Baseball, more than any other sport, is a game of rare events. When roughly two-thirds of the time, the net result of an at-bat is absolutely nothing, you have to make the most of the chances that you're given, and make the right moves at the right times.
The early innings of Saturday's game was vintage 2014: early faltering from the pitching paired with pitiful performance by the offense. It has to be said, though, that Clay Buchholz for the most part pitched quite well, even with the shakiness of the first inning. Two doubles sandwiching a single is not how you want your game to start, but that's what happened, with Albert Pujols's double scoring both Kole Calhoun and Mike Trout. After that, though, Buchholz would only allow three more hits in his remaining seven innings of work. A quality start, but one that would have been of even higher quality had it been an inning shorter (but more on that in a bit).
Meanwhile, the offense was on an express train to the middle of nowhere, and making Garrett Richards look like the second coming of Cy Young. The first time through the lineup, Richards saw nine batters and retired them all. The perfect game attempt was broken up in the fourth only by a walk to David Ortiz, and a bid at a no-hitter remained intact until the seventh inning, with a walk to Mike Napoli providing the Sox's only other baserunner.
The top of the seventh was a slice of heaven for Red Sox fans, as they had a glimpse of what once was (and what perhaps could come again). Dustin Pedroia started off the inning with a single, and then was brought in to score on a double by the Large Father. Yoannis Cespedes would keep the hitting going with a single, and then the Angels' defense would provide some extra assistance, allowing both Napoli and Daniel Nava to reach base. Xander Bogaerts would notch the first out of the inning, but it was a sacrifice fly bringing in Cespedes as the go-ahead run. The Red Sox would bat around, but plated only the minimum three runs possible, as neither Will Middlebrooks nor Christian Vasquez could advance runners.
Gifted this gem of an opportunity, one would think that manager John Farrell would have changed course and planned for a win. One would, however, be quite mistaken, as Farrell's eighth-inning moves proved disastrous. Of course, the one that will require the most scrutiny is the decision to channel his inner Grady Little and allow Buchholz to pitch the eighth inning when he already had 107 pitches on the evening. Although he managed to get three outs, all in the infield, one ball did fly through the outfield and beyond, as Mike Trout launched a homer to tie the game at 3-3. Such a trick would have worked in 2013; in 2014, it's openly inviting disaster to strike.
Perhaps nervous about getting the one-run difference to hold, Farrell also made a defensive substitution, pulling Nava out of the game, and inserting Jackie Bradley, Jr., in the lineup. Unlike Friday's game, this move was not nearly as successful, particularly because it brought Bradley up to bat in the top of the ninth with Napoli on first and one out. Because this 2014, you can guess what happened next: a double play to wipe out Napoli and leaving the game tied at 3. Later in the game, Bradley would flash his glove and justify the decision somewhat, but the timing was a bit suspect. Edward Mujica would pitch the bottom of the ninth, allowing only a single to David Freese. Extra innings before a day game? Why the heck not?
The top of the tenth was a quick tour through the bottom third of the Sox's lineup, while the Sox pitching had to content with the top of the Angels' order. With Burke Badenhop on the mound, Collin Cowgill hit a leadoff single. Farrell then ordered an intentional walk of Mike Trout after Colhoun's sacrifice bunt advanced Cowgill to second. A double play was not necessary to escape the jam, but Farrell's decision to bring in Craig Breslow to face Josh Hamilton was similarly curious under the circumstances. The eleventh and twelfth innings would feature little sound and even less fury from the Sox bats—which looks bad but becomes even worse when you consider that the twelfth inning was against Cam Bedrosian, who had a earned run average north of 9 when the inning started. If you were surprised by the Angels' lack of success against Koji Uehara, however, you are even more of an irredeemable pessimist than I. And, again, because this is 2014, if you were surprised when Vazquez hit into an unassisted double play to wipe out Middlebrooks, the first baserunner the Sox had in four innings, you are quite likely absorbing too much light around 595 nm.
Dustin Pedroia would single his way onto base in the top half of the fourteenth inning, and would steal his way over to third base, but in what surely counts as a 2014 miracle, was actually sacrificed home by the Large Father. So the heavily overworked Junichi Tazawa was brought into the game with an opportunity for the win—but promptly gave up a leadoff double to pinch-hitter Chris Ianetta, a walk to substitute Efren Navarro, and a single to Kole Calhoun, loading the bases with no outs. Of course, that meant having to pitch to Mike Trout, who grounded out, but allowed Ianetta to score, blowing the win and the save opportunity, and prolonging our misery even further. However, it's not entirely clear what was going on defensewise: the problem was conceding the run for the double play, but Xander Bogaerts was playing at double-play depth, prompting a twitter exchange between Pete Abraham and Alex Cora on what should have been done.
Heath Hembree finally made an appearance for the Sox. Although it looked like disaster might strike when leadoff hitter Erick Aybar reached, Hembree managed to retire the next three batters. Brock "\o/" Holt
And the top half and the bottom half were the fifteenth inning. . . .
And the top half and the bottom half were the sixteenth inning. . . .
And the top half and the bottom half were the seventeenth inning. . . .
Okay, that last bit requires some clarification. Hembree started off with a Pujols popout. But then a Hamilton double led to intentionally walking Aybar, and then a wild pitch to Howie Kendrick led to his being intentionally walked as well. So all it would have needed was one long fly ball to end our suffering. But could we get that? No, of course not. C. J. Cron flew out to Cespedes, and Ianetta grounded out to waste their opportunity.
Not every game can end in less than eighteen innings, and we must be satisfied.
Of course, Farrell's derangement did not stop there. If you've gotten three innings out of someone who's supposed to be a future closer, why not make it four instead? (Insert sad reminiscences of "Hepatitis K" here).
And the top half and the bottom half were the eighteenth inning. . . .
And the top half and the bottom half were the nineteenth inning. . . .
And, in that bottom half, Brandon Workman comes into the game, gave up a home run to Pujols, and finally put us all out of our misery. And to think what could have been, if Tazawa had been given the night off.
Rubby De La Rosa, Sunday's
sacrificial lamb starting pitcher, should probably start getting warmed up now. He'll probably have to pitch a complete game. And Dan Butler should see some action, given that Vazquez caught all twenty innings of the game.