The very first Major League Baseball game was played on May 4, 1871 between the Cleveland Forest Cities and the Fort Wayne Kekiongas. A lot has changed in the national pastime in the 140 years, four months and 24 days since. Baseball has seen a number of odd and amazing things happen in the 51,281 days pass since then, but last night we may have witnessed the greatest night in baseball history.
The scene set at the beginning of the night was perfect. Two teams in each league tied for the last elusive playoff spot. Each league had one team (the Red Sox in the American League and the Braves in the National League) trying to stave off possibly the greatest collapses in baseball history while two others (the Rays in the AL and the Cardinals in the NL) looked to put the finishing touches on improbable comebacks.
The stories of how each team got here, into a tie on the final day of the season, are all very unique. On September 2, the Red Sox held a nine-game lead over Tampa Bay in the AL Wild Card race. No team in major league history had ever blown a nine-game lead in September. In the 25 games since September 2, the Red Sox gave up six runs or more in a game 18 times as Boston’s pitching staff surrendered an astounding 6.4 runs per game. Their starting pitchers compiled a 7.91 ERA over the last 19 games. The Red Sox would go 7-18 since September 2, falling into a tie for the AL Wild Card with Tampa Bay.
The Rays, despite vaulting nine games in the standings to catch Boston, had been on a rollercoaster ride in September. Tampa Bay was just 10-9 against every other team in baseball during the month. However, the Rays were able to make up ground so quickly because they dominated the Red Sox, winning six of seven games against Boston. By the time each team would play its final series of the year on September 26, Tampa Bay had vaulted itself into a tie atop the AL Wild Card standings.
On the National League side, the Braves were faltering in similar fashion to the Red Sox. Atlanta held an 8.5 game lead over St. Louis on September 5. However, since then, the Braves went 7-15, with 11 different pitchers taking a loss. During that stretch, Atlanta averaged only 3.09 runs per game and allowed 4.36 runs per game. Over the course of the season, those numbers were 3.96 and 3.73, respectively.
As Atlanta cooled off, the Cardinals began to catch fire. St. Louis’ run actually began a little bit earlier than the Braves’ collapse though, which allowed them to gain slightly more ground. On August 25, the Cardinals were 10.5 games behind Atlanta in the NL Wild Card race. In the 31 games since then though, St. Louis went 22-9, including a three-game sweep of the Braves from September 9 through 11. During that stretch, the Cardinals averaged 4.84 runs per game while surrendering just 3.84 runs per contest. With their 13-6 victory Tuesday over the Astros, St. Louis was finally able to erase the deficit and move into a tie atop the NL Wild Card leaders.
The final night of the season proved to be the final stop on the magical carpet ride the Rays and Cardinals had taken throughout September. However, for most of the night, it looked as if both of those teams would either not get the job done or be forced into a one-game playoff to decide their playoff faith the next day.
The Cardinals erased any chance of doubt early on by taking a 5-0 lead in the top of the first inning. They would cruise to an 8-0 victory, the only game of the four teams tied for a Wild Card spot that lacked drama.
Meanwhile, after a Ryan Howard RBI-double in the top of the first for Philadelphia, the Braves responded by tying the game on a Chipper Jones sacrifice fly in the bottom half of the frame. In the bottom of the third, Dan Uggla gave Atlanta their first lead of the game with a two-run home run to left to make it 3-1. However, the Phillies began to inch closer as the late innings fell upon Turner Field. A Jack Wilson error in the top of the seventh allowed Raul Ibanez to score to make it 3-2.
The score would stay that way as Braves manager Freddi Gonzalez summoned Craig Kimbrel, who saved a rookie-record 46 games this year, into the game to close things out in the ninth. Kimbrel immediately allowed a single to Placido Polanco, who was pinch-run for by Pete Orr. After striking out Carlos Ruiz for the first out, Kimbrel committed the worst sin that a pitcher can make; giving out free passes to first base for batters. He walked pinch-hitter Ben Francisco and followed that up with the same result to Jimmy Rollins to load the bases with one out. The free passes allowed Chase Utley to hit a sacrific fly to left and just like that, Kimbrel blew his eighth save of the season as the Phillies tied the game at three.
