It took them eleven innings, but the Red Sox overcame an eighth inning stumble from Junichi Tazawa to take the first game of their series against the Blue Jays, 4-2.
As ever, baseball is, on any given day, completely unpredictable. Fans of either team may have expected this to be a shootout. Ryan Dempster, after all, hasn't been able to keep runs off the board at all this past month-and-a-half. Todd Redmond hasn't done much better in his first starts in the majors. Add in that each team seems particularly well-suited to take advantage of the other's starter, and the over seemed like a pretty safe pick.
The first seven innings Tuesday night, however, brought nothing but broken trends. For Dempster, this was a very good thing. He was both effective, and efficient, throwing mostly off-speed pitches, and most importantly, managing to hit the zone with all his offerings. Relying on his slider and splitter, Dempster allowed just one run in his seven innings of work on a ground ball to J.P. Arencibia, bringing home Brett Lawrie who had gotten one of the few really significant pieces of contact off of Dempster.
For Redmond, too, broken trends would be a good thing. Because while Rogers Centre has been the site of many a Red Sox home run of late, and Redmond gave up a fair few fly balls--some of them fairly deep--the Red Sox never got one out. Many of their worst threats, too, were run down by a very active outfield, saving Redmond from any damage even though he left with just 5.1 innings pitched.
Unfortunately for Dempster, the other side of that coin is that one of the other broken trends on the night was Boston's habit of giving him plenty of run support. One of the most fortunate pitchers in the league by that measurement, Dempster would have to wait all the way until the seventh before the Sox would give him anything to work with. But when they did, it was enough to take the lead.
After Mike Napoli and Stephen Drew had failed to cash in on a bases loaded, one down situation in the top of the sixth, the Red Sox got the engine churning again when Will Middlebrooks laced a double into the right field corner with one out in the next inning. From there, a tie game was not far off, with Jacoby Ellsbury singling to center to bring Middlebrooks home, the throw home coming in too far up the first base line to even allow for a play at the plate. Ellsbury made quick work of stealing second, and while Shane Victorino couldn't bring him home, he did push him to third for Dustin Pedroia, who placed a ground ball just right to pick up an RBI single of his own, giving the Red Sox a 2-1 lead.
That lead would not last long, however. While Dempster did a fine job in holding it for the seventh, he was pulled with just 88 pitches on his arm, likely to make sure he finished the day with a positive start in his pocket. With two innings to go, John Farrell turned to his usual setup man in Junichi Tazawa. And that's when normalcy set in--in this case meaning Tazawa's inability to keep the Jays off the board and in the yard. This time it took just five pitches for Tazawa's outing to go south on a fastball that J.P. Arencibia crushed to left field for a no-doubter that knotted the game at two-a-piece.
From there, at least, Tazawa was capable of maintaining the tie, leaving the game with two down in the ninth, having allowed a single to lead off the inning. Craig Breslow got Mark DeRosa swinging to send the game to extra innings, and then retired the first two batters in the tenth before handing the ball off to Koji Uehara, who promptly struck out Jose Reyes to get the Red Sox into the eleventh.
There, finally, they would strike again. The inning would actually start with frustration, however, thanks to Rajai Davis running down what looked like a certain double from Stephen Drew, marking the second time Boston's shortstop had been robbed of extra bases in the game. Deciding not to test the Toronto defense, Jarrod Saltalamacchia opted instead to walk, and the rally was on.
Will Middlebrooks did his part with a ground ball single into left field, and then slid in hard to second base to make sure there was no double play on a chopper to second from Jacoby Ellsbury. Likely as not there would have been no chance at first with Ellsbury running, but Middlebrooks made sure the inning kept going, Ellsbury stole himself another base, and Shane Victorino swung at a 1-2 fastball with two men in scoring position. The resulting contact wasn't the hardest he's made all year, but the ground ball went right back up the middle, through the defense, and into center field for a hit, plating both runners and giving the Red Sox a 4-2 lead.
Koji returned to pitch the bottom of the eleventh, but rather than his usual strikeout show, Koji would get some serious help from the gloves to finish this game. First was Mike Napoli, making up slightly for another miserable offensive performance by going into a slide to grab a pop-up in foul territory from Rajai Davis. On the other side of the diamond, Will Middlebrooks laid out to corral a sharp ground ball from Jose Bautista, firing to first for out number two, and then getting back up to handle the final out in a 1-2-3 final frame.
Add in another Tampa Bay loss, and the Red Sox are sitting four games up.
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