This second part in a two-part series deals largely (4 out of the 5 games) in what many of us baseball fans love the most: snatching victory from the jaws of defeat in the 9th! On to the top 5.
#5: 9th Inning Rally Against Cleveland (5/26)
This one was a game the Indians “should have” won, but kind of deserved to lose when the game is examined in detail.
There are four run-scoring events throughout the game for Cleveland. Two of them are solo shots off Doubront, hard to make a mistake there. But both of the other run-scoring plays by the Indians involve dumb base-running blunders that might well have deprived the Indians of more runs and the chance to put the Red Sox away: in the 1st, Carlos Santana gets thrown out at 2nd trying to stretch a 2-RBI single into a double, and in the 8th, Asdrubal Cabrera wanders way too far off first base on a line drive sac fly to left by Nick Swisher, leading to the rare sacrifice double play (the runner at 3rd scored). (To be fair, Nava gets thrown out at 2nd trying to stretch his own RBI single into a double in the 3rd.) Following Cabrera’s gaffe, Drew leads off the home half of the 8th with a triple and comes home on Iglesias’s sac fly. But that’s all the Sox get and they trail 5-2 when their half of the 9th rolls around.
Pedroia starts with a walk and Ortiz laces a double to center, putting two runners in scoring position to start the inning. They both score, but on subsequent RBI groundouts by Napoli and Saltalamacchia (Ortiz steals 3rd during Salty’s AB!). So it’s 2 out, bases empty, and down a run. Hope dimming rapidly. But Gomes draws a 5-pitch walk and Drew singles to follow, driving Gomes, the tying run, to 3rd. Iglesias steps into the box, and has a great at-bat against closer Chris Perez, eventually walking on 7 pitches. Ellsbury comes up with the bases loaded. In the middle of the AB, on a 2-1 count (which perhaps should be a 1-2 count and that one-strike swing might be the difference in the game), Perez is removed due to injury with Joe Smith taking his place. And although one could certainly argue that the sidearmer is a much better pitcher than his closing counterpart, it doesn’t matter today. Smith throws a pitch away on the edge of the zone. Ellsbury, looking for something in the zone on the hitter’s count with the bases loaded, drives the ball to left-center. It splits the outfielders, one-hops to the base of the scoreboard, the two relevant runs are driven in by Ellsbury’s double, and the day belongs to the Red Sox, 6-5.
#4: Middlebrooks Delivers A Jaw-Dropper (5/16)
The Red Sox had swept the abbreviated 3-game (should have been a 4-game) series with the Rays at Fenway in April, but were down late and about to lose a rubber match at the Trop in mid-May. This game had probably the most unlikely game-winning hit of the season. I mean, scoring off Rodney isn’t that unexpected, but given Middlebrooks’s early-season struggles and the Red Sox’ travails with the Rays (especially at the Trop) in the past, it was a stunner of a win.
The game is a 1-1 tie through 5 and a half (Ryan Roberts solo shot, Ortiz RBI single scores Victorino after his double), but Doubront walks Loney to start the bottom of the 6th. He is replaced by Mortensen, who gets a groundout, but then walks the next 2 batters to load the bases. Desmond Jennings singles, scoring one run to break the tie, before Andrew Miller (who I predict will be severely missed this October) is called in. Things look like they are taking a severe turn for the worse when birther and total asshole Luke Scott singles to score another run to make it 3-1. However, Miller strikes out Zobrist with the bases still loaded and gets a grounder to 3rd from Longoria to preserve the deficit at 2 runs. From there until the top of the 9th, only one runner gets on base, so it’s 3-1 Rays going to the critical final inning.
Rodney gets in the game and does what I’m sure Maddon had in mind when he walks Pedroia on 6 pitches (all fastballs, until he misses with his change for ball 4) and Ortiz on 4 (alternating fastball/changeup), bringing the go-ahead run up. With this development, Rodney suddenly finds his changeup again, and is able to locate it in the zone to strike out Napoli. Then he loses it again to walk Nava (this time on 7 pitches) and thereby walk the bases loaded. Rodney, laboring at this point, makes his changeup work again, throwing 3 of them to Drew and striking him out. So 1 out from defeat, up comes the struggling Middlebrooks who is quickly down 0-2 (both fastballs) before taking another fastball for ball 1, this one 100 MPH. Middlebrooks says after the fact that he was looking for the changeup on the fourth (and it turns out, final) pitch to him and he gets it. Rodney leaves it up and Middlebrooks doesn’t miss. It just eludes an outfielder in left-center to go all the way to the wall and Pedroia, Ortiz, and Nava all score to make it 4-3 Sox! Rodney then walks Salty (oof) and is pulled before the final out is made.
But it’s not over yet and total asshole Luke Scott singles off Tazawa (who is starting his second inning of work after a clean 8th) to start the Rays’ half and bring the winning run to the plate. Zobrist gives Sox fans a mini-heart-attack when he lines it to short. Evan Longoria comes up representing the winning run, but today Tazawa has his number, as Longoria strikes out on 3 pitches (called, called, swinging). It seems to be winding down now, but maybe Tazawa lets up a little after getting the big K, as Yunel Escobar singles to prolong the agony. With Loney at the plate and the winning run on base, Tazawa ups his game again, throwing two breaking pitches for strikes (called, swinging) before he throws a 95 MPH heater that Loney sends over to short to end the game. Whew!
