By Tim Healey
What a final two months this is poised to be.
On a picture-perfect night at Fenway Park, the Red Sox entertained the home crowd with a little bit of everything on a night they won't soon forget: an efficient and effective outing from John Lackey, a booming home run off the bat of Dustin Pedroia, an 11th-inning, game-saving catch from Jacoby Ellsbury and, with the game in its sixth hour, a Stephen Drew RBI single down the right-field line that was fair by mere inches to give the Red Sox a 15-inning, 5-4 win over the Mariners.
The walkoff win was the team's 10th of the season, meaning nearly one in every 10 Red Sox games in 2013 has ended in them celebrating a sudden win, and this one was similar to many of the others — a true back-and-forth affair. There were three lead changes, including Pedroia's go-ahead blast in the seventh, beforeJunichi Tazawa blew the save in the ninth to knot the score at four, the way it would remain until Drew's final swing.
"Any time you win a game this late in extra innings, it can seem like two," manager John Farrell said. "Certainly, being on the other side of it, a loss after 15 can have a little bit more of an effect than a regular game.
"We somehow find some energy late in the game," Farrell continued, addressing the team's walkoff habit. "It’s been many different guys that have been the reason for the walkoff, but I can tell you the conversation, each time we’re at the plate in extra innings, we’re looking for something to draw energy from to make one last push. We were able to do that again here tonight."
The final base knock gave lefty Drake Britton the first major league win of his career. He pitched two innings of relief, scattering three hits and striking out two before becoming the second Red Sox rookie in as many games to reach the milestone.
"We were all down there knowing that it could be any one of us, could be all of us coming in to pitch [out of the bullpen] tonight," Britton said. "It was just an amazing feeling to be out there with all those guys behind me to win."
Combined with the Rays getting blown out, 7-0, by the Diamondbacks, the Red Sox move back into first place in the American League East for at least a day.
WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX
-- A long night came to an end after the calendar had officially flipped to August. Drew stepped to the plate with the sacks full of Sox and two outs in the bottom of the 15th. Pedroia, who opened the inning with a walk, was noticably bouncing around on third down the base line, teasing Seattle lefty Lucas Luetge, who was up over 40 pitches.
Drew got good wood on a sinker and ripped it down the right-field line, nearly hitting the chalk dust itself, scoring Pedroia and bringing the marathon to an end. "It’s just huge to get a win out of this, a game that’s back and fourth," Drew said. "Their bullpen is doing well, and our bullpen is doing well. We made some key plays in the 15 innings that kept us in the game, looking back after it. Overall it’s an exciting win and hopefully keep this thing rolling."
-- He didn't get much credit by the time the game ended, but for Lackey, Wednesday represented a break from two trends, however brief. First, he returned to his 2013 norm with a seven-inning performance featuring three runs on eight hits. With six strikeouts and just one walk, Lackey finished July with a 4.38 K/BB rate.
Lackey was dominant early. He faced the minimum through three innings, thanks in large part to a pair of double plays, and needed only 55 pitches to get through the first five innings. The Mariners strung together three singles and a walk to plate a pair of runs in the sixth, leading to Lackey's longest inning of the night at 26 pitches. He bounced right back, however, with a quick seventh in which he allowed only a two-out infield single to cap his night.
It was an big turnaround from Lackey's last two starts, in which he gave up nine runs on 19 hits in 12 2/3 innings in two Red Sox losses.
-- Jonny Gomes didn't enter the game until he pinch-hit for Daniel Nava in the 13th, but he ended up playing an intergral role when he ended the top of the 15th with an unassisted double play as the clock struck midnight. On Michael Saunders' sinking liner to left, Gomes made a diving catch and easily doubled Raul Ibanez, who was at third base by the time Gomes made the catch, off second. Gomes merely stepped on second while jogging back to the dugout.
"To be able to play left [at Fenway], you have to do extreme things, extreme angles," Gomes said. "To tell you the truth, myself being a fan of the game, history of the game, a numbers guy, it definitely was on purpose. I've been waiting years to do that. ... I've never had one, never seen one. That's why I'm glad I have it on my resume."
Minutes later, Gomes walked on four pitches, his second base on balls of the night, to load the bases for Drew.
