Red Sox get a free pass from Toronto
By the time the walking had stopped, the slow trots around the bases that had ground the game to a halt in the first two innings, the score was tight. The run production had ceased. That left just three innings for a sometimes shaky bullpen to hold the Red Sox’ one-run lead.
And though John Lackey had failed to keep Toronto at a safe distance last night, allowing four runs in the second and two in the fifth, the bullpen did just that, with near perfection from Hideki Okajima, Daniel Bard, and Jonathan Papelbon.
The game was saved with the lead intact, and the Sox ended the evening the way they had planned.
“That’s how it’s supposed to go,’’ Bard said. “I think that’s how they script it out. Hand the bullpen a lead in the seventh, and have us shut them down from there. We’re proud of it.’’
The three relievers held the Blue Jays down to allow the Sox to escape with a 7-6 win in front of 37,332 at Fenway Park. They had watched as Lackey struggled to protect the lead, and then they stepped in.
“We’re not going to win big, like we did [Sunday night], all the time,’’ Bard said. “Those are nice every once in a while. To come out with a good record at the end of September, you’ve got to win a lot of games like this.’’
It seemed to be a game of one-upsmanship that no one would truly win, only lose. But the Sox took it, and they have won six of their last eight. The victory again brought the Sox over .500, a small step. And for all the ugly parts last night, there was this: The Sox beat a team they were supposed to beat, something they’ll have to do with consistency for this season to mean anything.
But a recent trend also continued, as Lackey allowed six runs over six innings. After a promising stretch, Sox starters have allowed at least five earned runs in four of five games, the exception Jon Lester’s outing Sunday against the Yankees.
“A lot of guys would have kind of caved after giving up six, and he battled and stuck through it,’’ Bard said. And the Sox won. That was most important.
At times, though, it was almost laughable, as long as you were not Cito Gaston or a member of the Blue Jays or a fan shivering in the not-quite-full stands. Dustin Pedroia stood in to face Brandon Morrow, and watched four balls pass by. With the bases loaded in the second inning — loaded because Morrow walked three batters — Pedroia recorded the ever-exciting RBI walk.
Morrow added his sixth free pass, to Kevin Youkilis, before a David Ortiz RBI single knocked him out of the game. Josh Roenicke entered to face the aggressive Adrian Beltre, and walked him on four pitches. The Sox scored four runs in the inning on just one hit.
Not that Lackey was faring much better. The first two innings featured 10 walks and 10 runs. It took more than an hour and 20 minutes to record 12 outs, helping to taint the American League East’s sorry length-of-game reputation. By that point, the Sox led, 6-4.
Lackey walked Lyle Overbay to lead off the second, then gave up a blast to Alex Gonzalez that bounced off the lip of the Green Monster.
It was ruled a double, and remained so after the first replay of the season at Fenway. Another walk preceded a two-run double by John Buck that ate up third baseman Beltre.
“Everything went kind of too quick,’’ catcher Victor Martinez said. “I was behind the plate, I was like, ‘What just happened?’ They just put some good swings on that inning, then they hit a ground ball to Adrian and that ball just took a really bad hop. Nothing you can do about that one.’’
Lackey allowed the first six batters of the inning to reach, with the Blue Jays scoring four times.
“To his credit, he reeled it back in,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “He competed without his best stuff tonight, and got us deep enough where our guys in the bullpen could do their job, and they did it really well.’’
In other words, it was hardly a game for fans of run prevention. In addition to the starting pitching, the Blue Jays recorded two errors, one by each middle infielder, and the Sox had one by Marco Scutaro. But, in the end, someone had to win.
The trio of Sox relievers allowed just a walk, by Bard in the eighth. Papelbon was especially impressive as he mixed his splitter and slider with his fastball. Variety has been a reason for consternation with the closer over the past two years, the lack of anything but heat. Now, though, there are secondary options, with Papelbon saying his pitch repertoire is “probably at its peak.’’
“You’re seeing a lot more offspeed, and they’re good offspeed pitches,’’ Bard said. “He’s not just throwing it up there for a different look. Splitter, especially, it’s back to what it was when I was watching him on TV a couple years ago. It’s that nasty, 90-mile-an-hour, foot of sink. It’s a plus-plus pitch.’’
It’s needed this season, as the Sox appear primed to play a large number of tight games. That was the way they started the season, and that was the way they got through last night. In a game that appeared as if it might last forever, with a game-time temperature of 54 degrees, the Sox still emerged with a good night. Perhaps not a comfortable night, but a successful one.
“It’s more fun when you’re on the [winning] side with this one,’’ Martinez said.