It was a game of positives and negatives for the Red Sox, but despite a haggard bullpen and still-struggling Felix Doubront, the positives came out on top.
With a lineup where Ross - Loney was the correct choice at 4-5, the Red Sox sure did put up a surprising amount of fight against the Royals. Yes, Will Smith's ERA is a bit ungainly, but it's only the third time this year that he's had five or more runs cross the plate against him, even if one was unearned.
Pedro Ciriaco continues to give fans reason to believe he could be a legitimate option at a talent-bankrupt position. Now sporting a .874 OPS, Ciriaco showed an unreasonable amount of power in planting a homer halfway up the AAA sign over the monster, and another pair of hits besides. He'll never draw a walk, no, but his impressive combination of speed and the ability to seemingly make contact where nobody should (see: his double down the left field line the other night) might just provide enough offense to keep him starting given the alternatives.
Then there's Dustin Pedroia, who is playing like every bit the superstar we remember. Only a truly terrible call at first (where Pedroia not only beat the throw to the bag by a good bit, but had Eric Hosmer leave the bag early as well) kept him from matching Ciriaco's night at the plate. He's up to 12 homers on the season now after picking up four in both July and August, and should be considered a pretty sure thin headed into 2013.
Jacoby Ellsbury, too, is making strides at the plate. We're still not seeing the 2011 Ellsbury who pushed for the MVP award with his massive power numbers, but he's 10-for-20 now with three stolen bases in his last four games.The line drives are back, and that's all he needs to be a very effective player.
The only real concern in this game comes from Felix Doubront, who fell completely apart in the fourth after looking sharp for the first 11 outs of the game. His pitch count was high by that point, since the Royals had done a good job of battling, which means it's pretty easy to try to trace this to him wearing down. The question is: was this a matter of Doubront just having too much on his arm for 2012 regardless of the two weeks' rest? Is he just a bullpen in disguise, or does he just need an offseason of targeted conditioning and a more gradual build up in his innings totals? It's something the Sox will have to figure out.
The only reason this ended up so close was because Pedro Beato couldn't pick up the short-handed bullpen for a third straight inning after debuting with two impressive frames. He ended up loading the bases with zero outs, and while Craig Breslow managed to get out of it as well as anyone could hope, he couldn't keep it completely clean.
Still, a strong overall performance from the Sox to earn at least a series split despite being incredibly shorthanded. And, once again, a pretty enjoyable game to watch with all that weight off the shoulders.