The game would remain scoreless until the 13th, with Atlanta missing a golden opportunity to win with runners on the corners and two outs in the 12th. Scott Linebrink entered the game out of the Braves bullpen for the top half of the inning and made the same egregious mistakes as Kimbrel. After striking out Dominic Brown, Linebrink walked Brian Schneider. Rollins flied to center for the second out but then an Utley single pushed Schneider to third. With runners on the corners and two outs, the same situation the Braves failed to score with in the bottom of the 12th, Hunter Pence hit a weak line drive that found a hole in the right side of the infield to give the Phillies a 4-3 lead.
Atlanta had one final opportunity to extend their season in the bottom frame of the 13th. However, with a runner on first and one out, Freddie Freeman grounded into a double play as the Braves’ season suddenly and shockingly ended. With five games to play, Atlanta had owned a three-game lead over St. Louis. In those five games, though, the Braves scored just seven runs, going 0-5. However, their bullpen implosion would not be the only one by a team on this night to put the finishing touches on a sinking season.
Over on the American League side, things could not have started off any better for the Red Sox. For just the third time in 15 games, the Red Sox would able to put a crooked number on the scoreboard before the opposing team, using a Dustin Pedroia single to take a 1-0 lead in the third. However, Boston coughed the lead right up on a two-run J.J. Hardy homer in the bottom half of the inning. The Red Sox continued to claw back though, scoring one in the fourth on a balk by Orioles pitcher Alfredo Simon and then using a Pedroia home run to take a 3-2 lead in the fifth.
As Boston was taking the lead and the reigns in the Wild Card race, Tampa Bay looked like their season would end because of their struggles against every other team besides the Red Sox. By the end of the fifth inning, the Yankees had a 7-0 lead and the Rays’ postseason hopes looked pretty much dead.
However, just like that though, a funny thing happened. It was almost as if the baseball gods intervened to suddenly change the fortunes of the games. As the Orioles and Red Sox stopped play for a rain delay, Tampa Bay suddenly began a miraculous comeback. With Boston watching from the locker room, the Rays got their first three men on base against Boone Logan in the bottom of the eighth. New York manager Joe Girardi decided to bring in Luis Ayala and Tampa Bay capitalized immediately. Sam Fuld walked score Johnny Damon to make it 7-1. Ayala hit Sean Rodriguez with a pitch to force in another run to make it 7-2 before striking out Desmond Jennings for the first out of the innings. B.J. Upton then hit a sacrifice fly to make it 7-3 with two outs and the Rays’ hottest hitter, Evan Longoria, coming to the plate. Suddenly, with two men on, a glimmer of hope appeared at the end of the tunnel for Tampa Bay. Longoria crushed a pitch over the fence in left field, and just like that the Rays were within one at 7-6. John Jaso singled before Ayala retired Damon to end the inning and stop the bleeding.
Tampa Bay was afforded one more shot in the bottom of the ninth inning to put their playoff destiny in their own hands. The Yankees’ new pitcher, Cory Wade, retired the first two hitters of the plate though, and suddenly the Rays were down to their final out. With light-hitting Sam Fuld due up next, Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon made the curious decision of pinch-hitting Dan Johnson. Among non-pitchers with at least 50 plate appearances this year, Johnson (.119) had the lowest batting average this season of any hitter in baseball. However, be it the baseball gods or Maddon’s knowledge that since 2008, Johnson was 17-for-52 (.327) with eight home runs and 14 RBIs in 22 games against the Red Sox and Yankees and just . 20 for 168 (.119 with three homers and 17 RBIs in 56 games against the rest baseball, Johnson came through. Down to his final strike, Johnson crushed a ball over the fence in right field to miraculously tie the game and send it to extra innings.
