Red Sox-Rays: Pitching, Timely Hitting Lead Boston to Doubleheader Sweep of Rays

Nick PoustCorrespondent IISeptember 14, 2009

BOSTON - SEPTEMBER 13:  Dustin Pedroia #15 of the Boston Red Sox is congratulated by Kevin Youkils #20 after Pedroia hit a two run home run in the eighth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays on September 13, 2009 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Entering Sunday’s play, the Boston Red Sox had a tremendous chance to increase their wild card lead over the Texas Rangers. If they won their doubleheader against the Tampa Bays Rays and Texas lost its two game set against the Seattle Mariners, then Boston’s advantage would lengthen to four games—a somewhat comfortable margin.

The Red Sox are in the scoreboard watching stage of the season. But though their eyes were kept on the Rangers-Mariners score throughout the afternoon, they remained focused on the task at hand: sweeping their division rival.

Clay Buchholz started the first game of the doubleheader for Boston, facing Tampa Bay’s Matt Garza.

Buchholz, who entered the outing having allowed only four runs combined over his previous three starts—a span of 21 1/3 innings—continued the remarkable trend. He needed just seven pitches to get through the first and was equally methodical over the next five innings.

He threw 13 pitches in a one-two-three second inning, 16 in the third, 11 in the fourth, 17 in the fifth, 15 in the sixth, and failed to allow a run in any frame. Over those six innings, he relinquished five base runners (two via single), but after the seventh inning, he had given up five singles.

Boston scored its first run in the sixth as Victor Martinez singled in Dustin Pedroia, who reached previously on a double, which made Buchholz’s seventh inning bearable and first baseman Casey Kotchman’s play to end the inning that much more important.

Buchholz allowed a pair of one out singles to Gregg Zaun and Gabe Gross, then the Rays catcher and right fielder moved up a base on a groundout by Chris Richard. He had worked minor jams in the third and fifth innings, so it appeared that, with two on and two out, he would once again slither away unscathed. That was not the case, however.

On a 2-2 pitch, Tampa Bay shortstop Jason Bartlett shot a grounder up the middle destined for center field, but it was hit just slow enough for Pedroia to range to his left, collect, and fire to first (Zaun and Gross were off on contact and Zaun scored easily).

His throw was wayward and trickled away from Kotchman, but the first baseman collected himself immediately, found the ball, and, sensing Gross was going to try and score, threw a bullet to Martinez at home plate. Gross was closing in on Martinez when the Red Sox catcher received Kotchman’s throw.

Alertly, Martinez stuck out his left leg to block the plate, then, as Gross slid into his outstretched leg, applied the tag. Zaun, who was directing traffic behind the plate, signaled safe, but the actual umpire, Randy Marsh, correctly called Gross out, ending the inning.

Because of the heads-up play by Pedroia, Kotchman, and Martinez, only the tying run scored. That run cost Buchholz a chance to garner his sixth victory, but thanks to Pedroia’s bat in the bottom of the eighth, Boston would win.

A somewhat revitalized David Ortiz led off the inning with a double and was promptly replaced by speedster and former Ray, Joey Gathright, on the basepaths. Jacoby Ellsbury proceeded to do his job, and though with him and his speed there is no such thing as a sacrifice bunt, he moved Gathright over to third while accounting for the inning's first out.

Garza threw his fastball, which touches 96 miles per hour, 72 percent of the time last year, the highest percentage of fastballs thrown in the majors. Entering Pedroia’s ensuing at-bat, Garza had thrown 70 percent fastballs.

That percentage increased as his first two pitches to Pedroia were fastballs, which missed. Then, he regrettably tossed his third. Pedroia crushed the outside 94 mile per hour pitch into the Red Sox bullpen in rightfield, giving his team a lead they wouldn’t lose.

Buchholz pitched brilliantly, but his performance was underappreciated. Pedroia’s game-winning homer stole the spotlight, and Jon Lester’s start in the second game of the doubleheader kept Buchholz in the shadows.

Lester, who has been the staff’s most consistent pitcher (Buchholz would beg to differ), was given a run in the second inning on a RBI groundout by Mike Lowell, the only run he would need.

Whereas Buchholz allowed five hits and a run, Lester allowed two hits and no runs. The modern-day Andy Pettitte walked three and struck out seven, lowering his ERA 3.29 and his strikeout total to 211 on the year.

For good measure, Boston scored three more runs of insurance—two on a two out single by Jason Varitek, and the third on Jason Bay’s 32nd homer of the season.

Billy Wagner finished things off in the ninth inning, compiling two strikeouts in the process. With that, the Red Sox did what they set out to do: Sweep the Rays in the day-night twin bill.

As a bonus, Texas managed only a split against Seattle, so Boston, to its delight, picked up a game on its wild card foes.

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