GAME THREAD: Game 124: Blue Jays @ Red Sox
GAME RECAP: Lowrie Walks off for Red Sox Victory
The late August series against the Blue Jays was starting to take a very familiar turn. The Sox dropped the first game, 16-2, in an embarrassing implosion in which Jon Lester lasted all of two innings, giving up two three-run HRs to Lyle Overbay, and in which every Sox pitcher involved gave up a run (although mop-up man Tim Wakefield's run was unearned thanks to a passed ball by Dusty Brown).
The second game wasn't looking much better. After a quiet start by both the Jays' Ricky Romero and Daisuke Matsuzaka, the Sox managed to plate a pair in the third and again in the fifth. However, Dice-K, ever the enigma, couldn't protect the lead, giving up a run-scoring double to John McDonald in the top of the fourth, and three runs in the sixth, including Overbay's third home run of the series. From there, the game went into extra innings, always an adventure for the Sox in 2010, and often one with an unhappy ending.
So now let's jump to the eleventh inning.
After Daniel Bard shut down six straight batters on just thirteen pitches in the 9th and 10th, Jonathan Papelbon entered the game in the top of the 11th. Papelbon, stubbornly continuing his 2010 tendencies, induced two groundouts, but took thirteen pitches to get just two outs instead of six. On the third pitch, catcher John Buck hit a weak pop-up in the direction of Jed Lowrie. Now, had Lowrie been stationed at one of his usual posts—second, third, or short—this would have been a routine play. Ball caught, inning over.
This was no ordinary night, though. Lowrie, who entered the game in the 8th to pinch hit for Daniel Nava (who had himself just been brought in to pinch hit for Yamaico Navarro), was currently stationed at first base. This was, relatively speaking, a new experience for Lowrie, a player with a grand total of five innings of experience at 1B, all of which had been acquired the previous night during garbage time. Nonetheless, it was still hard to imagine Lowrie, who navigated his first half-season with the Sox with only a single error, dropping what should have been an easy, inning-ending pop-up on a calm, still night.
Luckily, though, there was no lasting harm done—other than driving up Papelbon's pitch count faster than the heart rate of the average Sox fan watching Papelbon pitch last season. Buck managed to strike out after another five pitches to end the inning, with Lowrie leading off the bottom of the 11th for the Sox.
At that point, Lowrie's season was just getting underway, with only about 70 PAs to date. However, he had managed to post impressive results in that small sample, hitting for a .948 OPS. However, his true power stroke had only recently emerged, having hit his first homers of the season on back-to-back days the previous week at Toronto and at Texas (ironically, he would later be pulled from the game, suffering from heat exhaustion).
Stepping into the lefties' batter box against reliever Casey Janssen, it was clear to see that Lowrie was a man on a mission: seek and destroy a pitch he likes. Five pitches into the at-bat, he found his pitch: a 76-mph curveball that he launched into the Sox bullpen, winning the game and sending the crowd into a celebratory uproar.
It's easy to forgive Lowrie's emotional exuberance under the circumstances. (The original NESN feed doesn't show it, but MLB.com's coverage of WEEI's call clearly shows Lowrie giving what would be the perfect clue for "Things Dustin Pedroia Might Say" if one were playing the Winner's Circle on The $25,000 Pyramid.) His teammates were also thrilled, waiting to mob him as he jumped onto home plate. (It was also cause for an obligatory celebratory Beltre head rub, but that's a story for another day.)
For the Sox, the hit provided a much-needed walkoff win, serving as tonic both for the frustrating loss the night before, as well as their season-long extra-inning woes. For Lowrie, it was a much more important hit: it served as notice to Red Sox Nation that he was finally, after nearly two years, healthy once more and someone who would provide a big lift to the club in the final weeks of the season. Lowrie fulfilled this promise in staggering fashion: showing surprising power as well as his trademark discipline, he hit for an eye-popping .287/.381/.526 in just under 200 PAs, with 23 extra-base hits and 25 walks versus 25 strikeouts.
Having resolved all of the issues clouding over his career in resounding fashion, there's only one question left to ask: what will Jed Lowrie do for an encore in 2011?