It was a ninth-inning that featured all manner of crazy. The Red Sox navigated a 2-1 lead into the final frame, a development that suggested near-certain victory. The team was 19-0 when leading after six innings this year, and 20-0 when leading after eight.
Jonathan Papelbon owns 124 career saves, and was perfect in his 11 opportunities in 2009. The Sox closer had not allowed a run in nine appearances, dating to April 29.
“There’s not a son of a (gun) alive I’d rather have out there in that situation,” said Sox starter Josh Beckett.
Yet after the closer issued a leadoff walk and struck out a pair of batters, the heretofore anonymous Mets catcher, Omir Santos, jumped on a first-pitch fastball and sent a seed that caromed off the top of the Green Monster for an apparent two-run homer. Only the umpiring crew did not initially rule it that way.
“Looking up in the lights, looking up like he had to, the third-base umpire (Paul Nauert) made his best effort and felt, in the best interest of the play, to keep it in play, because we can always change it to a home run,” explained umpiring crew chief Joe West. “But if he had called it a home run and it wasn’t a home run, where the hell do we put the runners? So, I mean, we got together as a crew, got the play right and that was it.”
And so, after huddling, the umpires committed to consult a video replay. It was the first time that replay had been used in a game involving the Sox. But the 16th use of the technology resulted in the fifth overturn since it was implemented late last season, and so the Sox went from the brink of victory to a 3-2 deficit.
But the heart of the Boston batting order nearly rallied in the bottom of the inning. Kevin Youkilis led off with a walk, and each of the next three batters smoked the ball.
Jason Bay ripped a shot down the third-base line, but Mets third baseman David Wright made a diving stop and hopped up to force out Youkilis at second. (Papelbon strongly disagreed with the call, jumping halfway from the dugout to first base to complain that Mets second baseman Luis Castillo’s foot left the bag.)
J.D. Drew then sent a rocket to right-field, but the at-‘em ball found the glove of Angel Pagan. Finally, Mike Lowell smashed a ball into the hole between third and short, but Mets shortstop Ramon Martinez made a diving stop to his right, hopped up and threw out Lowell at first.
“It’s a weird game sometimes,” Sox manager Terry Francona said following his team’s 3-2 loss to the Mets. “I don’t know that we could hit balls harder than that…That’s just the way the game goes sometimes.”
Here are five lessons from a game with a very odd finish:
EVEN WITH A TREMENDOUS FASTBALL, JONATHAN PAPELBON MIGHT HAVE GOTTEN CARRIED AWAY WITH IT
Jonathan Papelbon threw 15 pitches on Saturday. Every one of them was a four-seam fastball.
In fairness, the pitch featured explosive movement. After he issued a leadoff walk to Gary Sheffield – they byproduct, he said ruefully, of “overthrowing a little bit” and an inability to “throttle it down” – he struck out both David Wright and Jeremy Reed on dynamic fastballs.
Still, since he had shown nothing but fastballs, Mets catcher Omir Santos knew what to look for. Ready to jump on a fastball, he got a meaty one from Papelbon, and clubbed it for a homer.
“What he was witnessing was that Papelbon was throwing a lot of stuff hard,” said Mets manager Jerry Manuel. “He kind of knew that (he had) to gear up.”
Papelbon seemed to take greater issue with his pitch location than selection.
“I overthrew it. I had no life on my fastball. It was right down the middle. He’s a fastball hitter. It is what it is,” said Papelbon. “I’ve been throwing my fastball well. I’ve been locating it well. Tonight, one pitch I didn’t locate, and I paid for it. Do I get away with it sometimes? Yeah, of course. But tonight was just no life on that particular pitch, and it was right down the middle of the plate.”
In recent days, Papelbon had been enthused about the progress of his slider, and his splitter has also been effective in recent contests. Yet on this night, he did not employ either off-speed pitch, even with the intention of throwing them for a ball to give the Mets a different look and another pitch to contemplate.
Like Papelbon, catcher Jason Varitek did not have qualms about the pitch that was thrown to Santos.
“That’s just a matter of location and a good swing,” said catcher Jason Varitek. “We’re not afraid to use his slider. We’ve mixed it in, and mixed in his split all year. We went down and away (with the fastball), the ball leaked back.”
In defeat, Papelbon remained completely accountable.
“I’m going to shoulder this one,” said Papelbon. “This is on my shoulders. It’s my job to go out there and preserve the win. I didn’t. So it’s on me. Tonight’s on me.”
THE RED SOX ACE IS BACK AND STRONG...AND BEING USED A LOT
Even had the Red Sox won, Josh Beckett would have been unlikely to seek accolades. He summarized his outing – a season-high eight innings in which he gave up one unearned run on five hits while striking out five and walking one – succinctly.
“I felt good,” he said. “I keep making progress.”
In many respects, it was Beckett’s best outing of the season. His entire repertoire was available, as he used excellent command of his fastball to set up a nasty curve and, in the later innings, his changeup.
The Mets could not conjure a single extra-base hit. Two of their five hits were infield choppers. In one stretch, Beckett retired 12 straight, his most longest such stretch this year.
Beckett has now logged four straight quality starts, going 2-0 with a 2.67 ERA in that span. He’s been particularly strong in his last three outings, permitting just 15 hits over his last 21 innings.
During that time, Beckett has absorbed an enormous workload. He threw 117 pitches on Saturday, following efforts of 118 and 120 pitches in his previous two outings. Beckett is the first Red Sox pitcher this decade to throw at least 117 pitches in three straight outings.
