I was originally going to cover last night’s game soley to document the first ever AL win by future Hall of Famer John Smoltz, but a 71 minute rain delay after four full innings washed that away.
By the time the rain came, Boston had piled up a 9-1 lead.
Enter Boston’s impressive bullpen and one would think this game was in the bag.
Baltimore had to go to their bullpen early and not many teams can go toe to toe with Boston’s pen…on most nights.
When play resumed, Boston RP and former starter Justin Masterson K’d four out of the first six batters he faced.
After six the score was 10-1.
With a day game today, Boston manager Terry Francona took out aging catcher (and team captain) Jason Varitek in what seemed like the perfect opportunity to save his legs for Josh Beckett’s afternoon start the next day.
No one could have guessed what would happen after that.
Masterson came back out for his third inning of work with new battery mate, Catcher George Kottaras, and started having trouble. He gave up five earned runs without recording an out.
Masterson was lifted for Manny Delcarmen who got two outs and gave up a hit. He was replaced by Hideki Okajima who got them out of the seventh, but couldn’t get an out in the eighth inning and was sent to the showers after loading the bases and then allowing a run to score on a single.
In came former Dodger closer Takashi Saito who recorded only one out and allowed the rest of the O’s that Okajima left on base to score. Saito was relieved by Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon who blew the save allowing two more runs to score. A grand total of five O’s crossed home plate in the eighth.
They would not need to bat in the ninth, as they won the game 11-10.
It was the biggest comeback by a last place team against a first place team in MLB history (or so I’m told).
What was the turning point in the game?
What changed on the Baltimore side of the field that allowed for such an event?
Most of the hits were of the broken bat or bloop variety except for the Salazar HR and the doubles by Luke Scott in the seventh and Nick Markakis in the eighth.
Could it be that the Boston pitchers (with the exception of Wakefield) hold Varitek in such high regard, as far as his game calling skills, that they are concerned it might throw them off balance to not throw to him?
I especially think this may be the case for Masterson who was pitching to Varitek in his first two innings and then had to throw to Kottaras in his third inning of work.
If it were me, given Masterson’s age and possible reliance on the veteran catcher at times, I would have brought in Delcarmen to start the seventh. This could have possibly prevented the first five earned runs.
I know what you are starting to say, “Are you nuts?” But remember that Varitek was voted by his peers (not the fans or even the media) last year to be an All-Star. Also remember that he couldn’t hit his way out of a paper bag last year, having the worst offensive year of his career.
Now that doesn’t explain it all, as Saito hasn’t been here long enough to warrant that kind of dependence on Varitek, but think about how many times Okajima and Papelbon have had to pitch to anyone except for Varitek.
If anyone can find out the ERA or any other statistic on Boston relief pitchers and how they pitch with and without Varitek, please send it our way and we’ll update this post with that information if we can.
For further proof on how a catcher can impact a game, please refer back to my earlier work entitled, “Generals of the Diamond, Baseball Quarterbacks, Masked Iron Men: The Catcher”.
To read more of my work here at Baseball Reflections just click HERE!