Fresh arm lends hand
Green’s two innings spare tired bullpen in blowout
Takashi Saito? Unavailable because he slept on his neck wrong Wednesday night. Billy Wagner? Unable to pitch because he threw a bullpen session yesterday afternoon.
Daniel Bard? Possible, but that would have made him unavailable for tonight against Toronto given his previous workload in the Chicago series. Hideki Okajima? Same story.
So when Junichi Tazawa faltered with every pitch but his fastball in the second and third - the White Sox banged out eight runs over the two innings - Red Sox manager Terry Francona turned to Nick Green in the third and informed the infielder he’d most likely be taking the mound for the first time as a major leaguer.
“I had to go out there and try to pitch because our pitchers couldn’t go,’’ said Green. “That’s the only reason I went out there.’’
The unexpected result from the righthanded Green was just what the Red Sox needed: two hitless and scoreless innings as the third man out of the bullpen (Manny Delcarmen pitched in the fifth and sixth, Ramon Ramirez took the seventh), giving his club some much-needed literal and figurative relief by featuring a plenty-of-movement fastball that he threw 34 times and a slider he tried once. Victor Martinez called for one more slider, but Green shook him off and threw a fastball instead.
“He pitched two scoreless innings,’’ said pitching coach John Farrell. “Given the situation with two guys unavailable and with two other guys, if we pitched them, would have been three out of the last four days, it’s never a situation you envision yourself in. But he helped keep some guys from having to come in and pitch some innings and keep us rested going into this next series.’’
With his performance, Green became the organization’s second position player to throw at least two hitless innings. The last to turn the trick was Eddie Lake, who went 2 1/3 hitless innings against St. Louis May 17, 1944. Dave McCarty was the last position player to pitch two scoreless innings (against Baltimore Oct. 3, 2004).
By his estimation, Green last pitched more than a decade ago. He never pitched in the minor leagues. However, Green has one of the infield’s stronger arms, making him the best candidate to take the mound and not embarrass himself.
After Francona informed Green of the impending move, the infielder teamed up with Rocco Baldelli to loosen up and try some pitches. In the seventh inning, while Ramirez was pitching, Green warmed up in the bullpen.
Once he took the mound in the eighth, with his team trailing, 9-3, in what would be a 9-5 loss, the mandate was clear: throw strikes. Green’s first major league pitch was a fastball to Gordon Beckham that hit 90 miles per hour but didn’t find the strike zone.
“When I threw it, I thought it was a strike,’’ Green said. “Then I’m like, ‘That’s a ball? I don’t know what I’m going to do to throw a strike.’ ’’
But it was the movement, more than the velocity, that surprised Green.
“I didn’t know my ball was going to move all over the place,’’ Green said. “I told Tito, ‘I might get hit. I don’t know.’ I didn’t know what to expect. I haven’t tried to throw a strike to a catcher in 11 years.’’
Green got Beckham to pop to short, Green’s regular position, on a 3-1 count. He retired A.J. Pierzynski on a fly to center. Green walked cleanup hitter Paul Konerko, but got Jim Thome to ground to second to end the inning.
In the ninth, leadoff hitter Carlos Quentin hit a 1-1 tapper back to Green. From shortstop, Green can usually scoop a grounder and throw to first in the same motion. This time, given how close he was to first base, Green had to hesitate before throwing a dart to Casey Kotchman to retire Quentin.
“Glad I wasn’t playing first base,’’ said Kevin Youkilis, who had shifted to third base after Mike Lowell was taken out in the eighth.
Green walked Mark Kotsay, forced Alexei Ramirez to fly to left, then walked Jayson Nix. But with two on and two out, Green stabbed Scott Podsednik’s grounder up the middle and threw to first for the final out.
Green’s final numbers: no hits, no runs, three walks, 35 pitches, 13 strikes, one slider, 0.00 ERA. Green was in the game for all the wrong reasons. But that didn’t keep him from enjoying himself in his pitching debut.
“I had fun, yeah,’’ Green said. “It’s something that might never happen again. So I had to have fun with it.’’