With weary eyes and a slow saunter, David Ortiz walked through a collection of media members and club employees on his way out of the Red Sox clubhouse early Monday morning, his son D'Angelo trailing a couple steps behind.
"I'll see you guys in a couple of hours," the designated hitter said to no one in particular -- and without a hint of humor. It was an exaggeration, but only slightly; Ortiz and his teammates were due back to Fenway Park at 8:30 a.m. for TSA screening prior to their flight to San Francisco. Once that landed in California, the players were scheduled to have just a half-hour at the team hotel before buses began leaving for AT&T Park.
It's a whirlwind schedule that Adrian Gonzalez might suggest puts the Sox at a disadvantage in tonight's opener of a three-game series with the Giants, but it's one they've known they'd encounter for a while now. Playing on national TV, with ESPN's extended between-inning breaks, against the everything's-a-grind Yankees, a four-hour game is the expectation. This one was that and then some, ending at 12:17, and nobody should've been the slightest bit surprised that Sunday Night Baseball didn't end until Monday morning.
It all made the rubber match with New York something of a must-have for the Sox, who entered having lost six of nine, three of four, and at risk of dropping their third straight series. Winning Sunday wouldn't reverse all that, or righted the ship, but it would've at least made their looming travel -- and the looming Dodgers -- a little bit less daunting. It would've built in some forgiveness, at least for Monday. Everybody should've understood the landscape and the urgency, especially the starting pitcher who was the player least affected by the schedule because he won't appear in the Giants' series anyway, but who could ease the burden on his teammates with a quality performance
Ryan Dempster didn't do his job, though.
His job wasn't to defend the honor and history of baseball. His job wasn't to make a statement about right and wrong. His job wasn't to stick up for the clean guys. His job wasn't to leave the bruise many -- including many within the Yankee organization -- have wanted to inflict upon Alex Rodriguez.
His job was simply to win the game. And he failed.
Much of the criticism being cast Dempster's way since he plunked Rodriguez with a 3-0 pitch in Sunday's second inning has been centered on the premise that it quickly led to the evaporation of his 2-0 lead while energizing and unifying the Yankees. That's all legitimate criticism, too.
But the fact of the matter is that it was the Red Sox who scored four of the game's next five runs, and who had staked Dempster to a three-run lead as he took the ball in the sixth. Heck, Boston's advantage was still 6-4 after Rodriguez juiced a no-doubter to the center field seats.
Long after the incident that briefly emptied the dugouts and bullpens, Dempster was very much in position to win -- and with a terrific opportunity to pick up his team.
Rodriguez homered on the right-hander's 90th pitch, so he wasn't overly taxed on a comfortable evening. He'd retired nine of 10 before the blast, so he'd settled into something of a groove, and after A-Rod's interruption he did the hard part by getting Curtis Granderson on a grounder to first. That left him with one out, the bases empty, and the bottom third of New York's lineup coming up, represented by Eduardo Nunez, Lyle Overbay, and Chris Stewart -- all of whom stepped in with OBPs of about .305.
Had Dempster merely retired two of the three, John Farrell would've had his bullpen set up perfectly, with any of his three southpaw relievers coming in with a clean slate to face the three lefties at the top of the Yankee lineup in the seventh, then he could've used Junichi Tazawa for the eighth, and Koji Uehara in the ninth. Instead, Dempster allowed a single to Nunez. Another single to Overbay. Then he walked Stewart, a .230 hitter, on four pitches.
That was the end for Dempster, who watched from the dugout as Drake Britton's second pitch was slugged to the warning track in right field, where it landed for a three-run triple that gave the Yanks a 7-6 lead. For that reason, the 24-year-old lefty isn't absolved of blame, either -- but the 36-year-old, $13.5 million veteran never should've put him in that position. Given everything going on, Dempster must be better in that situation. Must be.
And his inability to be so was his most egregious offense of the night.
If he wanted to (and he, understandably, denies the pitch was even intentional) make a statement by drilling Rodriguez on the national stage, he could've succeeded in doing that -- and still succeeded in doing the job his team needed him to do. If he was really delivering a message on behalf of his teammates, they subsequently supported him by giving him the lead back. His failure to hold it had much less to do with the way he pitched in the second than the way he pitched in the sixth.
So the tired Red Sox head to San Francisco with their division lead down to just a game as they begin a stretch that might decide the fate of their season. After facing the reigning champs, they face a Dodgers team that's doing things unseen in 71 years, then it's home to face the perpetually problematic Orioles. There's a brief respite with the lowly White Sox coming to Fenway for Labor Day weekend, but after that it's the AL-best Tigers in town, then trips to face the Yankees and second-place Rays.
To their credit, the Sox continued to insist they're equipped to handle that hellacious stretch as they packed their bags for the left coast. "Nobody is worried, nobody is panicking," Will Middlebrooks said. "We’re a really good team. We’re going to be good throughout the rest of the season."
