Atchison helps Sox hold on against Orioles
BALTIMORE — It was a game that could have spiraled out of control and away from the Red Sox. As Daisuke Matsuzaka lost what had made him good for the first five innings, the Sox could have imploded along the way.
Except they didn’t, getting the 6-4 win, thanks to Scott Atchison.
“He pounded the zone, he got that cutter-slider,’’
Sox manager Terry Francona said. “He was really aggressive tonight. He was really good. We needed it. With [Daniel] Bard down, if he runs into a problem, I’m not sure where we would have gone.’’
After Matsuzaka had given up four runs in the sixth inning, Atchison came in with two outs. He needed but four pitches to get Nolan Reimold looking, stranding Matt Wieters on second base.
And it didn’t end there, as Atchison followed that with five more outs, including two more strikeouts. It was Atchison at his best, a pitcher who has been a quiet, yet effective part of the Sox bullpen for most of the season.
“We were keeping them pretty off balance with the cutter, in and outside with it,’’ Atchison said. “Just felt good and was following [catcher Victor Martinez’s] lead.
“You want to have their trust enough that they can put you in those situations. Those are the situations you want to pitch in. You want to pitch when the game’s on the line.’’
Because Bard was unavailable, Atchison became the bridge to Jonathan Papelbon.
With the Sox up, 6-4, the closer gave up singles to the first two batters he faced. They moved up on a sacrifice bunt by pinch hitter Corey Patterson, leaving it to the bottom of the Orioles’ order. Papelbon struck out Cesar Izturis and Josh Bell for his 35th save in 41 chances.
Matsuzaka, in his first start since skipping a turn because of back soreness, pitched extremely well over the first five innings. He got the first 10 outs without giving up a hit, the only blemish an error by Mike Lowell at first. But that runner, Luke Scott, was erased on a double play, meaning Matsuzaka had faced only the minimum through 3 1/3 innings.
It would end there, as Nick Markakis doubled to left. That hit barely made a dent for Matsuzaka, though, as he quickly got the next two hitters. The Orioles added just one more hit, also a double, before the sixth, as Matsuzaka showed off his good side, not the slow-as-molasses, nibbling pitcher who has been seen far too many times.
“I think I did a good job for the first five innings, holding the opposing hitters, but it was the first time since I had aggravated my back that I really threw at full strength,’’ Matsuzaka said through interpreter Masa Hoshino, adding that his back did not bother him last night.
“I think there was a little bit of an adjustment that I needed to get over. I think in the sixth inning, I think I rushed a little bit through that inning.’’
Matsuzaka gave up hits to the first three batters for the Orioles’ first run. That last hit, an RBI single from Markakis, brought Sox pitching coach John Farrell out to the mound.
Though Matsuzaka got two of the next three hitters out — walking Scott after a ground out brought home the second run — he could not get Wieters. The Orioles’ catcher doubled for the second time. That brought home two more runners, and brought in Atchison.
“He was using a lot of his fastball early in the game,’’ Martinez said. “They were just popping it up, hitting it into the ground. We just kept using it. Then he started missing it up a little bit.’’
That was what got him in trouble.
“I don’t think he got tired,’’ Francona said. “I think he made a couple mistakes.’’
The Sox did their damage early, scoring five runs in the second inning. It began with a home run by Adrian Beltre, his second in as many nights and 25th of the season. Beltre has hit no more than 26 home runs in any year, other than his monster 2004 with the Dodgers, when he blasted 48.
“He’s taking some ferocious swings,’’ Francona said. “He just continues to go out there and play great baseball.’’
Added Martinez, “He’s having a huge year himself, and at the same time he’s helping this team big time. He’s pretty much carrying us the whole year.’’
That shot was followed by a walk to Jed Lowrie, a single by Lowell, and an error by first baseman Ty Wigginton that allowed Daniel Nava to reach and Lowrie to score. Another run came home on Ryan Kalish’s double. Marco Scutaro also reached, making six straight Sox to get on base.
Two outs came quickly after that. Then David Ortiz singled, bringing in two more runs to up the lead to five.
“David’s two-out hit was huge,’’ Francona said. “We had the bases loaded, we’d already scored the three, had a chance to stay. David takes that nice swing and hits the ball to left field, which was really big for us.’’
So was the win, though there continues to be less and less hope for this team as the days go by and the standings don’t change. The Sox aren’t willing to give up quite yet.
“Got off to a rough start on the road trip, but we were able to finish strong, win these last two, get some momentum going,’’ Atchison said. “Hopefully we can take it home, get on a big roll. You never know what can happen from there.’’