Cowboy Up, Oakland Down. Man, I really love this team. ... With only five outs remaining in their season, the dormant Red Sox bats awoke from slumber and pounded Keith Foulke for 3 quick hits and 2 essential runs. It was enough to win the game 5-4 (read this), giving Boston a cross-country flight and a Game 5 Pedro/Zito showdown in Oakland tomorrow.
After Saturday night's 11-inning trip through Bizarro Land, I was ready for a nice easy rout, something akin to the card-clinching game against Baltimore. No such luck. After an uneventful first inning, Burkett gave up a walk and 3 singles to start the 2nd and trailed 1-0. An implosion seemed imminent, but the next three A's hitters popped up and the bases-loaded rally fizzled.
Hudson threw a 9-pitch 1-2-3 inning, but hurt himself throwing his first warm-up pitch of the second and left the game in favor of knuckleballer Steve Sparks. Damon hit a two-run homer in the 3rd to give Boston a 2-1 lead, but the offense couldn't do much else with Sparks. The Red Sox had Ramirez on 3rd with 2 outs in the 2nd, and received two 2-out walks in the 4th, but couldn't bring anyone home.
Burkett ran into trouble in the middle innings as his pitch count rose. Guillen singled to start the 4th and Melhuse followed with a single to left center. Somehow, Damon's noodle arm was strong enough to throw out Guillen in his foolish attempt to get to third. Then Walker made a nice play on Dye's line drive. In the 5th, Ellis led off with a 5-pitch walk. Durazo scalded a grounder at Millar, who got the out. After a foul pop to Varitek, Tejada ripped a ball to first. Millar again made the play and fed Burkett for the out. ... After 5 innings, Burkett seemed gassed. He had thrown 97 pitches and although he had been hit hard, he still held a 2-1 lead.
Arroyo had warmed up in the 2nd and Wakefield was up in the 5th. I was hoping that Burkett's day was done, but Grady sent him back out for the 6th. Knowing full well that moves like this had backfired earlier this season, I grit my teeth and prayed that if anyone got on, Grady would go to the pen. He had to, right? This game is a must win. Hatteberg opened the 6th with a first-pitch single off Burkett's glove that Nomar had no play on. ... Grady? No. ... Guillen fouled off 2 pitches and ripped a line drive that Mueller dove flat-out to his left to snare. An excellent play on another hard hit ball. ... Grady? Still nothing. ... Melhuse looked at two balls and whacked a long triple over Nixon's head in right. Hatteberg scored to tie the game at 2-2. ... Where was Grady? Was he even awake? ... Dye then pounded an 0-1 pitch into the last row of the Monster Seats for a 2-run home run and Oakland led 4-2. ... Oh, look, some stirring in the home dugout. Here comes Grady to make a change.
&*%$@#%!!! My anger felt beyond words. I don't know how Theo stopped himself from jumping out of the stands and choking the life out of dumb Gump's body. He has more self-control than I would have had. How in the HELL can Grady send an obviously tired Burkett out to the mound for another inning, when he has been hit very hard the previous 2 innings? You could make a strong case Burkett shouldn't have pitched the 5th. ... This exact situation has come up time and time and time again all year long, with predictable results. This season is riding on this game, Gump. Burkett's feelings won't be hurt if you pull him after 5 innings.
With the Red Sox bats in hibernation -- in this series, they were making it happen with excellent pitching and stand-out fielding -- a 4-2 hole felt like 40-2. Wakefield held the line and it was up to the bats.
Rincon came on to start the 6th and Walker greeted him with a long home run to right. Cool. Now it was 4-3. All Boston had to do was score one more run before they made 12 outs (and hold Oakland scoreless). Ramirez, Ortiz and Millar followed Walker with well-hit balls to the outfield, but they were all outs.
In the 7th, Nixon led off with a single. The wheels were turning. Would Grady put in Jackson as a pinch-runner? And if so, could he steal second off the lefty? Would he have Mueller bunt? ... Silly, me, it turns out Gump did nothing, outside of probably hoping Mueller wouldn't hit into a double play. Which he did, on the very first pitch. Varitek tapped back to the mound and that was the end of that.
There have been several times this year when it has seemed as though Grady has decided the game is over, the team cannot come back, and he seems content to let the game roll on, concede defeat, and make no moves to jumpstart the team. Not running for the gimpy Nixon seemed like one of those times. It was beyond frustration, feeling the season sink out of reach, as it was tied tightly to the managerial millstone that is Grady Little.
Scott Williamson went into deep counts with 2 of the 3 Oakland batters in the 8th, but retired them all. Oakland manager Ken Macha brought in his closer, Foulke, hoping for 6--out ALDS-winning save. I was glad to not see any more of Bradford and I thought this move would backfire.
Damon grounded out to shortstop to begin the 8th. Nomar banged a double about 2/3 of the way up the Monster and the tying run stood at second. Walker lined out to center (Byrnes was positioned perfectly and caught the ball in his tracks). Macha came out as Ramirez, nearly invisible in the series and 1-11 against Foulke, stepped in. Foulke worked Manny inside and outside very well, getting ahead 1-2. His missed with ball 2 and then Ramirez dropped a single into shallow left. Nomar had to stop at third (Guillen unleashed a laser beam of a throw to the plate for emphasis). ... At first base, Manny was now exhorting the crowd to rise up and cheer (was there even one fan not standing at that point?) ... Ortiz took ball 1, fouled off a pitch, then took balls 2 and 3. He swung and missed a low, inside fastball and the count was full. Foulke delivered and Ortiz drove the ball on a low line over Dye's head in right. I was listening to the radio, but it sounded as if Dye both turned the wrong way and was bothered by the afternoon sun. Nomar and Ramirez scored and Boston led 5-4.
After Millar flew out, it was up to Williamson to nail it down. He did. Byrnes missed a 2-2 slider, Ellis struck out on a high fastball (95) and Durazo popped out to Mueller. And once again, the Boston Red Sox pulled another rabbit out of their 2003 hat. Maybe the nicest, most beautiful rabbit of the year.
Oakland's flight will likely be as festive as a morgue, as they lost for the 8th straight time in a playoff game in which a win would have clinched the series. ... And Boston's charter? Who knows? Maybe Millar will lead the Red Sox in some full-body shaving ritual that will provide some Monday Mojo.
It will be Pedro/Zito at 8:00 pm (New York won its series over the Twins, so Boston steps into prime time). The focus on Oakland has been so intense, it's hard to believe that a victory tomorrow will set the stage for a Red Sox/Yankees ALCS. But the game Monday has to be won, of course.
Does anyone want to bet against Pedro? There is no other pitcher in the game I would want on my mound in a game like this than Martinez. Pedro likes a little motivation, to be pissed off, out to prove something. I doubt he needs anything more this season, but here's Hudson after today's game: "I think we have the better team. We have the best left-hander in the league going tomorrow. It's alright, I'll take Barry Zito over Pedro Martinez any day." And if someone could remind Pedro that it was Zito who has possession of Martinez's 2002 Cy Young Award trophy, that should do it. As one fan wrote, Oakland will be facing the "the loaded right arm of God [and] they want no part of that."
God goes to work in approximately 26 hours.