#3: Sox Stun Mariano, Yanks (9/5)
*cheesy announcer voice* In a world where the Red Sox are still two weeks from clinching, in a time when the Yankees appeared to surge back from a likely defeat and back into the division race, one Red Sox team dared to come back against the best closer in history. */cheesy announcer voice*
The Red Sox are up 7-2 when things rapidly unravel. Peavy looks to get his first ever win against the Yanks, but starts the 7th by walking Suzuki. Then Wells singles, sending Ichiro to 3rd. Farrell has seen enough, and sends Thornton out there. Gardner singles, making the score 7-3, before Thornton infuriatingly walks the shambling corpse of Derek Jeter (I do hope he feels better next year, but I mean, he was a wreck this season, that can’t really be denied). Thornton finally gets the first out of the inning when Cano grounds into a force play at 2nd, but a run still scores and there’s no DP. 7-4. Tazawa comes in to face Soriano now, and Farrell has the infield shift way over to the left side. Seems like Tazawa didn’t get the memo to pitch accordingly as his second pitch is a fastball away that Soriano grounds through the vacated right side. 7-5. Tazawa gets Granderson into an 0-2 count, but that’s not enough as Granderson hits a vicious line drive to right for a double that sends Soriano to 3rd and scores another run. 7-6. A-Rod can’t get it done though and strikes out to finally, finally get out #2. Red Sox castoff Lyle Overbay steps up, and is quickly down 1-2 as Sox fans everywhere pray this evaporating lead is still somehow maintained. Nope. Overbay sends it into right, and the two runners in scoring position touch home (and Overbay goes to 2nd on the throw). 8-7. Ichiro strikes out, but I don’t see that part as I am pounding the couch, the mattress, screaming into pillows, anything to keep me from hurling my phone into my TV so I can never watch stupid fucking baseball ever a-fucking-gain.
But then it’s oh so quiet. So, so quiet as noboby gets on base again until the 9th inning when Rivera comes in. I followed this part on my computer in abject disgust. Ortiz hits a liner to 1st that Overbay snags. Ortiz’s “hmph, I was expecting a double” expression is pretty funny as he walks back to the dugout. Then Nava grounds to 1st and all hope seems lost when K king Napoli steps up with the bases empty. But to his credit, he has a tremendous AB, and on a full count, he singles on a solid fly to center. I figure that this is a small moral victory and decide I’ll go do the dishes and hope for the best while expecting the worst. So I don’t see the following until watching the replay later: Quintin Berry steps in for Napoli at 1st as Drew steps up to take his chances against (again) the greatest closer baseball has ever known. Rivera throws ball 1 and Berry is going. Catcher Austin Romine flings the ball into center field and Berry heads for 3rd. Rivera throws another cutter to Drew, this time in enough to handcuff Drew, but not enough to keep Drew from sending a soft liner just over the infield into right, scoring Berry. The 3rd out is made thereafter, but the Sox have touched Rivera and the game is tied. 8-8.
In the bottom half, Breslow is pitching (having come on in the 8th). Cano lines out, but Soriano gets on base when Breslow walks him on 4 pitches. Soriano steals 2nd, and the winning run is in scoring position for the Yankees with Granderson up. But Soriano gets greedy and tries for 3rd. This time, Breslow is aware and fires to Middlebrooks, and Soriano is caught in the rundown and put out before Granderson strikes out to end regulation.
In the top of the 10th, Ellsbury singles and steals 2nd off Joba Chamberlain with 1 out while Victorino is up. On a 1-2 count for Shane, on the sixth pitch of the AB, Victorino swings, attempts to check it but clearly swings. But not according to the ump. So with new, undeserved life, Victorino drives in the go-ahead run on a line drive to right. 9-8. The Sox go down thereafter and Uehara comes out. In the box score, it’s just another three outs in a row for Koji, popup (Rodriguez), K (Overbay), K (Ichiro), but that ignores Overbay’s AB, which is incredibly drawn-out, 12 pitches long, featuring 6 foul balls including 4 in a row after the count is full. I know I was breathless. In the end, Uehara wins again and Ichiro’s strikeout only takes 4 pitches and the Sox have come back from getting kicked in the crotch to deliver their own nut punch.
Also, if you are counting, you might notice that 4 of these top 10 games came in four days (9/3-9/6…a truly sublime week of baseball, especially when combined with the Rays’ epic early September tanking). It’s also worth noting that in his last two appearances against Boston, Rivera blew the save (the other one is three days later when Middlebrooks finds the short porch in Mariano’s second inning of work, after which the Sox beat themselves when Workman throws a wild pitch with 2 out and Ichiro at 3rd in the 9th…this is the only game the Sox lose against the Yanks in their final seven games with them), though he did get 4 saves against them earlier in the year (all of them with 3-run cushions, giving up one run in those appearances).
