Sox on the ball in top, bottom of 8th inning
The bases were loaded for the Angels’ Bobby Abreu, with one out in the eighth inning of a taut 1-1 game at Fenway Park last night. And even though Jon Lester had thrown 118 pitches for the Red Sox, and even though Abreu had a .308 career average against him, the lefthander stood in.
Abreu swung and connected on Lester’s pitch, the ball bouncing toward second base.
Dustin Pedroia grabbed it, slapped a tag on Erick Aybar, the runner on first, then flipped to Kevin Youkilis, getting just enough on the throw. It was a clutch double play, and the Sox were out of the inning.
“I just wanted to make sure I came at him fast, so he didn’t stop,’’ said Pedroia. “And then he hit the ground. I don’t know what happened. I was just trying to tag him. I tripped over him. It kind of happened so fast.’’
Pedroia got up and slammed his fist into his glove. The Sox had been danger of wasting a stifling performance by Lester. They hadn’t scored on Ervin Santana after the first inning, and were in danger of ceding the momentum from a blowout of the Angels Monday night. Pedroia wouldn’t let that happen.
“As the game gets closer, you’re going to see the best out of Pedey,’’ manager Terry Francona said after the Sox had pulled out a 5-1 win. “I think we’ve come to expect that.’’
The play set up everything that followed. With two outs in the bottom of the eighth and the bases loaded, Jeremy Hermida lashed a catchable ball past Juan Rivera in left field for a double. Three runs scored, the crowd of 37,411 chanted and cheered, and the Sox were ahead, 4-1, and on their way. Lester’s brilliance would not be squandered.
“I was hoping it was going to hit off the Wall, to be honest with you,’’ Hermida said. “I knew it was going to be close. I didn’t get it as good as I could. I have not even seen [a replay]. I might not even watch it. As long as it falls, I don’t care.’’
Hermida did what David Ortiz couldn’t. On a night when mild boos turned more intense after he left four men on base with a strikeout, double play, and strikeout, Ortiz stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and no outs in the eighth. It was his chance for redemption, to hold the calls for a new designated hitter at bay. He couldn’t do it, grounding into a 4-2-3 double play with the infield drawn in. His head dropped as he walked back to the dugout.
But the Sox still came through, with Hermida converting after Adrian Beltre had walked to reload the bases. And, as if Ortiz needed the pain to be any deeper, Mike Lowell followed with a pinch RBI double, his fifth straight hit over the past two games, to make it 5-1.
Lester allowed just three hits until the eighth, getting five strikeouts and 14 infield outs. He entered the game with a scoreless streak of 12 2/3 innings and extended that for three more before the Angels pushed a run across.
The LA eighth began with singles by Howie Kendrick and Mike Napoli, the latter leaving Lester thinking he was done for the evening. He wasn’t. After a sacrifice bunt by Brandon Wood, Lester walked Aybar. The bases were full for Abreu. Then, the threat was extinguished, thanks to Pedroia.
“That was exciting,’’ Francona said. “That’s a lot of responsibility [on Lester]. He deserves to have that confidence in him.’’ The confidence to leave his starter in for 120 pitches, with a dangerous hitter at the plate in a situation that could have doomed them.
“He was down [with his] fastball,’’ Francona said. “Threw a lot of good changeups tonight, probably more changeups than he has. They’re such a good fastball-[hitting], aggressive team. But he was really down effectively.
“With his movement on his two-seamer, his ball can get a little heavy. We talk all the time about good hitters don’t need help elevating the ball when our guys are flat. But when he creates that angle with that velocity and that movement and he commands — that opens up a lot of the plate.’’
The Sox scored a run in the first, as Marco Scutaro doubled and came home on a ground out, but couldn’t get another until the eighth. The Angels got their run in the fourth, also on a grounder.
“When you’re able to get out of those jams, it just builds confidence,’’ Lester said. “When you get in those situations in bigger games that really matter, you can draw back and say, ‘Hey, I’ve been here before, I can get out of it again.’ It’s huge for me not only on a personal level, but it’s big for the team. Obviously we carried that momentum into the bottom of the eighth.’’
The late outburst with the bats gave the Sox their second straight win over the Angels, a modest streak but a needed one.
“We’re playing better,’’ Pedroia said. “We’re playing as a team. We’re playing to win. It showed the last two days. We’re playing with that sense of urgency that we need to. We’ll be fine. We’ll figure it out.’’