In the eighth inning, Brandon Workman surrendered a solo homer to James Loney. The Red Sox, who had been leading the game since the third inning despite starting their least reliable pitcher in Ryan Dempster against the impressive Alex Cobb, suddenly found themselves in a tie. The bullpen had blown it.
In months past, this would have been deflating, depressing, distressing. But on this night in September, something was different. The Red Sox were not playing a typical regular season game. They were playing up 8.5 games with a magic number of 10 and plenty of opportunities to tick that number down to zero. Not only was this not the end of the world...it barely even felt significant. After using up the bullpen on Tuesday to ensure there would be no game-changing sweep, this one was a freebie.
And yet, that's when John Farrell and the Red Sox turned around and played this one like it was Game 7 of the World Series, where the winner takes all and the loser is left mourning the missed opportunity for years to come. And win it they most certainly did.
John Farrell had, to that point, been seeing what he could get out of his less-established bullpen arms. After five innings from Ryan Dempster--touch-and-go, but with just one run coming from them--Farrell had turned to Franklin Morales for a clean inning, and then Workman for an up-and-down seventh and eighth. While the recently converted starter showed some fantastic stuff, striking out four batters, you can't call one run in each of his innings a successful outing. Not by a long shot.
With the lead gone, however, Farrell didn't mess around, turning right to Koji Uehara. It's odd timing for it given how the standings look, but going to your closer in a tie game on the road is a move that some of baseball's best minds have been pushing teams to adopt for a long time. Seeing Farrell pull it out of his hat tonight is, by itself, cause for celebration, particularly with the best part of Tampa's lineup set to bat in the ninth. And, of course, Koji came through, keeping the extended perfect game going.
Joe Maddon, of course, had used his closer in the top of the ninth, leaving arguably the superior reliever in Joel Peralta to pitch the tenth. But Maddon didn't give Peralta the chance. After walking Dustin Pedroia, Maddon left Peralta in to face the bunting Shane Victorino, then had him intentionally walk David Ortiz before calling on none other than...Roberto Hernandez?
If you're surprised that this ended poorly for the Rays, you really shouldn't be. Hernandez walked Mike Napoli on four pitches (unintentionally), then gave Carp a fastball waist high and slightly outside, and the magic took over. Desmond Jennings raced back, but pulled up as he reached the track, watching the ball sail a good ways over the wall. A tenth-inning grand slam, just another chapter in this excellent 2013 Red Sox story.
The division lead is up to 9.5 games, the magic number down to eight. The Red Sox are 8-2 in September, and winning all sorts of games. Not tempting fate is becoming a struggle, but we'll hold off for now. Tonight, it's just one more great win.