Tuesday, August 15, 2006

This loss REALLY stings

It was a game that had all the makings of one of those classic Fenway victories. You know the ones, when the Sox pile onto their sacred sod, smiling, backslapping, and high-fiving like Little Leaguers as "Dirty Water" plays in the background; meanwhile the Faithful trickle out of the Old Ballyard with smiles on their faces and confidence in their step as they head for the nearest watering hole, or to their $40 parking spaces, knowing that their beloved team is going to topple The Evil Empire, and anyone else in their path to glory.
But something happened on the way to all those good feelings, and there was plenty of blame to go around for this heartbreaking 3-2, 9th inning loss to baseball's best team.
It had all the makings of a rare Fenway pitcher's duel for 6 innings. Sox savoir Curt Schilling was given a 1-0 lead in the 3rd, courtesy of a 3rd inning bomb by, of all people, Coco Crisp. Being as that he has been criticized for everything from his Damon-esque arm to inconsistencies at the plate, I think he was whisked away for a urine test immediately after the ball landed over the bullpens. Other than that anomaly, Tiger hurler Jeremy Bonderman, in the top 20 ERA & wins in MLB, was matching Schill zero for zero, and it stayed that way until the 7th.
Of course Schill was still out there for the 7th. It has become clear in his last few outings that Schill and Tito have come to an arrangement: he will pitch until he is physically unable to take the mound anymore, and HE will be the one to blow his games, not the flamable Boston pen.
No problem there (just picture the Bloody Sock). So in the 7th there was no action in the pen and no reason to think he was going to cough up that precious 1-run lead with 9 outs to go. After all, he had only given up 6 hits to that point, and when the Sox cut down the potential tying run at the plate in the 6th everyone thought they would be going home happy.
But in the seventh, things got interesting. Consecutive singles by Carlos Guillen and Pudge (now that he's off the 'roids, can we give him another nickname? How 'bout "stick?") Rodriguez to open the inning set off that all-too-familiar feeling in the pits of RSN's stomach. Up steps recently paroled (from Pitt) Sean Casey, who had a big hit in the Tiger's win on Monday. Well guess what? The man formerly known as "The Mayor" in Cincy shoots a double between WMP & Coco, scoring both runners and sending a hush through the formerly giddy crowd. If Casey keeps this up, he's gonna be the new Mayor of D-Town, too. 2-1 Tigers, 3 innings left.
Boston threatened in the bottom half when WMP doubled with 2 out. But what came next really hurt: 'Belli hit a soft popup behind second that would have scored Pena had it dropped into no-man's land. But Tiger 2B Placido Polanco made a twisting, lunging circus catch, extending his arm at the last second, snaring the ball, and in the process dislocating his shoulder. A terrific play to be sure, but the old Bleacher Bum in me quietly cheered when Orsillo announced "Polanco makes a spectacular catch, & injures his shoulder in the process". Sorry, I admit it. (I feel even worse now that they say he is probably out for the year).
Timlin came in and pitched a scoreless 8th (whew!). The bottom of the inning would provide the fireworks that all members of the nation have come to expect the past 3+ seasons- Big Papi getting a clutch hit. Coco reached on an infield single (more like Coco) and moved to second on a Loretta ground out. Papi up, no brainer to walk him with first open, right? Nah. Human chimney Det. manager Jim Leyland instead brings in Ledezma to relieve Bonderman AND ACTUALLY ELECTS TO PITCH TO PAPI W/ THE TYING RUN ON 2ND & 1ST BASE OPEN. Smooth move, Marlboro Man. Papi promptly laces a single to right as Coco raced around with they tying run, and the legion of Tiger fans had to be pulling their hair out over Leyland's decision. New game, 2-2, heading into the final frame, and you could smell the comeback in the air.
Ah, but something happened on the way to good times. These frisky felines wouldn't go away.
With Timlin still in, he gave up a walk to Guillen and then a 2-out single to (who else) The Mayor of Detroit (it's official now) and the game was on the line with Craig Monroe at the plate. What happened next will be the subject of intense debate & rage for the next 24 hours in The Hub; Monroe sent a blooper towards the stands near Pesky's pole. WMP came racing in to try and catch what looked like a foul ball, with Guillen tagging at third; trouble is, the ball was fair, WMP missed it as it fell in for a hit, and the Tiger scored what would be the winning run.
Was this loss WMP's fault? He could have, perhaps should have caught the ball. But in fairness to him, it was a very tricky play that probably would have scored the run even if he had caught it. Plus, there was one out, so Detroit would've had another chance to score. And given the sorry state of affairs with the Boston pen these days, they probably would have blown it anyway.
But Pena will be vilified. Schill & Papi questioned for staying in too long. Timlin ripped for his sudden inability to get any big outs. And it all adds up to a second crushing loss to the team with the best record in baseball, with one more to play against them before the Stanks come to town. Good times in Beantown, huh?
Tonight, 7:00, ESPN: Wells (1-2, 6.23) vs. Verlander (14-5, 2.95). Yikes.

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