Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The Good, the Bad, and the Mannys

Games 99 & 100 - Red Sox

Devil Rays 4, Red Sox 3 (10)
Red Sox 10, Devil Rays 9 (10)
Record: 55-45

I'm not sure a late-July game against the Devil Rays can be fairly defined as a huge win, but last night's contest was among the most thrilling, aggravating, nerve-wracking, dissapointing, and ultimately stunning games of the season. Had the Sox lost, and I'd pretty much given myself over to that reality when the Rays went up 8-6 in the 8th, they'd have dropped into a tie with the Yankees, and been on the verge of being swept by Tampa Bay. They didn't, and the way they didn't was reminiscent in kind - though not in spiritual impact - to the 7.24.2004 season-defining win over Mariano Rivera and the Yanks.

It looked for a long time like the defining moment of this game would be the sickening sight of Carl Crawford's line drive off of Matt Clement's temple in the 3rd inning. The impact of the ball knocked Clement's feet off the ground as it caromed from his head into shallow left. The Sox' pitcher lay motionless for more than 5 minutes before being taken off the field on a cart. This morning, the Sox are reporting that Clement should recover fully, but the incident cast a pall over the game's middle innings - only a truly memorable conclusion managed to obscure it even slightly.

The Sox led, 5-1, when Clement left the game, and the emotional baggage of the right-hander's condition seemed to weigh heavily. The Rays plated 4 more runs in the bottom of the 3rd to tie the game at 5, and then the teams waded through the middle innings - the immortal Dewon Brazelton shutting down the Sox competely - before the Rays took a 6-5 lead in the 6th.

Billy Mueller's clutch 2-out hit in the top of the 7th tied the game at 6, but the Rays plated 2 more against Jeremi Gonzalez in the bottom of the same inning, blackening my mood and causing me to hurl a stream of expletives at Gonzalez' very being.

Even after Jason Varitek homered with 1 out in the top of the 9th, I was still scowling at the television, trying to capture the essence of my disgust with this team of underacheivers in preparation for blogging this morning. Even as Kevin Millar and then John Olerud singled to follow Varitek, my mood remained dark. I only grunted mild approval when Mueller doubled to right to score Adam Stern, running for Millar, to tie the game. And that mild approval quickly turned to more disgust for Dale Sveum when Olderdude was thrown out at the plate - could have been 2nd and 3rd, 1 out, but Sveum took a look at Olerud and saw Skeets Nehemiah.

Johnny Damon saved the game for the Sox in the bottom of the 9th, racing deep into the gap in left-center and sprawling against the fence to rob Jorge Cantu of a game-winning double. As Damon ran into the dugout, hair bobbing behind him, I finally smiled - "Hey, he's leading off the 10th for the Sox - that'd be a pretty cool combo."

And then, BOOM goes the dynamite. Damon backed up his great defensive effort with his 2nd homer in 2 nights, and the Sox held an improbable 9-8 lead. They plated another run when Jason Varitek connected for his 2nd extra-base hit in as many innings, and they needed it, as Curt Schilling's Excellent Bullpen Adventure continued in the bottom of the 10th with the winning run left standing on first. A bedside fist pump from me to match Schilling's, and the dark cloud was lifted. Sort of.

Lots of good in this game - not the least of which was the Sox' perseverance in the face of the Clement injury (and Trot Nixon's oblique strain in the same inning). Mike Myers pitched 2 scoreless innings before giving up a weak bloop double to Aubrey Huff. As expected, the offense was stellar before and after the Brazelton Lull. Tek was 2-3 with 3 walks. Damon and Millar had 3 hits each. Manny Ramirez hit another homer. Mueller had 2 incredibly clutch hits.

Plenty of bad, though, to balance the good. Looks like the Sox will be without Clement for a little while, and Nixon perhaps for longer. The Sox continue to run the bases like Helen Keller. Tony Graffanino became the latest in a much-too-long string of Sox to get picked off, and Sveum's ill-advised windmilling of the winter-time-molasses-slow Olerud in a clutch situation makes me long for the days of Wave 'Em in Wendall Kim. Jeremi Gonzalez just isn't very good, and Schilling continues to be off by thismuch - he left an 0-2 splitter up that Julio Lugo hit into left with 2 out in the 9th, and only Damon's sprinting catch on Cantu's subsequent drive bailed him out. And, in a minor piffle of a negative, Adam Hyzdu stinks on ice, regardless of how you pronounce his name.

Finally, there was a whole lot of Manny last night. Ramirez continued his recent slugging with a 2-run 1st inning bomb, but then he meandered about the premises like Charlie Babbitt looking for Judge Wapner. First, he coasted after Aubrey Huff's pop-up to left in the 6th, ensuring a double for the Rays when he tried to barehand the bouncing ball and then nonchalantly flipped it back to the infield. Then, in the top of the 10th, he jogged down the line after grounding into a tailor-made double play, and was rewarded for it when the Rays middle infield remembered that they played for Tampa Bay. I've defended Manny in the past from the Boston media's barely disguised contempt, but there's no denying that he spent long stretches of this game simply dogging it. And someone in the clubhouse should call him out for it - especially in the wake of his Capistrano Salmon-like annual whining about not being comfortable in Boston because the attention. Wake the fuck up, Rainman. We don't expect you to be Charlie Hustle, but we ask that you at least fake some effort for the $20m you're banking this year. It's almost as if the game comes too easy to Manny - that he gets bored this time of year so he manufactures some reason to care.

For the first time, though, there's another Manny story. Last night marked the major league debut of highly touted right-hander Manny Delcarmen, and he dazzled - blowing away his first major league batter with 95+ mph heat and recording a 1-2-3 frame in the 8th. Maybe John Kerry was right - help is on the way. A pitching positive - that's refreshing.

4 days to the trade deadline - and the Sox suddenly have lots of needs. At least I get to spend today in a good mood.

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