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When they weren’t taking first base on a walk, the Tampa Bay Rays were taking home plate via home runs. The Rays homered five times and walked seven times Tuesday night at Fenway Park as they defeated the Red Sox, 14-5. The Red Sox began the game well, with the first two Boston hitters reaching base on an error and a walk to Darnell McDonald. Victor Martinez then planted a David Price (16-6, 2.92 ERA) offering off the Green Monster scoreboard, driving both runners in. The Red Sox finished the first inning up 2-0, and it looked like they might have a good night against the perpetually-frustrating Price.
Their hopes were furthered by Daisuke Matsuzaka (9-4, 4.29 ERA), who got out of the first without allowing any runs and then pitched a 1-2-3 second inning. However, Matsuzaka was unable to hold the lead, giving up a 1-out double and then a 2-run home run to Ben Zobrist in the top of third inning, tying the game. This opened the floodgates for the Tampa Bay offense, and the runs came pouring in.
After consecutive walks to open the fourth inning, Matsuzaka fielded a sacrifice bunt from B.J. Upton. Attempting to throw the lead runner out at third, Matsuzaka threw too late, and the bases were loaded with none out. Matsuzaka proceeded to walk in a run and then gave up an RBI single to Zobrist and a 2-RBI double to Carl Crawford. Crawford hit in all four of his plate appearances, including three doubles.
The fifth inning went no easier for Matsuzaka. The first two outs came quickly enough, but then he gave up an infield single to Upton, who promptly stole second base. With one man on, Bartlett planted a 2-0 offering off the light tower in left field, pushing the lead to 8-2. The Rays had scored eight unanswered runs, and the night was over for the $102 million dollar pitcher. He finished having pitched just 4 2/3 innings, giving up eight earned runs on eight hits, four walks, and four strikeouts.
Boston’s middle relievers did little but pad Tampa Bay hitters’ stats. Dustin Richardson came on after Matsuzaka, walked two, then gave threw away a come-backer by Crawford, allowing a run to score (Crawford was credited with a single and no RBI). Richardson left the game without recording an out, and on came Robert Manuel. His second pitch to Evan Longoria landed in the parking lot behind left field. The fifth inning ended with the Rays up 12-2, but Manuel decided that was too low a deficit. So, in the sixth inning he gave up back-to-back solo home runs to Dan Johnson and Upton, pushing the score to 14-2. Thankfully, his outing ended after the sixth, and Boston’s final two relievers did not allow any more runs.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, could do nothing with David Price after the first inning. They threatened in the third, but with one out, Darnell McDonald was caught in a rundown between third and home. He would eventually be tagged out, ending the last scoring threat for the Red Sox against Price. Despite two extended breaks between innings while his offense teed off, Price went six strong innings, giving up just two hits (both to Victor Martinez) and one earned run.
The Red Sox brought the deficit back to single digits by scoring three runs in the eighth, most notably via a solo home run from Darnell McDonald. However, all this did was provide a keepsake for one of the few fans who stayed in his or her seat through the entire game. The game ended with a double play and a strikeout. David Price picked up the win (17, now in sole position of second place in the American League), while Matsuzaka suffered the loss.
There’s really only two players who deserve mention. Victor Martinez holds the honor of being the only player to hit off David Price, and he did it twice. His first hit was a double that knocked in two runs. The second hit was a single that put men on first and third with only one out. At that point, it looked like the Red Sox offense might click, but it never happened.
The other player to mention is Darnell McDonald, who reached base three times: twice via the walk and once via a solo home run. McDonald has been a very productive player for the Red Sox this season, far exceeding what the Red Sox could’ve hoped for when they called him up from AAA-Pawtucket on April 20. He could very easily use this season as a springboard to a major league contract next year. Maybe not as a starting outfielder, but definitely as a fourth or fifth outfielder, available from the bench. The rest of the seven Red Sox hits came from a smorgasbord of Red Sox starters and backups, as both sides substituted heavily in this game (only two Rays who started the game finished it, and only three Red Sox did).
First, the good news: the final three innings. From the seventh inning on, Michael Bowden and Robert Coello combined to retire all but one hitter they faced (a two out walk by Bowden in the eighth inning). Both of these prospects should see these September games as auditions for next year. Bowden has been talked about frequently as the next great pitching prospect from the Red Sox farm system. This game, and a few more just like it, will go a long way towards showing management and fans alike that he is such a prospect. If Bowden continues to pitch like this, we might very well see him in the Red Sox bullpen come April 2011. For Coello, it is unlikely that anything he does this September will get him to the majors next Spring. However, he might be able to use this outing to cement a spot on Pawtucket’s roster next year and maybe even fast-track him to the majors. If either of them can be productive, contributing members of the Red Sox next year, then there will at least be a silver lining to this debacle of a game.
However, the same cannot be said of Matsuzaka, Richardson and Manuel. It seems fitting that Matsuzaka follows up a win with a terrible loss. Such has always been his way: tease, titillate, frustrate. It would not be at all surprising to see him finish his Red Sox career without another successful season (he went 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA in 2008). It would be just as unsurprising to see him go on to win a Cy Young with the next team he signs with. Because that’s what Matsuzaka does: he gives hints at his ability but never puts it all together, inevitably irritating fans and teammates. And what would be more irritating than to see him actually succeed with another team? As for Richardson and Manuel, they are both showing themselves to be either not ready or not talented enough to pitch in the big leagues. They were called up because they were available and the Red Sox needed arms. When the next season begins, they will be back to the minor leagues. With any luck, they’ll stay there.
Tuesday night, we gained some glimpses into what the 2011 Red Sox might look like. The Red Sox have a potential arm in Bowden and a potential bat in Jarrod Saltalamacchia (1-1, double, RBI). That will help answer two of the questions management will have to answer in the offseason: who will relieve and who will catch. The final 23 games should be used to answer the other questions: should Martinez be brought back? What about Adrian Beltre and David Ortiz (combined to go 0-5)? How much will the Red Sox need in terms of relief depth? And who will be the closer?
The Red Sox are not going to make the playoffs. This is evident. So let’s use these final, meaningless games to get a jump on 2011. If the Red Sox can get a leg up on these issues now, before the season is over, they may have an advantage during the winter. If that translates into a trip to the playoffs, then this season will be forgiven. But if the Red Sox can’t answer these questions and go into the 2011 season with the same issues, then Boston fans may look back at this September as wasted time and wasted money. And that may have ramifications for years to come.
Tags: B.J. Upton, Ben Zobrist, Boston Red Sox, Carl Crawford, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Dan Johnson, Darnell McDonald, David Price, Dustin Richardson, Evan Longoria, Jarrod Sa, Jason Bartlett, Michael Bowden, MLB, Robert Coello, Robert Manuel, Tampa Bay Rays, Victor Martinez