The Red Sox wake up this morning only 4 and a half games out of first place. 4 1/2. Which when one looks at the players out for the season is pretty amazing. The injury list reads like the Sox line-up during a normal season: Pedroia, Ellsbury, Youklis, Veritek, Cameron.
This is the time for the Sox to make their move. The games with the Yankees and Tampa Bay are must win games. If they don’t, the season will be over. Last night things went their way. They were able to beat Tampa while the White Sox beat up on the Yankees and their pitcher, A. J. Burnette. Last night belonged to Jon Lester and Victor Martinez.
Because while last night’s 3-1 win over the Rays was a monster game for Martinez, it was a strange one for Lester, who was wild (five walks, three wild pitches, one hit batter) and dominant (10 strikeouts, two hits allowed) by turn. But he was saved, sometimes from himself, by Martinez.
“I thought Victor caught the game of his life,’’ manager Terry Francona said after the Sox moved to within 4 1/2 games of the American League East and wild-card races. “He was all over the place tonight. He did a great job. There was a lot of good things that happened tonight.’’
Martinez, the only member of the Sox to have hit a home run off David Price entering last night’s game, hit two more — solo homers in the first and seventh — to provide the difference. Martinez went 3 for 4 against Price to raise his career mark against the Cy Young contender to .417 (5 for 12). Before last night, Martinez had hit just one home run in 118 at-bats since coming off the disabled list July 26.
Perhaps his performance shouldn’t have been surprising, as Martinez has a .371 average against the Rays and .407 average at Tropicana Field, the best among players with at least 100 at-bats.
But it wasn’t only that. Martinez called the right pitches at the right times, as Lester dominated with men on base. The Rays went 1 for 10 with men in scoring position against Lester (14-8), Daniel Bard, and Jonathan Papelbon (save No. 33), and stranded seven runners.
Tonight could be different with Sabathia pitching for the Yankees and a two great pitchers, Bucholtz and Garza, in the Red Sox-Rays game. This means that the odds favor a Yankee win which the Sox-Rays is a toss-up. But if the Sox are going to win 2 out of 3 , I think it rests on Bucholtz because Josh Beckett has not been very reliable and he pitches the 3rd game of the series on Sunday.
Rays sweep. No need to get too detailed here. Unless the Yankees similarly get swept by the Chicago White Sox over the weekend, the Red Sox will be all but dead come Monday. Even then, Boston will trail the Yankees by six in the loss column with 31 to play. Tampa will have a nine-game advantage over Boston in the loss column. [And we know this won’t happen.]
The obvious best-case scenario. If the Sox can win all three – as unlikely as that is, the Red Sox swept a three-game series at Tampa early this year – they will trail the Rays by three in the loss column. That would do a great deal to inspire interest in a Red Sox club that has been treading water for months. Game on, Garth.
Rays win 2 of 3. Again, unless the Yankees get swept, the Red Sox will be in dire straits. Boston would trail Tampa by seven in the loss column and New York by at least six with five weeks of baseball to go. Remember that rosters expand to 40 players next week and teams like the Yankees and Rays will have minor leaguers to take the bullet – thereby resting their starters – in any blowouts over the final month.
Red Sox win 2 of 3. While this sounds like a big series win, the gain for the Sox is relatively minimal. Again, there is always the chance the series could mean more depending on what happens with the Yankees. Still, winning 2 of 3 means the Sox would leave Tampa trailing by five games in the loss column, only magnifying the point that it can be hard to make up ground in head-to-head meetings unless you sweep. Simply put, too much time comes off the clock. The Rays really need to win just one game this weekend to ensure a five-game lead in the loss column with five weeks to play.
Just think of the great story that could be written of the 2010 season if the Sox manage to make the play-offs with a line up that should be playing in Pawtucket or maybe even Portland. But let me not get ahead of myself. Let’s sweep the Rays first.