A short night later, after not much more sleep than the couple hours Ortiz suggested, a tired team will hop off the plane and start trying to prove that late Monday, under less-than-ideal circumstances.
Circumstances that became even more difficult because of a series of pitches not made Sunday -- not because of one that infamously was.
|Jacoby Ellsbury, CF||0-for-4, R, BB, 4 K: He entered with decent-enough numbers against C.C. Sabathia (.273 lifetime), and walked and scored to start the game, but then proceeded to strikeout in his next four trips. It's the first time he's struck out four times as a big leaguer, and the first time since July 30, 2011, he's whiffed three times in a game.|
|Shane Victorino, RF||2-for-5, 2 R, 2B, K: He was in the middle of a couple Sox rallies, scoring in the first and third -- the second of which he started with a double into the left-field corner.|
|Dustin Pedroia, 2B||1-for-5, R: He left four runners on base as his average dipped to .291. After the Sox' first 63 games, he was hitting .335 with a .418 OBP and .878 OPS; in the team's next 63 games, his numbers were .249, .322, and .658 in those respective categories.|
|David Ortiz, DH||2-for-4, RBI, BB, 2B, K: Now hitting .361 with a .923 OPS lifetime against Mariano Rivera, Ortiz is feeling good at the plate, and with Mike Napoli dealing with a foot issue Farrell might be tempted to use Ortiz at first base more than the planned three or four times during this six-game interleague swing.|
|Jonny Gomes, LF||0-for-2, RBI, 2 BB: After two more walks, his on-base percentage is up to .421 over the past two weeks. It could be a product of more consistent playing time.|
|Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C||2-for-4, R, RBI, BB, 2B: He began the night hitting .211 from the right side, but after singling and stinging his 33rd double off the left-field wall, Sabathia pitched around him before intentionally issuing ball four to load the bases in the fifth. It cost the Yankees a run when Daniel Nava followed with a walk.|
|Daniel Nava, 1B||0-for-2, RBI, BB, 2 K: In the bottom of the fourth, with nobody out and Saltalamacchia on second, Nava dropped a sacrifice bunt. It worked, as Saltalamacchia took third and later scored on Stephen Drew's sacrifice fly. But, still, it seemed curious so early in a game where C.C. Sabathia never seemed entirely comfortable.|
|Stephen Drew, SS||0-for-3, RBI, SF, 2 K: His sac fly to center scored Saltalamacchia, and made it 17 of his last 18 games in which he's had a hit, a walk, or an RBI. He also robbed Rodriguez of a hit with a nice defensive play -- probably to the bemusement of Yankee management.|
|Will Middlebrooks, 3B||2-for-3, R, RBI, BB, 2B, HR: Perhaps most encouraging about his opposite-field homer and his double to the left-field corner was that both came when he was behind in the count. He struggled in those situations at Pawtucket, and in the big leagues early in the year.|
|Ryan Dempster, SP||5.1 IP, 9 H, 7 ER, BB, 3 K, HBP, HR: The veteran posted a 3.86 ERA over a two-month stretch that took him into August, though this month his ERA is 7.40 -- and that includes seven innings of one-run ball in the start before Sunday.|
|Drake Britton, RP||0.1 IP, 2 H: Over his first eight outings, Britton had a 0.79 ERA and had allowed only one of six inherited runners to score. Since then, in four games, he's allowed all five inherited runners to cross the plate -- including all three Sunday, when he surrendered a bases-clearing triple to Brett Gardner -- and his ERA is 15.00.|
|Brandon Workman, SP||IP, ER, H, K: Curtis Granderson reached on a fielder's choice, then scored after stealing second -- spotlighting what is emerging as a weakness for Workman. He's now allowed five stolen bases in his last four appearances, with only one attempted theft thwarted.|
|Franklin Morales, RP||0.2 IP, 2 H, K: He didn't look particularly sharp, but with two on and nobody out in the eighth he bore down and struck out Robinson Cano after falling behind 3-1.|
|Junichi Tazawa, RP||0.2 IP, H, K: He inherited the two runners left by Morales, and started his performance by exploding a 96 mph heater past a late-swinging Soriano. He would've been out of the jam altogether if Pedroia handled Rodriguez's tough one-hopper, but instead he was forced to prompt a pop-out from Granderson with a full count and the bases loaded.|
|Rubby De La Rosa, RP||IP, ER, 2 H, 2 HBP: Put himself in a bad spot by plunking .230 hitter Jayson Nix, letting him advance on a wild pitch, then paying the runner no attention as the shortstop stole third without a throw. One pitch later, Chris Stewart singled him in. Ultimately the inning became a reminder that De La Rosa was averaging 4.9 walks per nine innings at Pawtucket.|
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