Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sox Salvage Series Finale

Dustin Pedroia and the Sox won today despite a late inning meltdown by the bullpen
The Boston Red Sox narrowly avoided a four-game sweep at the hands of the Oakland A's today, escaping with a 7-6 extra-inning win over the team with the best record in baseball.

Boston's slumbering offense, which had scored two runs or fewer in seven of its previous eight games (and three in the eighth) woke up against soft-tossing Tommy Milone, scoring early and often to stake Jon Lester to an early lead. The Sox scored two in the first and one in the second, third, fifth, and eighth to build a 6-1 lead over the A's.

With Jon Lester in full control, the game appeared to be well in hand. But with two outs in the bottom of the eighth, Lester stumbled. The southpaw hit Craig Gentry with a pitch, then walked former teammate Jed Lowrie following Gentry's steal of second. With Lester fading after 111 pitches, John Farrell yanked him in favor of Burke Badenhop.

Lester left in line for his ninth win, entrusting Boston's five run lead to the bullpen for the final four outs. Badenhop was unable to get that third out, however, allowing consecutive singles to Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Donaldson, and Derek Norris. Three runs scored before Farrell returned to the mound to remove Badenhop and bring in Andrew Miller, who retired Coco Crisp to end the inning and preserve Boston's two-run advantage.

Dan Otero kept the Red Sox at bay in the top of the ninth, not that it was going to matter much with Koji Uehara coming in to protect Boston's lead. When Uehara's pitching, after all, a two-run edge feels insurmountable. Since the start of last season (postseason included), he'd allowed more than one earned run only two of his 119 appearances.

Today marked the third time. Alberto Callaspo grounded out to lead off the last of the ninth, then Stephen Vogt took Uehara deep for his second home run of the season. It didn't look like the run was going to matter when Nick Punto popped out to Jonathan Herrera for the second out.

Down to their last out, the A's went to their deep bench. Bob Melvin pinch-hit John Jaso for Gentry, a move that paid off when Jaso golfed the first pitch he saw from Uehara over the right field wall, tying the game with a blast of his own and sending the Coliseum fans into a frenzy. Ueheara rebounded to retire Lowrie and send the game to extra innings.

Melvin's next decision, calling upon Fernando Abad, didn't work out so well. Whereas pinch-hitting Jaso provided immediate returns, bringing in Abad backfired just as quickly. The first batter he faced, David Ortiz, went yard to put Boston back on top. Abad set down the next three Red Sox in order, but that run proved decisive when Oakland was unable to rally again in the bottom of the tenth. Uehara remained in the game and redeemed himself, retiring the A's 1-2-3 to seal Boston's 35th win of the season.

The Red Sox continue their west coast swing tomorrow in Seattle, where they'll send John Lackey to the hill. The Mariners will counter with Felix Hernandez, who's having another Cy Young caliber season and presents a challenge for Boston's woeful offense. It was nice to see them score seven runs and pound out 13 hits today, but they'll be lucky to get half as many tomorrow night against King Felix, who's been unhittable at Safeco this year (.201 opponent BA against him) and has traditionally pitched well against the Red Sox (7-2 with a 3.00 ERA). Lackey's going to have to bring his A game, but even if he does Boston will probably lose anyway given how poorly they've been swinging the bats lately, today's outburst notwithstanding.

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