The magnitude of the Red Sox’ comeback was immense. The team was down by a touchdown and extra point in the top of the second inning, as the Orioles clubbed Boston starter Brad Penny mercilessly.
The team could have been forgiven if it more or less conceded a blowout, particularly with Orioles ace Jeremy Guthrie – who has pitched quite well against the Sox – on the hill. Surrender seemed imminent, as rookie Hunter Jones warmed in the bullpen in both the second and third in preparation for mop-up duty. It would not have been unusual to see the lineup abandon patience in favor of early contact to speed the game towards an inevitable defeat.
“It’s very easy to get frustrated and swing at pitches,” said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. “Especially with Guthrie, he’s good and we’ve seen him real good. It’s not easy to do. . .If you give away even one inning maybe you end up showing a good effort but coming up short.”
That didn’t happen. Instead, the Sox enacted a comeback that was remarkable both for its scale and its matter-of-fact steadiness. The team kicked off a nine-game home stand by erasing a 7-0 deficit with a 10-8 win that came down to one phenomenon: depth.
The Sox enjoyed a wealth of contributions from members of their bullpen and lineup to permit them to win a game when they had no business doing anything but getting dumped.
“We were just eating dinner. I looked at (Dustin Pedroia), and I was like, ‘We’re not even talking about the fact that we were down 7-0 and we won that game,” said Jason Bay. “7-0 is a huge deficit, especially when they have their No. 1 guy on the mound.
“It’s something that I think most guys haven’t really soaked it up yet. That can potentially be a season-changing game in a lot of aspects, whether as an offense getting going or, record-wise, getting one more win instead of one more loss.”
Here are five lessons learned from a noteworthy win:
1) THE BULLPEN WILL ALLOW THE RED SOX TO WIN GAMES THAT THEY HAVE NO BUSINESS WINNING THIS YEAR
It was ridiculous enough that the Red Sox ALMOST won on Tuesday, when Daisuke Matsuzaka gave the team all of one inning before he had to be lifted in a game that went 11 additional frames. Bullpens are not supposed to be able to get through 10 innings without a run. (It wasn’t until Javy Lopez gave up a run in the 12th that the ‘pen suffered its blemish.)
But it was, perhaps, even more absurd that after a starter gave up eight runs in three disastrous innings of work, that the relievers could put up six zeroes against an offense averaging more than six runs a game.
“Their bullpen did a great job coming in and getting big outs in key situations, and that was the difference in the game,” said Orioles manager Dave Trembley.
Manny Delcarmen entered after Penny allowed a leadoff hit in the fourth. He gave up a run-scoring double to the first batter he faced. From that point on, however, the right-hander was brilliant, retiring eight straight batters.
The 2.2 innings represented the longest appearance of Delcarmen’s career. He needed just 33 pitches to get the team almost through the sixth. Delcarmen passed the baton to Javy Lopez, whose struggles (walk, hit) were erased by the excellent work of Ramon Ramirez (1.2 shutout innings).
Ramirez navigated the game into the eighth, where Hideki Okajima (0.2 innings) and Jonathan Papelbon (scoreless ninth) closed it out. The Sox bullpen has now allowed just one run in its last 16.2 innings.
The idea that pitchers such as Delcarmen and Ramirez are entering the game in the middle innings is intriguing. In games like Friday’s, where the starter gets knocked out early, a belief is being fostered that the bullpen can stabilize the game and permit a comeback.
“When you’re talking about a seventh or eighth inning guy in Delcarmen coming in in the fourth or fifth, it gives us some length,” said catcher Jason Varitek. “As this goes on, you build that confidence in that bullpen. I think that’s happening.”
Because Delcarmen and Ramirez were so efficient, the Sox enter Saturday in remarkably good shape. The still have a fresh Takashi Saito, and Okajima (10 pitches) and Papelbon (13 pitches) both seem likely to be available.
The Sox easily could have suffered not only a blowout loss but also wiped out their bullpen for the rest of the series. Instead, thanks to exceptional work from Delcarmen and Ramirez (who have combined to turn in 14.1 scoreless innings this year), the team won the first game and remains intact going forward.
