It started as a rubber match, became a pitchers' duel for the ages, and finally transitioned into what can only be described as a war of attrition. By the end of the night--or beginning of the morning, if you're the sort to make the distinction--the Sox left Tampa Bay exhausted with one of their hardest-fought wins of the year
Let's start with the pitcher's duel, hard as it may be to remember it. Josh Beckett entered the game with quite the streak going against the Rays, having allowed just one hit--an infield single--in his complete game shutout back in June.
Amazingly, he would almost match that feat tonight, right down to the infield single, which came in the first when two straight batters hit balls off Beckett's feet, with the second deflecting far enough away to prevent him from making a play on it. After that, the Rays just never reached base. Beckett would give up a good few long fly balls to the warning track, but nothing ever got out, or caught the wall, and with some help from Dustin Pedroia's glove, retired 22 straight batters before exiting after eight.
Somehow, though, Jeff Niemann matched him with eight scoreless innings of his own, establishing his ability to throw strikes and then going out of the zone to get the Sox swinging at bad pitches. He allowed a few more baserunners, but after his innings were said and done, the Sox were also scoreless.
Somewhere in there, a foul ball knocked out a light on one of the catwalks, leading to a rare glass delay and, yes, the playing of the music from "The Natural." Bravo, Tropicana Field staff. Bravo.
Anyways, let's talk the War of Attrition, and how each team tried to give away the game.
We start in the ninth inning, with Dustin Pedroia hitting a leadoff double into the gap to set up the Sox with a great scoring opportunity. But the slumping Adrian Gonzalez didn't even provide a situational out, instead swinging at the first pitch and providing a useless flyball out to left. The Sox would load the bases with two outs, but Josh Reddick's fly ball to right-center proved no more helpful, and the game moved into extras.
Now to the eleventh, where the Sox screwed up what should have been a foolproof situation. The Rays walked the first three batters of the inning to load the bases with zero outs, and suddenly Josh Reddick--who had made a tremendous leaping grab at the wall to record the third out of the tenth--seemed set up for a storybook ending. Instead, he finished a 9-pitch battle with a disappointing strikeout, and was followed in kind by Jason Varitek. Marco Scutaro didn't K, but he did little better, popping out to the catcher in foul territory to end the threat.
The Sox would get scoreless innings from Daniel Bard, Matt Albers, Franklin Morales, and Alfredo Aceves to send the game into the sixteenth. Meanwhile, though, Joe Maddon's frequent pitching changes (which he made early, before being tossed for arguing a check swing call) left the Rays with nobody left to call on. They turned to Adam Russell, and finally, someone wasn't able to come through. Josh Reddick drew a leadoff walk, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt, and then to third when nobody could come up with Marco Scutaro's very high chopper. All the Sox needed was a situational out from Jacoby Ellsbury, but much as Adrian Gonzalez had so many innings before, he flew out to left field, not nearly far enough to let Reddick advance.
And so it fell to Dustin Pedroia, the one man who had been able to collect multiple hits on the night to provide a game winner. Thankfully, he came through, lacing the second pitch he saw into right field to finally put a run on the board. Jonathan Papelbon closed the game out in rapid fashion, and the Red Sox finally were able to start on their way to Baltimore.
I'd like to close this out by making note of Jason Varitek. He caught 16 innings tonight at age 39. He may have been just as bad as everyone else (save 3-for-7 Pedroia) at the plate, but that is one impressive feat.