#2: Peavy Shows ‘Em How It’s Done (8/25)
The final score was 8-1 in Peavy’s complete game gem against the Dodgers, so this may seem like an odd choice, especially so high on the list…but the Sox had played extremely uninspired baseball against not-great opponents in the three weeks prior, eking out a series victory against the Astros before losing a 4-gamer to KC, losing a 3-game series to the Blue Jays, and losing a 3-game set to the Yankees at Fenway (!!!, this was the only series the Red Sox lost to the Yanks). They started to pick it up again with a series victory over the Giants, but still looked out of sync, losing the opener of the Dodgers series 2-0, and then somehow making a 4-run 1st inning enough for a 4-2 victory the next day. So Carl Crawford’s dream of a sweep died there, but the Dodgers were still in good position for a series win.
And then Peavy fired his salvo. It was a legitimately magnificent outing. Peavy gave up 3 hits (one of them a solo shot by Adrian Gonzalez to go along with 2 harmless singles) and a walk. He retired the last 12 batters he faced. The Dodgers had exactly one opportunity (3rd inning) with a runner in scoring position. Crawford was the batter. He struck out.
The Red Sox won the following six series, sewing up the division. They even managed to beat the Orioles at Camden (along with the White Sox at Fenway, the Tigers at Fenway, the Yanks at both possible venues, and, to put the division solidly out of reach for their closest competitors, the Rays at the Trop).
I don’t much believe in momentum, but at the time, it felt like a righteous victory over a historically hot team (the Dodgers had not lost a series in a couple of months) in their house, and the Red Sox never looked back.
#1: Sox Score 6 in 9th (8/1)
It’s hard to top being down 7-2 in the 9th (and 7-1 in the 8th) and winning. I only got to follow this piecemeal on Gameday as we were going through my son’s bedtime routine and I was still bouncing off the walls despite not being connected visually, sort of like how it used to be following on radio, I imagine.
King Felix puts the Sox to sleep through 7, as he is wont to do, and Henry Blanco’s grand slam (how often are you going to see the phrase “Henry Blanco’s grand slam”?–his average is .176 at the end of the game) has been a large part of putting the Sox into a deep hole in the late innings. The one run the Sox score in the 3rd is on a sacrifice double play by David Ortiz, where Pedroia tries to tag and go to 2nd and is thrown out to end the inning. In the bottom of the 8th, Shane Victorino hits a leadoff home run, but that’s all they get, so the Sox trail by 5 heading into the 9th.
Seattle’s closer Wilhelmsen comes in and immediately walks Nava on 4 pitches. In a 6-pitch AB, Lavarnway singles before Brock Holt doubles on a 2-1 count, driving in Nava and sending Lavarnway to 3rd. 7-3. Then Ellsbury walks on 5 pitches to load the bases and bring the tying run to the plate. And with that, acting manager Robby Thompson (filling in for Eric Wedge, who recently had a minor stroke) comes out to get righty Yoervis Medina to the mound to face Victorino and Pedroia while Oliver Perez is warming for Ortiz. But in a stroke (oh wow, that pun was literally unintended) of very bad fortune for the Mariners, Thompson signals with his left hand before attempting to correct his mistake and point at his right hand. The umpries rule that since he raised his left hand, that’s that, the lefty Perez is coming in. Seems weird to this Sox fan that the manager can’t bring in the pitcher he intended because he had a momentary lapse into oopsyville, but who am I to deny the Sox a bit of luck in a sticky situation? As expected, the lefty facing Victorino and Pedroia does not work out, and they each hit run-scoring singles (2 and 1 run each, respectively) to bring the score to 7-6 and put the tying run at 2nd. Now Thompson finally has the matchup he wants, and it works as Ortiz strikes out on 3 sliders from Perez; it’s the only out the Mariners will get in the inning. Gomes comes up (having pinch-hit for Carp in the 8th) in a non-ideal situation, facing a righty (killing lefties is the point of Jonny Gomes on the roster) and Thompson goes to Medina to get the last couple of outs. This is the AB of the game and Gomes is quickly down 0-2, but he squirms his way to 2-2, fouls off another pitch, gets the count full and finally bangs a ground ball single to center, scoring Victorino to tie the game and send the winning run (Pedroia) to 2nd. Stephen Drew comes up and is down 0-2 quickly himself before he watches 4 balls go by to load the bases. Nava, the man who led off the inning with a walk, comes up with 1 out and the bases loaded. A DP would send the game to extras, but Nava gives the Mariners no false hope. On the first pitch, he gets a 92 MPH fastball right down the middle and crushes it to deep center. The outfield is playing a bit shallow to try to cut the runner down (since a sac fly wins it anyway) and the center fielder briefly chases the ball, but it bounces in the warning track dirt (the center fielder nonchalantly changes course in mid-stride to head for the visitors’ dugout) and clangs off a door out there, signifying that the Sox’ epic comeback is complete. 8-7.