Friday, July 07, 2006

Every Breath You Take

Game 83 – Red Sox

Red Sox 12, Devil Rays 5
Record: 51-32

Though they tried mightily to make this game interesting, Tim Wakefield and Javier Lopez were no match for the combined forces of David Ortiz, Craig Hansen, and the 2 Mannys, Ramirez and Delcarmen. The Sox salvaged the trip to Tampa, putting the game away with a late flurry (courtesy of a Papi grand slam) and setting up an intriguing 3-gamer with the White Sox in advance of the All-Star break.

The Sox never trailed last night, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t pace nervously for most of the game. Manny Ramirez got things started in the bottom of the 1st with a textbook at-bat, working a 1-2 count full and staying balanced enough to blast a changeup into the left-field seats. Never one to accept prosperity gladly, Wake gave a run back in the 4th on an Aubrey Huff homer – right on the heels of Don Orsillo reciting Huff’s career 4-for-45 performance against the Sox’ knuckleballer. Raise your hand if you yelled at Orsillo after Huff’s shot, as if his words caused Wake to leave a pitch knee high on the inside half.

Doug Mirabelli gave his battery mate another 2-run cushion with a high-arching blast to start the top of the 5th, and Tampa Bay rookie starter James Shields learned a major league lesson the hard way later in the inning when he walked Mark Loretta with 2 outs to bring Papi to the plate. No sooner had I explained the error of the young hurler’s ways to my cat then Papi defeated Joe Maddon’s limp-wristed shift by blasting a ball into the left-field seats to give the Sox a 5-1 advantage. Yeah, that’s right, I just called Joe Maddon a fag. Send me to sensitivity training.

Carl Crawford, 1-man Red Sox Wrecking Crew, got the Rays back to within 3 in the bottom of the same inning, hitting a flutterball so far that it never came down. Literally. It got stuck in the catwalk suspended above the right-field seats, causing Remy and Orsillo to go into a not-so-veiled trashing of Tampa’s execrable facsimile of a ballpark.

After Alex Gonzalez’ triple plated Mirabelli from first (to the immense delight of his teammates, who lined up to provide the burly catcher with water after his tortugan gallop), the Sox led 6-2 in the top of the 6th, and I started to breathe. The lesson, as always: I’m an idiot.

Wake snapped me right out of my torpor by giving up a 2-run laser to Jorge Cantu and his big-ass ears. He was quickly replaced by Hansen, who backed up Tuesday’s stellar strike-out-the-side performance with a scoreless inning. He got 2 outs sandwiched around a walk to Julio Lugo in the 7th before Tito removed him. Enter Lopez with 1 job to do: retire the lefty Huff and strand Lugo on 2nd. Exit Lopez a few pitches later with 1 job left undone and the Rays within 1 run. Delcarmen came on in perhaps the most pressure-filled moment in his young career, and recorded a strikeout to end the inning. And so continues the care and feeding of the future of the Sox pitching staff.

The Sox still led, 6-5, after a scoreless 8th punctuated by a rock-solid effort from Mike Timlin. They loaded the bases with nobody out, Loretta once again walking in front of Papi. The ursine lefty’s blast into the stands in left-center was nothing if not predictable, letting the air out of the Rays’ sails and my lungs as I was able to breathe for the first time in 4 innings. The Sox tacked on 2 meaningless runs to complete the scoring, and since Jonathan Papelbon was warm, he came on to get some work and turned in a ho-hum 1-2-3 inning.

29 homers now for Papi, and 82 RBI in 83 games. If he’s not the mid-season AL MVP, then Ozzie Guillen must be doing the voting. (Honestly, how Carl Crawford, Travis Hafner, and Francisco Liriano don’t make the AL All-Star squad is beyond my limited comprehension. At least Scott Podsednik’s staying home. But I digress.) The media will make a great deal about the face-off between Papi and Jim Thome over the next few days, but the pitching matchups are pretty stellar, too. Jon Lester tries to harness his wildness tonight against Mark Buehrle (this may not be pretty, as the Sox have demonstrated a consistent inability to hit lefties this week). Josh Beckett takes on Freddy Garcia in Saturday’s game, and Curt Schilling closes the season’s first half against Jose Contreras.

Even though it’s only a 3-game set, there’s a lot at stake for the Sox as they head to Chicago. The Yankees are in Tampa, and are unlikely to flail as badly as the Sox did against the Rays. The Chisox are playing great ball at the moment and will be pumped up to play the Sox at home in the league’s marquee pre-break matchup. The good Sox need to bring some focus into this series, lest all the strong work of the season’s first 3+ months come undone in 3 days.

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