He has thrown 993 pitches this year, fifth most in the majors, and his average of 110.3 pitches per outing represents the second-highest workload in the majors. But to date, the pitcher has shown no signs of diminished strength as he crosses the 100-pitch marker.
Beckett had 103 pitches after seven innings, and in that seventh frame, he pitched out of a huge first-and-third, one-out jam by striking out Ramon Martinez and getting Luis Castillo to line out to center.
Even so, manager Terry Francona permitted him to work an eighth, which Beckett did handily, retiring the side on 14 pitches, including a pair of strikeouts.
“He was great,” said Francona. “If he was spent (he would have been taken out). I thought he was throwing the ball extremely well. If a guy comes off and he looks like he’s about had it, then (you take him out). But not if he had some more in him.
“He understands what he’s supposed to do. He talks so much, and we all do, about shut-down innings after we score. Those are always huge. He pitched very well, never worry about him competing or anything like that, he’s the best.”
DAVID ORTIZ KEEPS BRINGING THE FUNK
The Red Sox hoped that David Ortiz’ first homer of the season on Wednesday marked a turning point. Both Ortiz and everyone around the club suggested that the confidence from that initial blast might allow the 33-year-old to resume slugging.
That hasn’t happened. To the contrary, Ortiz already is showing signs of renewed discomfort. The mere fact that he showed up for early batting practice on Saturday offered evidence that he is still searching, and that he is not ready to build upon that first longball.
In Saturday night’s game, though he took some aggressive cuts, he went 0-for-3 with a walk and two strikeouts. The Mets were content to dare him to hit a fastball: of the 20 pitches that Ortiz saw, all but one was a fastball. He swung and missed at three of the pitches.
“I think we were all hoping he’d get real hot,” said Sox manager Terry Francona. “It’s been a struggle. Everybody’s trying. (Hitting coach Dave Magadan) and David, they’re watching video, they’re grinding, and they’ll continue to.”
Ortiz is now 1-for-11 with a single, a walk and five strikeouts in the three games since he went deep. Of the 200 major-league hitters with at least 125 at-bats this year, Ortiz ranks 195th in average (.201) and 179th in OPS (.618).
K-ROD HAS SOMETHING THAT PAPELBON WILL NEVER TAKE (AT LEAST AS A MEMBER OF THE RED SOX)
Papelbon considers himself a member of “a fraternity.” He likes to watch every closer, to see how they go about their business, to see how they go through the business of the sport in contract negotiations, to see their successes in hopes that the stature of the job will continue to grow both in terms of on- and off-field respect.
“We have to stick together, so to speak. We’ve got to make teams recognize how valuable closers are,” said Papelbon. “I think, for the most part, every one of your closers out there is doing a good job of that.”
Towards that end, Francisco Rodriguez of the Mets — the renowned K-Rod, who burst onto the scene as an October force for the Angels in 2002, and since 2004 has been one of the elite closers in the game — is an object of interest for the pitcher.
Rodriguez, who signed a three-year, $37 million deal to close for the Mets this offseason, has been brilliant with his new club. After recording a save with a 1-2-3 ninth against the Sox on Friday, he is 1-0 with a 0.87 ERA and a major-league leading 12 saves in as many opportunities. (Rodriguez, however, suffered devastating back spasms throughout Saturday, and had to be taken by ambulance to a hospital after the game.)
In 2008, Rodriguez set a new standard for closers by recording an incredible 62 saves. And so, of course, it comes as little surprise that Papelbon watched.
“I definitely appreciate what he did last year,” he said.
Papelbon has spoken freely of his desire to set a new bar for his position. That being the case, it is interesting to hear of Papelbon’s intention — or lack thereof — to challenge Rodriguez’ mark.
“No. Not here. Not here. No,” Papelbon said of whether he ever daydreamed of pursuing such a mark. “Not enough chances: the way our ballclub is put together, the way the ballclub of Anaheim was put together last year, the way we manage, the way that (Angels manager Mike) Scioscia manages, not enough chances. There’s a little bit of luck involved there.”
Because Papelbon believes that saves are partly the byproduct of luck, strategy and circumstance (for instance, a team that wins a bunch of blowouts will “penalize” a closer by offering fewer three-run games to enter), Papelbon suggested that he feels that save percentage is a more meaningful barometer of success.
Papelbon suggested that Rodriguez’ contract — which fell short of the established closing standards for years (B.J. Ryan received a five-year deal) and annual value (Mariano Rivera received a three-year deal worth $15 million a season after the 2007 campaign) — should not serve as the basis of comparison for whatever he might glean when eligible for free agency after the 2011 season.
“I took it as that’s what he was able to do. That’s what he was able to get. It shouldn’t have a whole lot of effect on me,” said Papelbon. “Being in a different division, a different type of pitcher. Pitching here in Fenway Park every night is a lot different than pitching in Anaheim.”
DUSTIN PEDROIA MIGHT MAKE A RUN AT .400 IF HE PLAYED IN THE NATIONAL LEAGUE
No one feasts on National League pitching like Dustin Pedroia. The Red Sox second baseman went 2-for-4 with a pair of singles on Saturday. He now has seven consecutive multi-hit games in interleague play, tying the Red Sox record (previously set by Troy O’Leary in 1998) and one short of the MLB record of eight consecutive multi-hit games in interleague play, set by Alex Rodriguez in 1998.
As Gary From Chapel Hill pointed out, Pedroia entered this year with a .400 average in interleague play, the best of all time for a player with at least 100 at-bats in the format. After the first two games against the Mets, he is up to a Ted Williams-evoking .406 mark in interleague.