Closing time: Resilient Red Sox rebound from blown save, walk off past Blue Jays
|06.30.13 at 4:51 pm ET|
The Red Sox walked off with a 5-4 win Sunday afternoon at Fenway Park, the home team’s third win of the four-game weekend set, when Shane Victorino‘s game-ending ground ball through the right side was misplayed by Blue Jays first baseman Josh Thole. The rally came one-half inning after Koji Uehara, who entered the game a perfect 3-for-3 in save opportunities since being named the Red Sox closer, gave up a one-out, game-tying home run to Jose Bautista in the top of the ninth, interrupting what had been an impressive group effort from the Red Sox relief corps.
But, as has often been the case this year, the Sox still ended up with a victory despite a late-innings falter. The team is now 7-5 in games in which it has had a blown save.
“The big thing was that we won,” said a relieved Uehara. “I can completely focus on my next [game]. Maybe if we had lost, it might have lingered a little bit, but we won, so it was very good.”
Craig Breslow (2/3 innings, one run), Alex Wilson (1/3 scoreless) and Andrew Miller (1 2/3 scoreless) built the bridge from starter Ryan Dempster to Uehara, escaping multiple jams as the Red Sox clung to a narrow lead.
Bautista’s long ball was bookended by what could have been a troubling Jose Reyes looper down the right field line that Shane Victorino came up with and a hard single up the middle from Edwin Encarnacion. Uehara got Josh Thole (strikeout) and Rajai Davis (lineout) in order, however, to set the stage for Victorino’s dramatics and the Red Sox’ seventh walk-off win of the month. They had three in all of 2012.
“A lot of doubters doubted us. A lot of people, I think, doubted this team, the capabilities that we had,” said Victorino. “This team reminds me of some of the winning teams that I’ve played on, the resiliency, the playing until there are 27 outs no matter how many runs you’re down. Stick all the way until 27 outs are made or if you go into extras, keep battling. That’s the kind of stuff, what’s important, and to me, what’s made this team where we are and how good we are and where we are, in first place, and with 50 wins. You know what, people are going to keep talking about that, it’s not enough, we have to keep going. It’s a tough division. There’s teams barreling down on us and we have the target on our back because we’re in first place. But you know what, we’re up for the challenge, we play every inning, every out like it’s the last and we focus on that. That’s what’s important.”
How to explain both that prevalence of late-innings heroics and the fact that the team has reached 50 wins (50-34) by the end of June for just the fourth time in franchise history (last accomplished in 2008)? Manager John Farrell pointed to unexpected contributors such as recent call-up Brandon Snyder who have helped to create a roster that has run more than 25 deep in terms of those who have been part of a winning culture this season.
“We’ve been consistent. We’ve got a very deep team because it’s been well-documented, those guys that need days off and guys that have been missed for periods of time, there’s been some inconsistencies performance-wise, I think it speaks to the overall depth of this team,” Farrell said of the victory total. “It’s certainly not a milestone by any means. We’ve got a long, long way to go yet. To me that’s what it means: depth of the team.”
WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX
— Dempster looked as sharp as he could possibly be to start ‘ he retired the first eight Blue Jays on 31 pitches ‘ and did a good job of working out of trouble the rest of the way.
He ended a two-on, two-out threat in the third by inducing a 30-foot squibbler off the bat off Jose Bautista. In the fourth inning, the only in which Toronto scored off of him, four of the first five batters reached to make it 3-1, but Dempster didn’t let it get away from him. First baseman Daniel Nava had trouble getting a would-be double play started to allow another run to score before the right-hander got Munenori Kawasaki to harmlessly ground out.
Dempster bounced back with an eight-pitch fifth inning before loading the bases with nobody out in the sixth before Breslow bailed him out.
In all, Dempster ended his day charged with two runs (both earned) on seven hits and three walks in 5 1/3 innings. He also struck out two in his shortest outing of the month, failing to finish six innings for the first time since May 23 to end a run of six straight quality starts.
