It's been a slow start in the Grapefruit League for the Red Sox, who entered Monday's game against the Orioles with a 3-5-1 record and a three game winless streak. For once, though, the stage seemed set for a win. The Red Sox were at home, meaning a lineup loaded with Major League starters. Baltimore, meanwhile, was split squad, with a half-team filled with replacement players making the trip to Fort Myers.
Somehow, though, it came down to the ninth inning.
The game certainly started out well enough. Receiving the start was John Lackey, who had given up a lot of loud contact in his first appearance of spring using primarily his fastball. This time around he induced just the opposite in four scoreless innings. After allowing a leadoff line drive, Lackey picked up six groundouts and three popups, all of which were handled deftly by the infield.
The lineup, too, got off to a hot start. First inning singles from Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, and J.D. Drew put the Red Sox up 3-0 early on. A fifth inning double from Pedroia gave the Sox a chance to tack on another run--one Carl Crawford capitalized on.
By the time the Sox scored their fourth run, however, the Orioles had already started to work on the lead. The second John Lackey left the game, Baltimore's lineup started to produce. Dan Wheeler was the first victim, allowing a pair of runs on two doubles and a single. Kyle Weiland was up next, offering up another pair of runs--first walking one in in the sixth, and then allowing a second on a seventh inning double from Nolan Reimold to tie the game. When Randy Williams gave up a leadoff triple in the eighth, it was clear the Sox were going to have to fight back if they didn't want to drop another game.
But fight back they did. Che-Hsuan Lin, who had so far only been picking up walks this spring, added his first hit to lead off the eighth. An error on an attempted pickoff sent Lin to second before another defensive gaffe on Jose Iglesias' ground ball allowed him to score the tying run.
With Tony Pena Jr. entering to start the ninth, the Orioles had a good opportunity to take back the lead. If there was one thing Pena hadn't shown an aptitude for, after all, it was getting outs. And, indeed, he only managed one before finding himself in trouble again, with a man at second and a ground ball headed out into left field. It could have been a run for the O's, but Nava scooped the ball and gunned it in to Mark Wagner, cutting down Matt Angle at home.
A win finally in sight, the Sox didn't waste much time. Darnell McDonald's leadoff double meant the team had three chances for one hit. The first--a routine ground ball from Oscar Tejeda--almost ended in disaster as McDonald found himself caught in a rundown between second and third. He managed to avoid the defenders long enough for Tejeda to reach second, though, keeping the all-important RISP. With Daniel Nava going down on strikes, only one out remained to get the job done. Yamaico Navarro did just that, stepping in and lacing a walk-off line drive into left field to give the Red Sox the win.
Yamaico Navarro: Walkoff hits are pretty good, I think.
Dustin Pedroia: Pedroia picks up the requisite two hits in three at bats, and makes one a double for good measure.
Carl Crawford: Only one hit for Crawford today, but his second and third steal of spring earn him a spot. That the first was a double steal to give Youkilis one of his own is just icing on the cake.
John Lackey: He didn't strike anyone else out, but ground balls and pop ups are what a guy like Lackey thrives off of.
The crowd: We've had some National Anthem gaffes of late, and came dangerously close to an embarrassing moment in Fort Myers as the performer stumbled over the lyrics. The fans came to the rescue, though, joining in and finishing the song as a group. If this sounds familiar...there's a reason.
Dan Wheeler: The doubles are made up for a bit by the pair of strikeouts that went with them. But two runs in one inning does not make for a successful outing.
Kyle Weiland: If anyone has shown just how large the gap is between the majors and the minors so far, it's Kyle Weiland. Today's line includes four hits, two walks, and two runs. Not only is that something not to write home about, it's something to specifically hide from home.
David Ortiz: After a strong start to the spring, Ortiz picked up the hat trick today with three strikeouts in three at bats.