Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Sox Walk-Off

Betts celebrates his walk-off (Barstool Sports)
This season's first meeting between the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays turned out to be a good one, though it did not start well for the Olde Towne Team. The half-hour rain-delay may have affected both starting pitchers, who each needed 36 pitches to get through the first and allowed five runs between them.

Jose Reyes got Toronto off and running by ripping Joe Kelly's second pitch of the night for a single, stole second, then came around to score when Devon Travis singled to right. Kelly walked Josh Donaldson, losing him on a full-count. Two outs later, he lost another full count when Russell Martin turned on Kelly's ninth pitch of the at-bat and smashed two-run double down the left field line. Kelly stranded Martin on second by getting Michael Saunders to fly out to deep center and end the inning, by which point he had already thrown 36 pitches and dug Boston into a 3-0 hole.

The Red Sox rallied immediately, getting two runs back in their half of the first on an opposite field single from Pablo Sandoval. The game would have at least been tied, however, had Mookie Betts not been thrown out trying to steal second base. Betts had tipped his hand by trying to steal on the previous pitch, which Dustin Pedroia fouled off.

Following a scoreless second inning in which both sides went down in order and failed to hit the ball out of the infield, the Jays struck again. Travis, the red-hot rookie, continued his incredible start by lining an 0-2 pitch over the Monster to lead off the third. Kelly recovered to fan Donaldson, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion, blowing away the heart of Toronto's order with his high-90s fastball.

Kelly ran into trouble again in the fourth as his control abandoned him. He walked Martin on four pitches and Saunders on five, setting up Kevin Pillar's run-scoring single. The game might have gotten out of hand were it not for consecutive outstanding plays by Boston's defense. The first was Sandoval showing off his surprising agility by laying out, Bobby Orr-style, to snag a blooped bunt off the bat of Dalton Pompey. The second was an unassisted double play by Xander Bogaerts, who gunned the speedy Reyes at first and has looked much more comfortable at shortstop this year than he did last.

Sandoval's web-gem led to an early exit for the lumbering third baseman due to whiplash-like symptoms (he's been cleared to play tonight), but not before he belted his first Fenway home run in the bottom of the fourth. He hit a rocket into the bullpen off Aaron Sanchez, bringing the Sox to back within two. Boston closed the gap to one in the following frame after Kelly set down the Jays in order. Betts started the rally with a two-out double to left, then scored when Sanchez airmailed Dustin Pedroia's tapper out of play. The error, committed on a play which would have ended the inning, proved costly.
Kelly wasn't sharp, but kept his team in the game (Chat Sports)
With both starters gone by the seventh inning, John Gibbons entrusted his shaky bullpen to protect Toronto's one-run lead. Aaron Loup made short work of the Sox in the seventh, needing just eight pitches to retire the side. Alexi Ogando, the former reliever-turned starter-turned reliever again, did his part by keeping the Jays off the board in the seventh and eighth.

Gibbons tapped Roberto Osuna to navigate the eighth inning, a move that immediately misfired when he allowed back-to-back singles and uncorked a wild pitch. He walked David Ortiz to load the bases, only to face Boston's hottest hitter in Hanley Ramirez. Ramirez delivered, nearly finding the gap with a liner to left but settling for game-tying sacrifice fly. Osuna preserved the tie, escaping the inning without further damage by whiffing Allen Craig and getting Daniel Nava to line out to Donaldson, who made a spectacular leaping catch--one of his many great defensive plays on the day--to end the inning.

With the score all even at 5-5 heading into the ninth, it was Koji Time, and Koji Uehara did not disappoint. He whiffed Saunders and Pillar before getting Pompey to pop out to third, setting Boston up for some bottom of the ninth heroics.

And who better to play the hero than Betts, who in spite of his poor numbers has dazzled Red Sox fans with his highlight-reel theatrics and flair for the dramatic in the early-going. With one out and runners on second and third, Gibbons made the curious move of not walking Betts to set up a force at the plate and potential inning-ending double play. He let Miguel Castro pitch to the kid, who made Toronto pay by singling through its drawn-in infield for his third hit of the night, plating Bogaerts for the winning run.

The win improved Boston's record to 11-9, moving them into a tie for second place in the AL East with Tampa Bay, who lost to New York (AL) 4-1. The loss dropped Toronto to last place in the division, half a game behind Baltimore. The Red Sox will look to win again tonight behind Clay Buchholz, while the Jays will counter with Drew Hutchison.

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