KANSAS CITY, Mo. — So, what did Monday night’s 12-9 loss to the Royals mean in the long run for the Red Sox?
The Sox are still going to make the playoffs, even if that magic number stood strong at 6.
Few are going to push the panic button, considering the Red Sox still have won 10 of their last 12.
And then there was Tim Wakefield, who wasn’t able to take advantage of an early 6-0 Sox lead and draw closer to the team’s all-time win mark. Considering the circumstances — a nerve being strangled by a herniated disc, and all — there still weren’t a series of gasps when analyzing the pitcher’s struggles.
But through the downpours, and 11 walks by Red Sox pitchers, Monday night did offer something of importance.
“The precedent has been set in this room,” first baseman Kevin Youkilis said. “The young guys see it, and hopefully they learn from it and see how Wake is doing that.”
When the likes of Michael Bowden or Junichi Tazawa remember what transpired in their first trips to Kauffman Stadium, what they’ll recall isn’t the game-changing, three-run homer by Mike Jacobs, or a six-run sixth inning from the Royals.
What will most likely be highlighted when looking back at this one is the image of Wakefield limping in the clubhouse and on the mound, yet still doing whatever he could to keep the Red Sox on their same track.
This was foundation-setting kind of stuff.
“He’s trying, man, he’s trying,” said DH David Ortiz. “He’s the kind of guy who fights back. He’s trying.”
And when the night was over, and the Red Sox found themselves trying to figure out how these Royals managed to overcome the Sox' early 8-2 lead, Wakefield continued to offer examples, not excuses.
“I didn’t pitch good enough, and gave the game away,” he said.
How was his physical standing?
Do you want to keep pitching?
Can you keep pitching?
“It’s brutal. I gave the game away. Bottom line.”
Will any of Wakefield’s comments chip away at the Red Sox’ magic number? No. And the outing certainly did nothing to suggest that life in the postseason is going to include more gutsy performances by the knuckleballer.
That wasn’t what this was about.
This was the same reminder those players got in Game 4 of the 2007 American League Championship Series when Wakefield pitched in Cleveland despite not being able to lift his arm above his head. It was the equivalent of earlier this season, when the then-42-year-old walked into manager Terry Francona’s office in Oakland to tell him the bullpen would be saved and then proceeded to go out and toss a complete game.
This was just like Mike Lowell playing down the stretch run with a hip screaming for surgery, or Josh Beckett pitching five innings in Game 6 of the ’08 ALCS despite not being able to take his shirt off by himself.
They talk about the New England Patriots’ veterans setting any and all newcomers straight in terms of learning “The Patriot Way.” It wasn’t that different on the Red Sox’ side of things Monday night.
“Maybe we take advantage because we expect it. We know what kind of teammates we have and we know guys are going to do whatever they can. Guys who are injured on other teams, they might be like, ‘We’re going to shut him down for the season,’ but not us,” Youkilis said.
“There are a lot of guys that you know what kind of players you have, knowing guys are going to step it up and do things. Tim’s doing a great thing and we know he’s going through a lot of pain and he needs the surgery. A lot of guys don’t need that pat on the back, saying how much it’s appreciated what they’re doing. Guys in this room know that the guys around them really care about each other.”
And then there were four more things we learned in the Red Sox’ loss …
THEY WEREN’T GOING TO BLAME THE WEATHER
The prevailing thought as the game progressed and the Red Sox took an 8-2 lead into the bottom of the fifth inning was that crew chief Tim McClelland was waiting for one more half-inning before calling the game due to inclement weather, thereby making the contest official.
But, after the Royals drew within three runs, the game didn’t stop, and neither did the Kansas City bats.
“That field was bad,” Ortiz said. “At one point I was standing there and had [rain]drops in my eyes. I was like, ‘Oh no.’ The game is not over until you get the last out, right? You’ve got to keep on playing and make sure you win before you celebrate.”
As was the case with most of the players in the Red Sox clubhouse, Francona accepted the umpires’ decision to keep on playing through the sheets of rain.
Francona noted that McClelland stayed in constant communication with the Sox bench, conferring with both sides along the way.
Players such as Rocco Baldelli (“It got better just in time”) and Jason Bay (“That has no bearing on the outcome”) also weren’t about to use the rain as a crutch.
“I think it was getting tough,” Francona said. “It’s one of those nights. They kept putting the stuff on the field and you just kept playing. I don’t think that’s why we lost.”
PLAYOFF ROSTER TALK
Chris Woodward has made one playoff appearance: Game 3 of the 2006 National League Division Series as a member of the New York Mets.
Woodward pinch-hit for pitcher Guillermo Mota in the eighth inning, with his team holding a 7-5 lead. Hitting off Dodgers pitcher Brett Tomko, the backup infielder rifled a double to left. He scored two batters later on a Paul LoDuca RBI single. And that was his lone moment in the postseason spotlight — perhaps until this year.
