I think the lack of celebration of regular season success is a big negative for sports and sports fans everywhere. The focus on postseason success nullifies the great things accomplished in the longer, harder-to-succeed-at-length regular season, particularly the things accomplished by good teams who run into a wall soon after most of the other teams go home, and I’m not just saying this to rationalize about anticipated sour grapes if the Red Sox are bounced in 3 games in the division series. So this post is in large part to celebrate this, the most fantastic regular season of my Red Sox fanhood. Because who knows what will happen, and having a tie for the best record in MLB (Cardinals) and the AL best record outright is an accomplishment to be celebrated–six months of good, hard work that shouldn’t be disregarded if the Sox fail to play up to their capability in October.
These are obviously subjective choices. Some of the games I listed earlier as “not quite top 10″ would easily make the top 10 list for other people. But check out the heroics, emotional moments, and high comedy that make up my personal choices below the jump. The second half will appear some time before the Red Sox take the field on Friday.
#10: Sox Barely Beat Scherzer (9/3)
One of the most satisfying ways to win is to beat another team’s ace, particularly if your own ace beats them back, particularly if your own ace beats them back in a legitimate duel. Lester was in trouble much of the day with runners in scoring position, while Scherzer had only a couple of trouble spots, but the two “in play, run(s)” plays of the game had the singular version in one and the plural version in the other, and that was the difference.
The first critical play is in the 2nd, when prodigal shortstop Iglesias doubles to center off Lester with runners on the corners and 2 out. A run scores, but the runner attempting to score from 1st is cut down by a Victorino-Drew-Ross relay to end the inning. In the top of the 5th, the Tigers threaten again when Cabrera, hurting (he didn’t play the next day), but still perhaps the best hitter in the game, comes up with the bases loaded and 2 out. Cabrera works a 2-0 count, then fouls one off, before sending a routine grounder to short.
The final offensive “outburst” in this game comes in the bottom of the 5th. Gomes singles before Drew hits a ball that hops over the fence in right-center. With 2nd and 3rd, one out, Ross strikes out, bringing Will Middlebrooks up. If Scherzer pitches as he is capable of in this spot, the Sox likely lose the affair 1-0 and are shut out for the second day in a row. But instead Max hangs a slider on his very first pitch, barely away from the middle of the zone, and Middlebrooks slings it back up the middle to score both baserunners. The pitchers on both sides bend, but never break thereafter. Except Uehara, who does not bend an inch, retiring the three batters he faces (in the midst of his 37-in-a-row streak) to seal the 2-1 victory.
#9: Sox Murder Tigers, Hit 8 Home Runs (9/4)
Most of these games by their nature of being extraordinary/special are relatively close affairs. This one was not; it was the most fun laugher of the year.
Coming the day after the Scherzer-Lester duel, this game starts out as a back-and-forth slugfest as one might have expected with Porcello and Dempster starting: no runs score in the 1st, but from the bottom of the 2nd through the bottom of the 4th, runs are scored in every half-inning and after 4, both teams have 4. Detroit is held scoreless in the 5th, and Boston scores another run. Then in the 6th, the bottom falls out of the barrel after Detroit can’t score again and the Red Sox score 8 runs to make it a joke. As if that’s not enough, they score 5 in the 7th and another 2 in the 8th. In the end, the score is 20-4. This is the second game of the season in which the Sox come one inning shy of scoring in every half-inning at home.
The 8 home runs were hit by:
Drew (a long way to right just fair over the Pesky Pole)
Ellsbury (into the first row of seats about 30 feet past the Pesky Pole, got just enough)
Ortiz (right-center, a few rows up over the bullpens)
Middlebrooks (just over the Monster’s back row of seats into the lot/roof below)
Nava (Koji almost catches it in the bullpen in right-center)
Lavarnway (BARELY over the wall at almost the left-most part of fair territory, this one is called a double before being reviewed and awarded on replay)
Ortiz 2 (to almost the same place over the bullpens as before)
Napoli (to the same place as Papi, but the first row past the bullpens)
This is also the game where Papi got hits 1999 (home run), 2000 (double that allowed the fans to cheer him at length as he doffed his helmet), and 2001 (home run). The peeps running the public address system made a divine choice in broadcasting “Also Sprach Zarathustra”, the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey, for Ortiz’s 2001st hit. (I don’t much care for most of that movie, but the majesty of the music combined with hit #2001 combined with home run = freaking awesome to watch Ortiz running the bases/getting high fives to a soundtrack.)
#8: Sox Clinch Division Title (9/20)
This was a pulse-pounding game for me (my wife was kind enough to take child-rearing duties so I could focus on this game entirely in its last hour), and a worthy game for the clincher. For me, it sort of summed up the season in a single game: it looked sort of easy in the end, but never felt like it during the game and was only over when it was really over, despite a fairly comfy cushion.
The Sox score a run in the 1st on a wild pitch and threaten for more, but Ortiz is thrown out at home to end the inning. A bases-loaded walk by Carp with 1 out in the 3rd drives in the next run, but the Sox don’t score anymore, one of those “they should be up by 5 by now” games with liners caught with men in scoring position and double plays with the bases loaded and such.
