Rout leads Red Sox to pitch Green
The Red Sox knew the Texas Rangers had won earlier in the day, and for two reasons last night they could assume their lead in the wild-card race would slip to 1 1/2 games well before their 9-5 loss to the Chicago White Sox had concluded.
Reason No. 1: The Red Sox trailed by eight runs before the end of the third inning.
Reason No. 2: Nick Green - who spent the majority of this season as the Red Sox’ starting shortstop - came on to pitch in the eighth inning.
The Red Sox did not wait around and let their four-game winning streak slip away last night. Junichi Tazawa, with a sudden succession of pitches that did little to confuse or discomfort the White Sox, stood on the pitching rubber and crushed it - and any drama - into a fine powder. Tazawa lasted only four innings, the ugliest start of his new career.
“Overall,’’ Tazawa said, “it wasn’t a good outing.’’
The rest of the night provided only a scare - Jacoby Ellsbury left with a mild left high ankle sprain after sliding into catcher A.J. Pierzynski’s shin guards to end the fifth - and a spectacle.
In the middle of a playoff race, the Red Sox surely did not envision a position player occupying the mound in what normally would be critical innings. But their bullpen was composed in a unique way. Over the weekend, the Sox had reserved Brad Penny for use in this scenario - he would replace Tazawa in case of trouble.
In the days in between, the Sox granted Penny his release so they could acquire Billy Wagner from the Mets in a waiver deal. Wagner was unavailable last night because he threw a bullpen session in the late afternoon. Besides, the Sox did not add a 38-year-old pitcher 11 months removed from Tommy John surgery so he could mop up, anyway.
A confluence of other relievers’ unavailability made Green the choice. In the third inning, as the White Sox battered Tazawa, manager Terry Francona found Green in the dugout and told him he may have to pitch.
Green and Rocco Baldelli escaped to the batting cage in the tunnel between the dugout and clubhouse. Green threw him three different fastballs, but Baldelli forbade curveballs. “I didn’t have a cup on,’’ Baldelli said.
Green tried a cutter in the impromptu warm-up.
“It didn’t cut,’’ Baldelli said. “I said, ‘Don’t do that.’ ’’
In his career, Green had played every infield and outfield spot. After this season, he wants to pursue catching in an effort to extend his career - what team couldn’t use a fielder who could also serve as an emergency catcher?
Before last night, besides his cannon right arm, Green had never given any indication he could pitch, too. But apparently he can. He once mopped up in junior college. He threw fastballs - two-seam, four-seam, and inadvertent cutters - and one slider, ranging from the high 80s to the low 90s. He shook off Victor Martinez once, when he called for a slider. (“I didn’t want to hit anybody,’’ Green said.) He allowed no hits in two innings.
The Sox scored two in the eighth to slash their deficit to 9-4. Had the Sox made it 9-5, Francona said, Hideki Okajima would have entered. But Green remained on the mound and he made it look like the prudent decision. By the end of his stint, Francona may have wished Green talked his way into starting.
Tazawa, 23, came into the game with an obscurely historic track record at Fenway Park. He entered as the first Red Sox pitcher to win his first two home starts while allowing one earned run or fewer since 1945, when Dave Ferriss did it. The momentum carried into the first inning, three straight outs that took Tazawa 11 pitches.
Without warning, Tazawa’s outing unraveled. His breaking pitches barely broke until too late and he could not command anything offspeed. He pitched almost exclusively with fastballs and the White Sox pulverized them.
“He became a one-pitch pitcher,’’ pitching coach John Farrell said.
Line-drive singles by Paul Konerko and Jim Thome placed men on first and second, a situation Tazawa typically thrives in. During his standout season in the minor leagues, Tazawa burnished a reputation for throwing his best, most daring pitches with the bases chocked. In his last start, the Yankees went 0 for 8 with a double play with runners in scoring position.
So base runners for Tazawa typically serve as a minor annoyance at worst, a performance enhancer at best. Last night, facing a jam for the first time, his poise temporarily evaporated. He nearly hit Carlos Quentin with a curveball. Two pitches later, he grazed the brim of Quentin’s helmet with a fastball.
With no outs and the bases loaded, the White Sox overwhelmed Tazawa. They scored four runs on four hits in the inning, the lodestone a two-run double off the Green Monster by Jayson Nix.
“It was a rough night, right from the beginning,’’ Francona said. “As bleak as the game was looking, it looked worse from where we were.’’
Francona has developed an early trust in Tazawa. Even had he not, with most of the bullpen unavailable, he needed innings. Tazawa trotted back out for the third, and the White Sox treated him with identical malice. Quentin drilled a two-run home run into the Monster seats, and the White Sox piled up five more hits and four more runs.
Down, 8-0, Tazawa pitched the fourth with relative success, emphasis on relative. Thome drilled an RBI double after Konerko walked, finalizing the damage for Tazawa’s shortest start of his nascent career: 10 hits, one walk, a hit batsman, and nine earned runs.
The Red Sox threatened a potential charge in the fifth when back-to-back home runs by J.D. Drew and Alex Gonzalez put them on the board. The spurt only led to Ellsbury’s injury when, to end the inning, he tried to score from third while Dustin Pedroia ended up in a rundown between first and second.
Drew bashed another homer in the ninth, but the Sox already had sealed their result. At least they managed to have some fun.
“Pretty cool,’’ Kevin Youkilis said. “[Green] comes out with a 0.00 ERA.’’