2) RUMORS OF THE DEMISE OF THE OFFENSE HAVE BEEN GREATLY EXAGGERATED
The Red Sox managed just 31 runs in their first 81 innings of play, an average of 3.4 runs per nine inning that was, well, not good. But in the past couple of games, the worm seemed to turn.
The Sox broke out for six runs in the eighth inning of Wednesday’s tidy 8-2 win over Oakland, and haven’t stopped hitting since. The team’s 10 runs yesterday did not even represent an offense in full stride.
Remarkably, the team plated 10 runs on Friday without benefit of a single hit from No. 3 hitter David Ortiz and cleanup man Kevin Youkilis. That duo went 0-for-8 with five strikeouts. (Ortiz whiffed three times, each on fastballs up. For more on his struggles, click here.)
But the Sox were not slowed. They received seven runs batted in from the fifth through ninth spots in the batting order, with J.D. Drew (1), Bay (3), Mike Lowell (1) and Nick Green (2) all doing the work. Drew, Bay and Lowell combined to go 4-for-8 with six walks, two homers and seven runs and five runs batted in.
“I think the three and four (hitters) will do their damage. I think two (Pedroia) will do his damage,” said Varitek. “But definitely that heart did a great job.”
“We have the ability to have two or three guys not on their games and still put up a lot of runs,” added Bay, who crushed his first opposite-field homer at Fenway Park and is now hitting .344 with a .500 OBP and .781 slugging mark. “Hopefully, some guys have turned the corner.”
3) J.D. DREW REPRESENTS A POTENTIALLY PIVOTAL LINEUP FIGURE
J.D. Drew occupies an interesting crossroads in the Red Sox lineup. He bats behind Pedroia, Ortiz and Youkilis, meaning that his opportunities to drive in runs are numerous. He hits in front of Jason Bay and Mike Lowell, a pair of players who are themselves significant run producers, and so he is expected to serve as a kind of catalyst for the bottom of the order.
Last night, Drew fulfilled both responsibilities. He went 2-for-2 with a triple and homer and three walks, tying a career high by reaching base five times (done seven previous times, most recently last August 1).
Over a five-game hitting streak, he is hitting .381 with a .460 OBP and three homers. Bay, for one, seems to be enjoying a stretch in which he has a runner on base virtually every time he steps to the plate.
“He’s a huge part of our offense,” said Bay. “Everyone knows he’s an on-base machine when he’s going well. … I don’t think it’s any coincidence that a guy like him gets on a bunch of times, (Pedroia) gets a few hits, and all of a sudden we get a bunch of runs. They’re huge for our offense.”
Drew seemed like he had a shot at joining the odd trend of recording cycles. Already this week, Orlando Hudson, Ian Kinsler and Jason Kubel have amassed a single, double, triple and homer in the same game. After a third-inning homer and fifth-inning triple, the accomplishment seemed within reach, though Drew wasn’t focused on that goal.
“Not really,” he said of whether the cycle entered his thoughts. “Sleep crossed my mind a couple times. My schedule is all out of whack from San Francisco. I was really thinking about sleep a lot.”
Either patience or sleepiness that undid Drew’s run at a cycle. He walked in both of his final two plate appearances. J.D. Drew has never hit for the cycle, but his brother Stephen Drew accomplished the deed for the Diamondbacks last September.
“I’ve seen quite a few cycles since he entered the league. He hit for one of the most impressive cycles I’ve ever seen, not just because he’s my brother,” said J.D. Drew. “Every single ball that he hit was just smoked. I know he was sick, under the weather, and to be 5-for-5 and have the cycle impressed me that my little brother has some talent.”
Apparently, there is no sibling cycle envy.
“I’ve had my chances. I’ve been very, very close a bunch of times. You always end up a hit away, it seems like,” shrugged Drew. “Get on base, guys drive us in, it all worked out good.”