In the 5th, Sox killer Rajai Davis gets on, steals 2nd and is driven in by Brett Lawrie, all with 2 out. But Salty catches Lawrie trying to steal 2nd, and that’s that rally snuffed, and Lester otherwise holds them down through his 7-inning outing.
Boston finally breaks through again after Lester leaves in the 7th inning, with Ortiz getting a soft liner to center with the bases loaded to score one, and one out later, Carp hits what seems to be the dagger in Toronto’s back (and Tampa Bay’s), a slightly harder liner to left-center, scoring two runs and making the score 5-1.
But Tazawa comes in and gives up a double to Davis on an 0-2 pitch. With one out, Adam Lind homers, and it’s 5-3. Tazawa allows another baserunner before Farrell calls Uehara in for a 5-out save, his second-longest outing by number of outs for Uehara on the season (the longest was an extra-inning effort for Uehara against Tampa Bay in June for 6 outs). Uehara gets out #2, but then gives up an infield single, and the go-ahead run comes to the plate in JP Arencibia. The Toronto catcher is not a good hitter, but has explosive power when he connects, so the situation is fairly tense. Thankfully, the numbers play out as expected, and Arencibia strikes out.
The Sox score an insurance run, Koji lets Jose Reys on with 1 out in the next inning before retiring the immortal Davis, and finally, finally, finally striking out Brett Lawrie. I pump my fist wildly over and over again in my living room, the Sox douse themselves in champagne, and the fetid stink of 2012 is entirely gone.
#7: Sox Come Back Big On Yanks (9/6)
This one came after an emotionally draining game that just might appear later in this list, and with Doubront in something of a funk and Pettitte up to hurl for the Yanks, a letdown was almost expected. It appeared to be on track for that, as the Yanks kept answering one-run outbursts by the Sox with two-run innings of their own (a couple of triples by Gardner and Nunez among their RBI hits) and it was 8-3 Yanks after 6 complete. Then the top of the 7th happened.
Most of the problem for the Yankees in one sentence: Andy Pettitte is replaced by Phil Hughes. The rest is just details following from that fact.
Single (Ross), flyout (Middlebrooks), single (Victorino), walk (Carp), RBI single (Pedroia). Now the bases are loaded for big Papi with one out. Boone Logan replaces Hughes, and the lefty sets Papi down on strikes. So it’s up to pushing-for-the-franchise-strikeout-record Napoli (he was pushing for it at the time, he cleared it and then some before the season was over) to get the big hit with 2 down. A fairly epic 8-pitch AB ensues where the count goes full, Napoli fouls off a cookie, then spoils a pretty good pitch up and away. When he finally connects, it is with a pitch away that he goes with. Ichiro plays the big fly just a bit casually, missing an opportunity, and the ball bounces just over the right field wall (Yanks hoisted by their own short porch petard!) and into the seats and suddenly the game is tied.
The Yanks go quietly in their half. Ross K’s to start the 8th, but then Middlebrooks singles and Victorino hits a drive to left that puts the Sox ahead by 2. They score two more that inning, and although Morales tries to let the Yanks back in it in the bottom half, they don’t score again. Uehara (still streaking) mows them down on 12 pitches in the 9th and the Sox have another tremendously satisfying win over the Yankees.
#6: Emotional At Fenway (4/20)
The previous day’s game had been postponed due to the manhunt for the perpetrators of the marathon bombing, and this would be the first home game back in Boston after the bombs went off five days before. With one suspect caught and another dead, the show went on, starting with a tribute to the victims (my wife and I both shed tears), continuing with David Ortiz saying “This is our fucking city” on TV, and going on after that with a game that was perfect for the cathartic release Fenway and Boston needed.
The first 4 innings are almost event-free (one runner gets to 2nd, and that one with 2 out), but then Lorenzo Cain doubles off Buchholz with nobody out in the 5th, and two batters later, Jeff Francoeur drives him in. The Sox get the run back when, in the 6th, Ortiz (playing for the first time this season) singles Ellsbury in with 2 out. But Cain hits yet another leadoff double in the 7th, and the Royals go ahead again when Salvador Perez triples with 2 out. Chris Getz tries to bunt with 2 out to drive the runner in from 3rd, but Pedroia (who will do something similar to Tampa Bay in June) denies Getz the RBI, and it’s on to the bottom half of the 7th.
The first two reach for Boston, but at 2nd base, Nava (the prospective tying run) is picked off with nobody out and the opportunity is squelched. An inning later, Gomes leads off with a double, and Pedroia follows with a walk, but Ortiz hits into a DP. Napoli walks, to give 7th-inning goat Nava a chance to become the 8th-inning hero with 2 on and 2 out. On a 1-1 count, he makes contact, yelling “Stretch!” like he’s Hawk Harrelson as he watches the ball sail to right-center. Uehara catches it enthusiastically in the bullpen, the crowd goes completely wild, and the Sox are up by 2 just as the 9th inning rolls around. It does not prove easy: Bailey allows a leadoff blast to, of course, Lorenzo Cain, who scores for the third time (accounting for all of KC’s runs). Outs alternate with baserunners and the tying run is at 2nd with 2 down for Alex Gordon. Ball, foul, ball, foul, ball, grounder to short, and the triumph is complete. The Sox lose both halves of next day’s doubleheader, but who cares, really? This was the game that mattered, cosmically.