To some, perhaps even most, the definition of a great baseball game must include a game-winning homer, a Top 10 highlight catch, somebody whiffing 18 people, or some such dramatics.
We had only one of those at Fenway last night --- Marlon Byrd's diving robbery of Mike Lowell's third-inning bid for an RBI base hit --- but this was a great baseball game for anyone even remotely attuned to the game's infinite subtleties and quirks. So believe anyone who told you that he or she had been witness to a great game of baseball at Fenway on Monday, July 2, 2007.
1. There was the entire Jacoby Ellsbury saga. Anyone in attendance Monday evening saw the young man from Oregon get his second infield hit; his first hit to the outfield; his first major league stolen base; and, best of all, his first successful major league foray from second base to home plate on a wild pitch. I wonder if this was indeed a Red Sox first?
It was Ellsbury's first, but, presumably, not his last what I call "Omigod moment" of his major league career. When he saw the ball bounce oddly and wildly up to the left of Rangers' catcher Gerald Laird, he knew exactly what to do. When the rest of us saw him rounding third with a full head of steam we all went, "Omigod! He's coming home!" And it wasn't even close.
We had all heard that the kid could run, but it is already evident he is in the elite speed category. Colleague Nick Cafardo firmly believes that one of the reasons he was brought up was to inject some life in a somewhat listless team wheezing to the All-Star break. If that's the case, it's working.
The question is, "What now?" Coco Crisp is nearing a return, which probably means Ellsbury can point the car south on I-95. Oh, if he were only a shortstop. But we will see him again, and soon, I reckon.
2. On a night when J.D. Drew lost a nine-game hitting streak with an 0-for-2, he showed that he is getting back in his groove by drawing four 3-2 counts while walking three times. That's who he was supposed to be.
3. Dustin Pedroia continues to excite. The kid had an opposite-field RBI double. He also had two vicious rocket line-drive outs, including a liner back to the box luckily speared by Willie Eyre, who came very close to having a "Glad-I-wore-my-cup" episode. Don't make any more of this comparison than I'm citing here, but Pedroia reminds me of the early Nomah with his mighty cuts. This kid does not get cheated.
4. Ron Washington turns back the clock on us.
My friend James Isaacs and I marveled as manager Washington allowed Mr. Eyre to stay out there and just keep throwing. Eyre relieved starter Brandon McCarthy with two away in the fourth. He threw the wild pitch that sent Ellsbury in motion, although the run was charged to McCarthy. Now when a modern manager makes a change like that it normally signals a parade of hurlers.
Not this time. Eyre came back out in the fifth. And sixth. And seventh. His pitch count mounted into the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s and, finally --- amazingly --- into the 80s. The pitch he threw to retire Julio Lugo with the bases loaded in the seventh was his 83rd!
You may go to a 100 major leagues games between now and the end of the World Series, and I bet you right now that in none of them will a so-called middle reliever get to throw 83 pitches. Now it could be that Washington does this all the time and no one told me. I do know I'll be paying attention to Texas box scores from now on.
By the way, the three Texas pitchers (Joaquin Beloit worked the eighth and fanned the side) combined to throw 181 pitches. I'm surprised the game only took 3:18.
5. Explain fans to me. Kason Gabbard takes a no-no into the fifth. He loses it on a routine single through the third base/shortstop hole by Laird. The (apparently) appreciative crowd gives him a well-deserved prolonged ovation. The next batter is Brad Wilkerson and he launches a three-run bomb into the Texas pen. Now I'm hearing boos, and I mean more than just a few. One batter later! Where do these people come from? And, yes, he gets a nice ovation when Terry Francona lifts him with two outs in the sixth, but I still wonder how anyone could have booed that Wilkerson homer. Am I missing something?
6. The Timlin Chronicles continue. The beleaguered vet relieved Gabbard and retired Victor Diaz on a grounder with Byrd perched on second. He got the first two men in the seventh before Travis Metcalf doubled into the left field corner. Francona brought in Javier Lopez to face Kenny Lofton, who ended the inning with a grounder to third.
It's no secret the Fenway faithful want no more of Mike Timlin. This was perhaps best summed up early Tuesday morning by a woman of my acquaintance who said, "You know how they say stress causes weight gain? Well, my stress is when Mike Timlin comes into the game. That's when I head to the refrigerator."
7. Manny Being Manny, Part Infinity.
Manny hits one to dead center in the third. Manny watches. The ball hits the wall. Manny has to go into third gear to get himself a double, and never mind that Ellsbury would have had a stand-up triple. Manny should have been cruising into second.
Once again under the heading of MBM, I find it amusing that Manny seems gung-ho on being in San Francisco for the All-Star Game the one year in a dozen he doesn't remotely belong in it. Where's the sick Granny or bum knee when we need it? As Shaughnessy always says, you can't make this stuff up.
8. Okajima cruises through a 1-2-3 ninth that includes Rembrandt-like painting with that 87/88 mph heater. But what else is new?
Anyway, it was a superb all-around night of baseball. There was so much to talk about, so much to analyze. I wonder if the beachball-swatting, "Sweet Caroline"-singing patrons among the 36,7878 privileged to be there had any idea what they had just seen.
P.S. As a bonus, Ray Allen threw an Okajima-like fastball on the black for a first pitch. Very impressive.