-- Eight pitches — eight strikes — were all Koji Uehara needed to set the Mariners down in order in the 9th, a feat he repeated in the 10th with 11 more pitches, including nine strikes. He finished with three strikeouts.
Matt Thornton gave up two hits in a scoreless 11th before Craig Breslow worked around two walks and a hit in his two scoreless innings. Britton relieved Breslow and went the rest of the way.
-- The Sox' big offensive blow belonged to Pedroia. Shane Victorino singled to center to start the seventh, and after Pedroia worked the count full against southpaw Oliver Perez, Fenway erupted when he sent a sinker over everything and onto Lansdowne Street for what at the time was a 4-3 lead.
-- Two fifth-inning errors allowed the Red Sox to break through against Iwakuma with two unearned runs. Brock Holt ripped a double into the right-field corner to open the inning, then moved to third when Ellsbury's looping liner bounced off center fielder Dustin Ackley's glove to bring up Shane Victorino with men on the corners and nobody out.
-- Jarrod Saltalmacchia collected a pair of singles in his 2-for-7 effort, making him 4-for-5 with a double against Seattle righty Hisashi Iwakuma in the only two games that have faced each other. During a(nother) month in which the vast majority of the catching duties was placed on his shoulders, Saltalamacchia hit .268 with a .754 OPS.
Victorino (2-for-6, walk) also posted a multi-hit game, and moved to 5-for-10 with two doubles and four runs scored through the series' first two games.
-- The Brock Holt Era — however long it may end up being in the current iteration — is off to a decent start. He went 1-for-5 with a double and handled almost everything sent his way in the field, including starting an unorthodox 5-4-3 double play to help Lackey avoid trouble in the second. With Raul Ibanez at the plate, the Sox employed a shift that moved Holt from his regular spot at the hot corner to the area to Pedroia's left, and it worked perfectly after Ibanez rolled a grounder right to him.
In the seventh, a bouncer from Humberto Quintero knicked off Holt's glove and was ruled a hit. Holt redeemed himself in the ninth by charging a slow bouncer and throwing on the run to get Quintero at first.
WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX
-- Tazawa relieved Lackey in the eighth and threw only two pitches before blowing the lead. With one out, Kyle Seager punished a first-pitch fastball that landed in the first row of bleachers beyond the Seattle bullpen. Tazawa used nine pitches to retire the side, but the Seager homer followed by a Kendrys Morales single was enough for Farrell to get Thornton up in the bullpen, just in case.
Tazawa's blown save was the 16th of the year for the Red Sox, third most among all AL teams. The Sox' 57 percent save conversion rate, meanwhile, is dead last in the AL.
--During a 20 at-bat stretch that started in the seventh and didn't end until the 14th, Mariners relievers held Boston batters hitless. That run ended when Brandon Snyder ripped a pinch-hit double into the left-center field gap to start the 14th. He moved to third on Ellsbury's sacrifice bunt, but when Victorino's flew out to center, Snyder was tagged out at home for a double play.
-- After getting lit up by the Red Sox earlier this month, the first time he had ever faced Boston, Iwakuma made the necessary adjustment. The Red Sox could not adjust back — at least, not enough to score more than a couple of unearned runs.
Iwakuma lasted just three innings against the Sox on July 9, getting hit around for six runs on eight hits, but this time the home team couldn't get the big hit when they needed it. Granted, the Red Sox did manage seven hits and two walks in Iwakuma's 5 2/3 frames, but they also left eight men on base and went 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position. That lone hit came in the first inning and loaded the bases with no one out, but the Sox could not scratch across a run.
-- The Red Sox hurt themselves with that missed opportunity in the first inning. Ellsbury, Victorino and Pedroia led off with three consecutive singles, bringing David Ortiz to the plate with the bases loaded and no one out. Ortiz, the owner of six hits in his last three games, didn't come through. He was seemingly in control, up first 2-0 then 3-1, but ended up sending a full-count splitter about 30 feet between the pitcher's mound and first-base line. Iwakuma smoothly scooped it up and flipped it from his glove to catcher Quintero in one motion for the first out, then Quintero relayed it to first to get Ortiz by a step. Mike Napoli struck out to end the threat.
Ortiz did finish his month, however, with a .344 average and .974 OPS. He walked 16 times (including four intentional free passes) and struck out on 11 occasions.