In a somewhat odd, and sudden, twist of fate, Woodward found himself Monday on the edge of what could be another path to the postseason. The infielder was summoned to the Red Sox just six days after being sent to Triple-A Pawtucket in order to make room for Daisuke Matsuzaka. He had been working out in the Tampa area, while awaiting the birth of his third child. (Woodward’s wife, Erin, is due on Oct. 5.)
Woodward’s presence was made necessary after Nick Green was forced to fly back to Boston Sunday night in order to have his “dead” right leg checked. With the prognosis suggesting Green might be struggling with a disc problem in his back, forcing a longer stay away from the Sox, the team turned to the 33-year-old Woodward for help.
“I was a little shocked, because I hadn’t really paid attention, I didn’t know if anybody was hurt or anything like that,” said Woodward, who was informed of his promotion at 3 p.m. Sunday. “I’d watched a couple of games — I actually saw the game where Nick Green walked. He kind of looked funny, when he was swinging, and I was thinking, ‘What’s wrong with him?’ Guess it was a little worse than they thought.”
The extent of Green’s injury will most likely determine if Woodward, who had been designated for assignment by the Seattle Mariners earlier this season, would make another postseason roster.
The other option would be Jed Lowrie, who is still battling fatigue in his left wrist, limiting his effectiveness from the left side of the plate. The Red Sox may use the final few weeks of the regular season, assuming they clinch a wild card berth within the next week or so, as a test bed for Lowrie’s postseason viability.
“You’ll see the next 10 days, two weeks, we’re going to try to figure out what we can do or what we can’t. we’ll try to answer that. But I don’t think he’s to the point where we could send him out, especially left-handed, for four at-bats and he would have a comfort level,” Francona said.
And if Lowrie can’t bounce back, and Green’s injury turns into something more serious, that might pave the way for Woodward.
“Never had quite a year like that,” he said. “I pretty much thought the season was over. Back again, so …”
TAKING STOCK OF TAZAWA’S FIRST YEAR
Last year at this time, Junichi Tazawa was pitching in a Japanese industrial league, although his thoughts were sometimes elsewhere.
"I was thinking a little bit about the big leagues, maybe,” said Tazawa, “but more than that I was just playing baseball.”
A year later, he is still thinking the major leagues, although this time doing so while in the process of living out his dream, as was evidenced by the environment Tazawa found himself speaking to reporters in — the visitors clubhouse at Kauffman Stadium.
Of course there was a reason Tazawa had the group of reporters gathered around his locker Monday afternoon. The Red Sox had informed the 23-year-old that his season was being brought to a halt thanks to an assignment to the 60-day disabled list. The reason for the the move was threefold:
- 1. The pitcher’s groin had been bothering him since his last appearance, a Sept. 4 outing in Chicago;
- 2. Tazawa had pitched a combined 135 innings between the minors and the majors;
- 3. The Red Sox needed room on their 40-man roster because of Nick Green’s injury to bring back Chris Woodward.
“I had no idea what to expect this year, so I was anxious about a lot of different things,” Tazawa said through translator Masa Hoshino. “But looking back on it, I had a better year than I could ever have hoped for.”
Tazawa will hang with the Red Sox for the remainder of the season, having finished his first major league go-round with a 2-3 mark and 7.46 ERA. But what most will remember is the rookie’s ability to hold his own in an environment that was night and day compared to what he left behind in Japan last November.
Before being called up to the Red Sox, Tazawa went 9-5 with a 2.57 ERA with Double-A Portland, and 0-2 with a 2.38 ERA at Triple-A Pawtucket. That after initially impressing the Sox brass by giving up just one run in nine innings of work in spring training.
“The one thing we really told him today is he’s to be congratulated,” Francona said. “He had an unbelievable year. Last year at this time, he was probably just finishing up the industrial league.”
Besides the major league pitching stint — which was christened in Yankee Stadium during the Red Sox’ Aug. 7, 15-inning loss that ended with an Alex Rodriguez homer off the rookie — Tazawa has taken the time to learn some English, while integrating himself (with the help of relievers Takashi Saito and Ramon Ramirez) into the American way of life.
“If I had a bad outing, Saito-san would talk to me about some of the adjustments that I could possibly make on the mound, but also away from the ballfield — daily things, like where to eat, he was generous with as well, to help support me,” Tazawa said. “From a baseball standpoint, Ramon Ramirez was also very helpful teaching me things, so I owe both of those guys.”
SOME OTHER STUFF OF NOTE
History was made Monday night — the Royals’ two wild pitches gave them 86 for the season, surpassing the previous club record of 85.
And there’s more to take note of …
- Victor Martinez extended his hitting streak to 20 games with a first-inning single.
- Jason Bay notched a career high by hitting his 36th home run and now is just three off the pace of Carlos Pena for the American League lead.
- Wakefield’s seven walks was the most for a Red Sox pitcher this season, and his tops since May 27, 2005.
- Over the last week, the Royals have scored more runs than any team in baseball (51), just in front of the Red Sox (48).