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The Boston Red Sox faced off against the Oakland Athletics on a beautiful Wednesday night at Fenway Park. The Red Sox were coming off a solid come-from-behind victory in which they fell behind 4-0 but came back to win the game in convincing fashion, 9-4. On the hill for the Red Sox was Daisuke Matsuzaka, coming off a rough outing wherein he walked eight batters in less than five innings of work while giving up three earned runs. He faced off against Ben Sheets, who had recorded a win in his last outing, going seven innings while also allowing three earned runs.
From the beginning of the game, one might have been led to believe this was going to be a slugfest. The A’s scored three in the top of the first, capped off by a two-run home run from Kurt Suzuki. The Red Sox promptly answered with two runs of their own on a Kevin Youkilis single, who then advanced to second on the throw. However, both pitchers settled down after the first inning. The score stayed 3-2 Oakland until the bottom of the fifth, when David Ortiz connected for his twelfth home run of the season, this time a two run shot. The Red Sox put up single runs the seventh and eighth innings to push their lead to 6-3, then on came Jonathan Papelbon to close out the game. While he allowed a solo shot to pinch-hitter Kevin Kouzmanoff, he shut the Athletics down after that. The final score was Boston 6, Oakland 4. Matsuzaka picked up the win, Sheets the loss, and Papelbon the save (number 13 for the season).
The most dramatic contributor to the Red Sox offense on Wednesday was obviously David Ortiz. He went for 2-2, drove in two, scored twice, and walked twice. The fact that he was intentionally walked in the seventh inning is testament to how much Ortiz has rebounded since his early-season slump, and also how much opposing pitchers are starting to fear him once again. Two other major offensive producers for Boston Wednesday night were Marco Scutaro and Darnell McDonald. Scutaro went 3-5 with two runs scored and an RBI. McDonald went 2-3 with a walk and a run scored. The top of the Red Sox lineup really proved its ability, and it’s great to see David Ortiz back in the third spot where he belongs.
Despite a rough first inning, Daisuke Matsuzaka didn’t pitch all that poorly. In 6.2 innings, he struck out seven while walking none. While he gave up those three earned runs, they were all in the first inning when he was still finding his pitches. After that, he mostly gave up singles (only 3 of the 10 hits allowed were for extra bases). His control was impeccable, as he threw 84 of his 109 pitches for strikes, good for a 85.6 strike percentage. He also did an excellent job of throwing first-pitch strikes, keeping Athletics hitters uncomfortable all evening long.
The bullpen, despite Papelbon’s home run allowed, did a more than capable job of finishing what Daisuke started. In 2.1 innings of work, the bullpen combined to allow just two hits while striking out three and walking none. When you have a three-run lead going into later innings, you can afford to make a couple of mistakes. The bullpen (more specifically Papelbon) made them, but he didn’t make enough to cost the team the game, so there’s not much that needs to be said. The game was saved, the victory was preserved. That’s all you can ask from a bullpen.
The Red Sox have shown great resiliency in their ability to come back from sizable deficits to win these last two games. Even when the starting pitching can’t get it done (not that Dice K’s start wasn’t a quality start, which it was), the offense has shown that it can. When both the pitching and the offense are on, this is an incredibly tough team to beat. The Red Sox would probably be in first place if the AL East wasn’t so stocked with quality teams. They have the misfortune to play in probably the toughest division in baseball. As their recent series victories have proven, they can hang with the big guns in the MLB. If they can keep this quality of play up WITHIN the AL East, look for them to make a major push up the rankings. On Wednesday night, they moved into third place in the division. Second place is not too far away.