The Red Sox waited until their last two at bats to score a run, then proceeded to walk off on the Twins in the tenth inning with back-to-back homers from David Ortiz and Mike Napoli.
Alright, so the headlines go to the homers. David Ortiz and Mike Napoli have provided what would be a perfect storybook ending if it happened in Game 7 of the World Series rather than a mid-June game between two sub-.500 teams.
But this game? This game belongs to John Lackey. Bought and paid for with nine shutout innings of baseball that very nearly went to waste. Jon Lester gets a lot of talk as the "ace" of the team, but today, Lackey reminded us who's been their most consistently excellent starter since May 2013.
Throwing strike after strike, Lackey worked retired the first three batters he faced on 15 pitches, then struck out two while allowing a single in a 13-pitch second. It was the least impressive two-inning stretch of his day. Throwing just 31 balls all game, Lackey retired eight straight batters after that second-inning single, four of them by way of the strikeout, two more by infield flies. Only one batter so much as managed to hit it into the outfield. And, while the Twins made comparitively good contact in the fifth, Lackey went right back to a demoralizing-level performance in he sixth, needing just six pitches to get three ground ball outs, one on a bunt.
Even as his pitch-count finally rose to late-game levels, Lackey still held down the fort with aplomb. The seventh saw Joe Mauer and Kendrys Morales strike out, with Josh Willingham popping up in between. And while the Twins managed baserunners in both the eighth and ninth inning, Eduardo Escobar tried to turn a ground ball single into two bags and found himself out at second, while Brian Dozier's walk went to waste when Joe Mauer ended the ninth with a groundout.
Nine shutout innings, three hits (two on the ground), nine strikeouts. It was a performance that might well take the cake for Red Sox starting pitchers in 2014. It was also the most that any offense could possibly ask from their starter. And yet it still wasn't enough to win.
While John Lackey had been dominating Minnesota's lineup, Kyle Gibson had been flirting with history against a Red Sox lineup that had seemingly found the lowest it could possibly go. It wasn't until Daniel Nava's fifth-inning double--one that came just shy of the bullpens--that the Red Sox managed so much as a baserunner. A.J. Pierzynski, however, could not take advantage, grounding out to end the inning and waste the scoring opportunity.
That was it for Boston scoring opportunities. Daniel Nava was the only man to stand in scoring position during a Red Sox at bat. They did not manage to score John Lackey the one run needed to turn his masterpiece into a complete game shutout, and so when Koji Uehara gave up a rare two-out homer to Chris Parmelee on a line drive just past the outstretched glove of Brock Holt (yes, a more experienced right fielder likely takes that away), the deficit seemed insurmountable, no matter who was coming up.
Except...Casey Fien just could not find the bottom of the zone. Dustin Pedroia couldn't take advantage, flying out to right field, but that left Fien with two big outs to get against guys whose eyes light up when you throw them junk. Even with the Red Sox offense as dead as it has been this past week-or-so, you just can't sneak a bad slider past David Ortiz. The offering--and I do mean "offering"--seemed to hone in on the middle of the plate, waist-high, right where Papi's bat was coming to meet it. It landed just past Pesky's pole in a crowd celebrating a newly-tied ballgame.
Fien's first two offerings to Mike Napoli weren't much better, but Napoli is not Ortiz. He can have some bad swings from time-to-time. But that still doesn't make it a good idea to give him a third pitch to elevate. Eric Fryer set up low-and-away, but the 0-2 fastball came in over the plate, towards the top of the zone, and Napoli put his trademark "lazy fly ball" charge into it. If it looks like he just got a little bit too under a fly ball out to center field, chances are it's gone. It wasn't by a lot, but sure enough that lazy fly ball just did not come down until it had cleared that wall in center field. From one hit and no runs, to three and two in the blink of an eye, the Red Sox turned one of their most pathetic losses into one of their most dramatic wins, sweeping the Twins in a series that saw them score all of five runs.