grounded into an RBI 5-4-3 double play.
The local nine would gladly exchange the run for two outs to render the score 5-2, for they have one of the best bullpens in the game. But any player, even a former elite closer and the current preeminent closer, can have a shaky outing or two.
Billy Wagner notched two outs in the eighth but also allowed a leadoff double to Bobby Abreu and a walk to Guerrero. Jonathan Papelbon toed the rubber with runners at the corners, two outs, and Rivera ready to take his hacks.
What kind of pitch does Papelbon usually serve here? Oh, he has both kinds. The kind that get hit and the kind that are balls.
My plane powered down just as Hunter was intentionally walked. I may have turned on my phone a few seconds before the FAA allows to ask my friend for game updates. I knew that Papelbon had blown the save as I shuffled down the aisle, through the jetway, and into the terminal to track down a television showing the game. Everyone was watching football in Brew City’s airport, so I called my friend for what would be a somber play-by-play of the final pitches of October in Fenway.
As the Red Sox went down in order we talked about how Victor Martinez was a splendid player but just didn’t have that superstar production that could carry the team into the Fall Classic. Such a player would be Mark Teixeira, and he is getting paid Monopoly money so that Daddy Warbucks can see another championship team in the waning days of his lucidity.