Red Sox bail out Beckett
Following rain delay, they take care of Jays
Jason Varitek rooted his left leg in the wet dirt 6 inches to the left of home plate, at the mercy of a 235-pound man sprinting at full speed, and he waited. A catcher’s job description includes many unenviable tasks. Varitek embraces all of them, even this one, even though he knows through experience what the sheer physics entail.
“On my end,’’ Varitek said, “you never win that battle.’’
He hunkered anyway, Travis Snider approaching, Alex Gonzalez’s throw not far behind. Josh Beckett’s most recent home run-laden stumble had occurred earlier. Casey Kotchman’s winning, pinch-hit fielder’s choice and Jonathan Papelbon’s two strikeouts with the bases loaded to preserve a tight-rope save would come later.
But while sheets of rain pounded Fenway Park and the flag threatened to blow off the pole in center field, Varitek provided the final, most essential piece of the play that, more than any other, the worn players in the Red Sox clubhouse believed, allowed for their 6-5 victory last night over the Toronto Blue Jays. The win redeemed 4 1/2 hours of baseball, and it catapulted them back to 2 1/2 games atop the American League wild-card race.
By the seventh inning, when the intermittent rain turned serious, the Red Sox’ offense, led by Jason Bay’s two-run homer, had bailed out Beckett. Daniel Bard touched 100 miles per hour in a dominant sixth inning, but he found trouble in the seventh. He became the second Sox pitcher to be bailed out.
With one out and Snider on first, John McDonald roped a Bard fastball into the left-field corner. Bay raced toward the line, disappearing from view for many fans. He hurled the ball toward the infield as the runners raced around the bases.
While Gonzalez waited in shallow left, he glanced at Toronto’s third base coach, who was waving home Snider. He knew he had to make a play, and he had scant time. “There was going to be a play at the plate,’’ he said later.
Snider was about one-third of the way home when Gonzalez received the throw in shallow left. He transferred the ball from his glove to his bare hand as if using a magician’s sleight of hand.
Snider had started his slide before Varitek caught the ball. He did not know if Snider would barrel into him or slide.
“You expect the worst,’’ Varitek said, “and you retract from that.’’
Gonzalez’s accurate throw allowed Varitek to keep his leg planted in front of the plate. “I felt like my foot was down solid,’’ Varitek said.
His leg repelled Snider like a rag doll, and the umpire did not make his call until Varitek tagged Snider on the chest.
Bard pumped his fist and, before he started walking back to the mound, thanked Varitek.
“It didn’t move an inch,’’ Bard said later. “It looked like Snider could have broken his shin. That was impressive. That’s how they teach it.
“He’s a warrior, man. He’s intimidating when you see him walking out in his full gear, and that’s exactly why. That’s the reason the Red Sox still want him here, you know? He does stuff like that for the team. That was as big a play as you could ask for.’’
The tied preserved, rain delayed the game for 49 minutes. When it resumed, the participant who occupied the field for less time than any other provided the final margin.
Kotchman emerged from the Red Sox dugout with one out in the eighth inning. He skipped the on-deck circle, and settled into the batter’s box with the bases loaded.
For most of his career, Kotchman has played every day, but he has not felt different playing for the Red Sox in a reserve role. “I don’t analyze a whole lot,’’ said Kotchman, the quietest player in the clubhouse.
With the game in the balance, he did not want to hit the ball on the ground. He looked at one pitch and nailed the second, a low changeup that he could not lift, toward the right side. He exhaled when he saw first baseman Lyle Overbay dive.
Overbay smothered the ball, but he didn’t field it cleanly enough to prevent David Ortiz from the scoring the winning run. Ortiz had walked and been sent to third on a double by the red-hot J.D. Drew.
Once he reached first, Kotchman exited for a pinch runner. He left before you hardly knew he was there.
The Red Sox barely held on in the bottom half, when Papelbon loaded the bases by allowing two bloop hits and nicking the jersey of Randy Ruiz - “misfortune,’’ Varitek said. Papelbon fought his way out by striking out Rod Barajas on a helmet-high, 96-mile-per-hour, outside fastball. On his 28th pitch of the inning, Papelbon struck out Snider on a 2-2, 96-mile-per-hour heater over the heart of the plate. It wasn’t easy, but Papelbon sealed his 31st save in 34 chances.
Beckett walked five, hit Marco Scutaro in the head with a fastball, and allowed two more home runs, bringing his total to 10 in his last three starts. But the Red Sox found a way on a night when nothing went quite right, except one play when everything went perfectly.
“There was a lot of things that were weird tonight,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “A lot of things didn’t go necessarily right. Then you look up at the scoreboard at the end of the game and the one thing that did go right is we were up by one, and that’s all that really matters.’’