4) WAITING FOR THE ROTATION TO TAKE FORM
A little over an hour before his start, pitcher Brad Penny stood in the back of the Red Sox clubhouse, alternately hitting himself and minor leaguer Gil Velazquez in the head with a squishy Nerf bat. Both players were amused at the time, but when the Orioles seemingly beat Penny with the same vigor during the game, it became somewhat less entertaining for all Bostonian parties involved.
Penny’s velocity came almost effortlessly out of the chute, as he was pumping gas at 93-95 mph in the first inning. But his command was abysmal, as he either left pitches in the heart of the zone or missed badly.
Penny’s final line: 3+ innings, six hits, eight runs (all earned), five walks, one strikeout. He gave up eight or more earned runs for the eighth time in his career. Remarkably, though he’s made just two of his 247 career starts at Fenway, two of those 8+ run yields have come in Boston. In his career at Fenway, he’s now allowed 17 earned runs in two starts spanning eight innings.
The game marked the 16th time in Penny’s career (and first since August 2007) that he walked five or more in a game. It wasn’t the Fenway Park debut he imagined when he signed with the Sox.
“Obviously I’d like to have pitched a little better,” he understated. “I felt great. I haven’t had that kind of stuff in a while. The walks killed me tonight. That’s uncharacteristic for me. I don’t usually walk a lot of people, so I got that out of the way I guess.”
Penny’s outing was the latest in a number of clunkers turned in by the Red Sox rotation. Save for the dominant outing from Josh Beckett on Opening Day and the near-no-hitter from Tim Wakefield on Wednesday, a Sox starting staff that was assumed to be one of the most dominant in the game has yet to perform to that expectation.
With last night’s outing, the Sox rotation now has a 6.79 ERA, second worst in the American League. On average, the team has gotten 5.1 innings from its starters, and just two outings of more than six innings. The latter figure is tied for the third-fewest in the majors.
“We definitely have some depth out there. But we’ve got to get some length from our starters,” said Varitek. “We definitely have depth. We haven’t been able to utilize it situationally yet. We’ve got to get some length to some starts to be able to do that. We’ve had to match some innings quite a bit.”
5) THE INJURED AND THE RECOVERING
Jed Lowrie re-affirmed what he said on Wednesday: that the unhealed fracture in his left wrist may require potentially season-ending surgery. Lowrie, whose wrist is in a brace following a pair of cortisone injections on Wednesday, will fly in the next couple of days to Arizona to visit with Dr. Donald Sheridan.
There, he will gather more data about whether the cortisone shots will permit him to return to effectiveness for the long-term this year. If not, he will need one of two surgeries: either a procedure that would repair the fractured bone, or a more complicated one that would remove it and end his season.
For obvious reasons, Lowrie would prefer a non-surgical solution that would maximize his time on the field. But he is braced for the possibility that surgery will be necessary.
“The last thing I want is to go into surgery. But if it's necessary, that it will make this better and be the long-term solution, then I need to do that,” the shortstop said. "If the cortisone will allow me to play like I did for the three weeks in spring training to the end of the year, that might be an option.
“But if it's going to break down after three weeks and I'm going to have to go through this whole process again, at what point am I spinning wheels? If there's any potential for me hurting myself long term, I need to look at it and really decide that I need to take my long-term considerations.” …
As for other injured and recuperating Sox, the team has yet to identify a plan for Matsuzaka’s return. Justin Masterson will take the pitcher’s place in the rotation on Monday. Everyone – except, perhaps, for Masterson – is extremely impressed with the pitcher’s versatility.
“I get the sense a lot of other people make a bigger deal out of it than I necessarily take it,” said Masterson. “It’s just pitching.”
Masterson asked bullpen coach Gary Tuck for permission to continue hanging out in the bullpen during games. Permission was granted. . .
Anxiety spread for a moment when Youkilis was drummed on the helmet by a 93 mph fastball from reliever Danys Baez in the sixth. But Youkilis quickly bounced to his feet and, when Francona and team trainer Paul Lessard found him to be clear-eyed and lucid, remained in the game. …
Both Julio Lugo (five at-bats) and Mark Kotsay (two plate appearances) saw action in an extended spring training game in Fort Myers. John Smoltz will pitch live batting practice to hitters on Saturday.