It all started off right. Daisuke Matsuzaka looked pretty sharp, turning in 5 1/3 innings of scoreless ball. The tablesetters kept getting on base, with Josh Fogg just unable to get either Jacoby Ellsbury or Dustin Pedroia out (or much anyone else, for that matter), the offense exploding for six runs in the third, and even Dice-K contributing an RBI single.
The thick infield grass contributed a lot, starting from the first ball in play, a swinging bunt by Ellsbury that just stopped down the third base line. I think Mo Vaughn could have run that one out, even today. BTW, what is Tim McCarver talking about? He said that the Sox have great speed on the bases with Pedroia at first.
Fogg went on to get David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez and Mike Lowell on fly balls. At Mile High, you have to forget the HR, go opposite field, and just hit it where they ain’t. A lot of balls went for doubles that would be singles in many other parks (like Julio Lugo‘s 2nd inning double), because the outfielders have to play so far back to cover all that real estate.
Top of the 3rd, the Sox mount a six-run rally. Fogg doesn’t even last 3 innings, and I’m not surprised. I’m not sure I would have walked Manny to load the bases with no outs, but Lowell made sure Clint Hurdle paid for that one. BTW, Manny was safe on that play at home. I don’t know how Ted Barrett could have seen it from behind him.
Dice-K was cruising, not giving up hits or walking people. He opened the bottom of the 3rd by nearly beheading Garrett Atkins. That’s most likely due to the long offensive inning and the cold. It was in the mid-40s at the time of the first pitch, and dropped into the 30s by the end of the game. This was a factor for the pitchers for sure.
Bottom of the 6th, Kevin Youkilis is in the game, and Big Papi is out. Could be a little early, but it was a six-run lead, and Ortiz had just been to bat in the top of the frame. Matsuzaka got one more out. then he walked Todd Helton and Atkins back to back, and Francona chose to go to Javier Lopez to face Brad Hawpe. The whole time, I’m thinking, WHY? He’s a LOOGY who has been awful against lefties, and Hawpe can’t hit the fastball; it’s too early for Hideki Okajima so I’m thinking Manny Delcarmen here. I don’t mind using Lopez in a new inning, but with inherited runners?
Lopez comes in, doesn’t record even one out, and allows two men to score. Tito has to go to Mike Timlin to end the frame, but not before a really, really long out by Ryan Spilborghs to deep centerfield and a near hit by Jeff Baker that Lugo leapt and just manged to snag in the webbing of his glove. 415 ft to the fence seems kinda ridiculous, but it really saved us here. This is one honkin’ big ballpark.
Bottom of the 7th, Timlin allows two singles, and is lifted for Okajima, forcing a double switch: Coco Crisp goes into center, and Ellsbury replaces J.D. Drew in right. Matt Holliday smacks the first pitch he sees (a heater right over the plate) WAY past the centerfield fence, and suddenly it’s a 6-5 game. This inning seems to last forever, but Okajima finally manages to get the third out. It looks like he just needed some more time to warm up.
Top of the 8th, the Sox answer. No Ortiz? No problem. Lugo walks with one out, Crisp singles, and Ellsbury and Pedroia follow up with doubles of their own against a tough lefty in Brian Fuentes. Ellsbury’s pop fly hits right down the right field line, and the sliding Hawpe just can’t quite get to it. That’s a lot of speed on the basepaths (minus Pedroia), and they all get home. 9-5, Sox.
Delcarmen starts the 8th, but gets into a bit of trouble with 2 outs, so they go to Jonathan Papelbon early. One pitch to Holliday, fly ball, inning over.
Top of the 9th, give credit to Lowell for making a great heads up baserunning play for the second game in a row. After Alex Cora moved him up to second, Lowell used an opportunity to steal third base uncontested. This is big, slow, lumbering Mike Lowell. And with one out, Jason Varitek is able to bring him home with a sac fly to center. Paps closes the door in the bottom of the 9th, and it’s now 3-0 Sox.
Ellsbury ended 4-5 with three doubles. He didn’t pound the ball so much, but used the lines and his speed to his advantage. I am really enjoying seeing Ellsbury/Pedroia hitting 1-2, as they could conceivably be in those spots for 2008 and beyond. The skill, determination and spark that they bring is really exciting after the failed Lugo leadoff experiment.
Now Jon Lester gets his chance to seal the deal tomorrow, in Game 4 of the Series. I really hope he does it, but if not, I don’t worry too much with Beckett on the mound Monday. Sorry, Denver. The rally towels didn’t work for Cleveland either, BTW. I guess it’s time for you guys to throw them in now.