Split squad games are usually a recipe for disaster. Especially for the half that goes on the road.
After all, consider this list of pitchers:
- Stolmy Pimentel
- Tommy Hottovy
- Brandon Duckworth
- Jason Rice
- Clevelan Santeliz
- Lenny DiNardo
- Kyle Fernandes
Does the average fan even know half of those names? I doubt it. Most probably don't know a single one of them. Now consider that this group had to go against Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday for six at bats. I'm not sure which I'm more surprised by: that they managed to get each of them out once, or that they didn't hit any home runs.
Either way, it was going to take a lot of runs to save the Sox from another loss. Amazingly, with a lineup featuring only Jacoby Ellsbury, Kevin Youkilis, and David Ortiz from the starting nine, they managed just enough.
Of course, for a while there, things looked pretty bad. The Cardinals did get off to the expected quick start against Stolmy Pimentel, as three straight hits from Pujols, Holliday, and Lance Berkman gave them a 2-0 first inning lead. But the Sox fought back against Jaime Garcia in the top of the second, with Jacoby Ellsbury plating Yamaico Navarro with a double before scoring himself on a Darnell McDonald single. They even took a lead in the third when the Sox manufactured a run after Kevin Youkilis' leadoff single.
Things finally fell apart in the fifth, though. Jason Rice, arguably the pitcher with the best combination of MLB readiness and overall talent on that list, found himself the victim of a five-run inning. Rice only recorded the first out of the frame after four straight hits, and followed that up with a pair of walks. When all was said and done, the score was 7-3.
Entering the eighth still trailing by three, the Sox' backups made one last push. With the first two batters reaching, the Sox moved them over with a sacrifice bunt--one that may not have been strictly necessary, as Alex Hassan followed it up with a two-run double. Now trailing by just one, Ryan Lavarnway stepped up to the plate. The slugging catcher had already driven in a run back in the sixth inning with a double. This time he did himself one better, cementing his role as the hero of the game with a game winning home run. The Sox held the Cardinals off the board for the last two innings to seal the deal.
The Red Sox had rather better odds going into the game against Houston then against St. Louis. They had Josh Beckett on the mound with Jonathan Papelbon and Daniel Bard ready to follow, and a lineup featuring Dustin Pedroia, Carl Crawford, J.D. Drew, Jed Lowrie, and some of the best prospects in the system.
Houston, meanwhile, was the split squad on the road.
Still, things ended up close. Josh Beckett opened looking awfully shaky with a leadoff walk and a two-out double scoring a run in the first inning, but turned things around quickly. By the end of his 3.2 innings, he had picked up four strikeouts while allowing only two more hits--largely thanks to an unfriendly scorer. One scout told Ken Rosenthalthat Beckett "looks like he's on a mission," flashing an impressive curveball with well-placed fastballs.
The Sox' lineup could not get things together, however, until the fifth inning, and then only when Jose Iglesias came in the back door on a double play. One inning later and the smallest of rallies later, though, and they were tied with another run-scoring ground out.
Jonathan Papelbon and Daniel Bard both recorded perfect innings to maintain the tie, with Bard picking up two strikeouts along the way. Dennys Reyes added another scoreless inning, albeit with a walk, to bring the Sox into the eighth.
After Bubba Bell flew out to start the inning, Paul Hoover smacked a double into left. With two outs, Nate Spears came to the plate with a chance to put the Sox in the lead, and capitalized on it, providing an infield RBI single. Matt Fox provided the exclamation mark in the ninth by striking out the side in order, and giving the Sox the sweep.
Leadoff men: Ryan Kalish and Jacoby Ellsbury had nearly identical performances, each contributing three hits with a double. Only Jacoby Ellsbury's stolen base sets him apart.
Catchers: OK, so technically Ryan Lavarnway didn't catch today, but he did bring the stick. Not only did he hit a double and a homer--he did it when his team needed him to do. Jarrod Saltalamacchia was active two, going a perfect two-for-two with a double of his own.
Josh Beckett and his relievers: Beckett's slow start is more than made up for by a strong finish and positive reports. Add in some strong innings from the back-end of the bullpen and a beautiful ninth from Matt Fox--who is doing quite well for himself so far, and you've got one well-pitched baseball game.
Alex Hassan: 1-1 with a big double and a game-tying run gunned down at home? I'll take that any day.
Stolmy Pimentel: I'm not sure it's a good idea to keep hanging a High-A pitcher out to dry against top major league talent like this. Another bad, even disastrous performance for Stolmy.
Dustin Pedroia: Not only did Pedroia go 0-3, but he got caught stealing and has started an intra-clubhouse war against Ryan Kalish. Every time the top prospect got on base, Pedroia erased him immediately either with double plays or being caught at third.
Jason Rice: Rice doesn't quite have the excuse Pimentel has, and should be able to handle himself better than that. Still, he did start the inning off against the Rasmus - Pujols - Holliday - Berkman murder's row (for a ST game), and once all of them reach, things just snowball.