The Red Sox' regular season may have ended on a deflating play, but with the loss leaving them at an MLB-best 97-65, there's no need for gnashing of teeth in Boston.
Perhaps this game would have gone differently if John Lackey had made his scheduled start. But, with nothing on the line, John Farrell turned instead to Allen Webster and the bullpen, and it all went downhill from there. To be air to Webster, he was actually effective, if he went about it in a torturous manner in the bottom of the first. Spotted a 2-0 lead by a leadoff homer from Jacoby Ellsbury and RBI double from Mike Napoli, Webster proceeded to walk the bases loaded with just one out in his pocket.
And then he got out of it. A shallow fly ball to left, a ground ball to short, and the inning was over. No harm, no foul, and even with the no-hitter intact. Then he ran through the next six batters like a hot knife through butter, and suddenly he'd gone from a disaster outing to, at long last, a positive impression. He'll need to do away with those awful bouts of wildness before the team trusts him, but at the very least it's a nice reminder of what his unbelievable stuff should be able to provide in terms of results.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, added onto their lead, with an improbable two-run shot from Quintin Berry, plating John McDonald no less, and a two-out ground ball single from Jacoby Ellsbury which ended with a collision at first that knocked Chris Davis from the game with an injured hand. The Sox headed into the bottom of the fourth up 5-0.
Unfortunately, Felix Doubront was next up on the mound, and he gave the team an idea of why he himself had cautioned against asking much out of him in a bullpen role. After working around a fourth-inning walk, Doubront surrendered back-to-back singles to start the fifth, walked Nick Markakis after striking out Bryan Roberts, and then surrendered a ground-rule double to J.J. Hardy, plating two runs. The bad situation would only get worse with Ryan Flaherty picking up a bloop single, and after another walk and a Nate McLouth double, the game was tied and Doubront was done.
Rubby De La Rosa would do a decent enough job cleaning up after Doubront, but surrendered a leadoff single to Jonathan Schoop, and then the Red Sox called on Matt Thornton, who promptly gave up a double, and then allowed the go-ahead run won a wild pitch. Ryan Dempster came on in relief, and did manage to record two outs, but not before Ryan Flaherty knocked in the seventh Baltimore run.
The Red Sox would make a late push in the ninth, even bringing the tying run within 90 feet of home. But Will Middlebrooks continued his nearly month-long slump by grounding into a double play--one some would say he probably should have beaten out.
As bad as much of that sounds, though, some context is needed. Mainly the fact that Felix Doubront isn't likely to be on the postseason roster, so his struggles? Not so concerning. Matt Thornton, sadly, is, though this might have pushed John Farrell towards using that 25th roster spot on another bench player. If so, that makes his outing a positive. Dempster wasn't perfect, but wasn't really bad, either. If this game provided any real reason to be concerned, it was Will Middlebrooks with another bad night, but then again that's been going on for a while now, so it's nothing we weren't already kind of accepting.
The season did not end in storybook fashion, but the end of this 2013 story will not come in September. These meaningless games will not merit so much as a paragraph in the final draft. All that matters now is October. We'll see you at the end of the week when the Sox get back to work.
(And the rest of the week. OTM is not going quiet.)