However, it was also the first time in that stretch that he didn’t give up a long ball. Opposing batters had gone yard off of Dempster eight time in that six-start stretch. He would have been in line for the victory but for Koji Uehara‘s blown save in the ninth inning.
“On a day like today, it was smoking hot out there, and Dempster gave us everything he had,” said Farrell. “I thought Ryan did a very good job of minimizing the damage and keeping it only to two runs.”
— While Victorino’s chopper clanged off Thole’s glove for the game-winning play, the outfielder continued to deliver spectacular defensive work to ensure that the game remained tied. He made a spectacular sliding catch down into the low wall down the right field line on a Jose Reyes pop-up to lead off the ninth. Had he not made the play, Reyes would have been on board for Bautista’s homer.
“Given that the next hitter hit one out of the ballpark, you can look at a number of things that saved the day. That catch that he slides, it’s a fair ball,” noted Farrell. “One of the main reasons he’s been signed here is to cover that ground. Just an outstanding job again today. We’ve seen it a number of times. I can’t say that we’ve become accustomed to it or take it for granted, the range he has out there, but he’s made many many plays equivalent to today’s.”
— Left-hander Andrew Miller was dominant in pitching 1 2/3 scoreless innings, most notably when he struck out Josh Thole and Rajai Davis back-to-back to end the seventh inning. His at-bat against Davis was particularly overpowering, as Miller elicited a bad swing-and-miss at a back-foot slider, a bad swing-and-miss at an elevated 97 mph fastball up and away and then got Davis looking at a slider down the middle for a called third strike.
His effort followed what may have been the pivotal sequence of the game from Craig Breslow. The left-hander entered the gave with the bases loaded and one out for Dempster in the top of the sixth, and got an infield pop-up and strikeout to stifle a Jays rally and preserve a 4-2 Boston lead. Though Breslow would yield a solo homer to Jose Reyes in the top of the seventh, his relief work still loomed large.
“You hate to put that on anybody to come in there and Brez just made some big pitches there and got out of that unscathed,” said Dempster. “You need those during the year and hopefully I don’t put him into too many of those situations.”
— Brandon Snyder had totaled 13 RBIs in 100 major league at-bats spread out over four seasons coming into Sunday’s game, but in the second inning vs. Buehrle the third baseman rocketed a double to left-center to score Nava and Ryan Lavarnway. He went 2-for-4, and set in motion the Sox’ game-winning rally in the ninth with a single.
Although third base isn’t his primary position, Snyder held his own at the hot corner, routinely handling everything sent his way. Most notable was a backhanded stop and throw to get J.P. Arencibia in the eighth.
“I feel good. I feel confident,” Snyder said of his work at third. “I’ve been doing a lot of extra work with [infield coach Brian Butterfield], and it’s to the point now that it doesn’t feel like it’s my secondary position. It’s where I feel most comfortable right now.”
— Jonny Gomes has continued to be productive in his part-time role. His RBI double off to left in the fifth inning, which put the Sox up 4-2 at the time, was his seventh RBI in his last six games spread out over 13 days. He is hitting .286 in that time.
WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX
— Uehara suffered his first blown save since being anointed the new Red Sox closer. Pitching for the fourth time in five days, he left a splitter up against Jays slugger Bautista, who launched the offering into the stratosphere for his third long ball in two days. The homer snapped a string of 15 straight batters retired by Uehara. Though the right-hander has held opponents to a paltry .172 average, he’s yielded five homers on the year, including four against right-handed hitters.
Uehara acknowledged that, even after not pitching on Saturday, he’s still feeling a degree of fatigue that stays with him on the mound.
“It was better, but of course I can’t say that it was completely gone,” Uehara said. “For me, a break is just not coming to the ballpark and staying at home. It wasn’t a complete day off for me.”
— Dustin Pedroia (0-for-3, walk) and Shane Victorino (0-for-5) were hitless for the first time since last Saturday and last Sunday, respectively. Pedroia had been on a 14-for-26 tear (.538) while Victorino had hit in five straight at 9-for-22 (.409).
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