Soon afterwards, the Red Sox and Orioles resumed play at Camden Yards. The Boston bullpen was able to keep Baltimore off the scoreboard in the seventh and the eighth and hand the ball to closer Jonathan Papelbon for the ninth inning with a 3-2 lead. Coming into this game, the Red Sox were 77-0 this season when leading after eight innings. Papelbon struck out the first two batters of the inning and the Red Sox were one out away from controlling their own destiny once again in the postseason hunt. However, fate kicked in against Boston. Chris Davis hit a double and then Nolan Reimold stepped to the plate. Papelbon pumped two fastballs by the bat of Reimold and Boston was just one strike away. However, Reimold smashed a ground-rule double into right to tie it at three. Robert Andino then digged into the box. It would be the last batter of the Red Sox’s miserable and depressing fall from grace. Andino lined a ball hard into left field. Charging hard was Carl Crawford, who slid feet first, but the ball clanked off his glove, scoring Reimold and sending Boston back into the clubhouse with a loss after leading in the eighth inning for the first time all season.
At this time, the Yankees and Rays had moved into the bottom of the 13th inning. Pitching for New York was Scott Proctor, who had throw 2.1 innings of scoreless baseball as Longoria stepped back into the box. With the eyes of a tormented Red Sox Nation now upon him, Longoria worked the count to 2-2. He then fouled off a pitch before lining a rocket down the left field line. The ball stayed fair and flew just over the fence as the Rays celebrated being the first team in baseball history to overcome a nine-game deficit to make the postseason. It was just the third time in Yankees history, and first since 1953, that New York blew a seven-run lead in the 8th inning or later. Like what happened to the Braves, it took one final bullpen collapse to be the final straw of the Red Sox’s season, finishing off the most epic collapse of all-time.
Boston did not win consecutive games since beating Oakland in a doubleheader on August 27. The Red Sox were 1-2 against Texas, 2-5 against Toronto, 1-6 against Tampa Bay, 2-5 against Baltimore and 1-4 against the Yankees in September, finishing 7-20 overall in the month. The 20 losses in September were the most by a Red Sox team in the month since 1952. The team with baseball’s third-highest payroll will be watching the playoffs from home for the second season in a row while the Rays, who own the major’s second-smallest payroll, will be going to the postseason for the third time in four years.
The night started with the potential to be magical, but it proved to be even better than that. The Rays were one strike away from losing. The Red Sox were one strike away from winning. But in each case, the opposite happened. The timing of the games and the simple brilliance of ninth-inning rallies, two teams’ bullpen collapses and a walk-off home run proved to be as dramatic as baseball can get. With so much on the line, seeing all of this was unbelievable. When the dust settled, the only word that could even come close to describing the enchantment of the cascade of events crashing down last night is this one: Amazing.
There have been 51,282 nights in baseball history. None of them were better and filled with more collective drama and magic than what we witnessed last night.
Luke Jackson and I begin the show by discussing the Major League Baseball pennant races before moving to Week Two of the NFL season. We close the show by discussing Maryland football and soccer.
You can also listen to our brand-new USA-themed introduction by clicking below!
I do a weekly talk show with a friend of mine, Luke Jackson, on WMUC Sports every Monday from 7-9 p.m. This week, we interview Baltimore Sun Maryland Terrapins beat writer Jeff Barker. We then talked about Terps football, Week 1 in the NFL and the Major League Baseball pennant races.
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The third and fourth hitters in a lineup, respectively, are traditionally the most feared batters on a team. There are obviously quite a few exceptions. The Yankees bat Curtis Granderson second when everyone is healthy, and he has 36 home runs and leads the majors with 103 runs batted in this year. Ichiro Suzuki (who, despite a down year, is still the most feared hitter in Seattle’s lineup) and Jose Reyes almost always bat leadoff for the Mariners and Mets, respectively. But for a pitcher, there is nothing worse than seeing a dangerous No. 3 batter step into the box and looking over to the opposing dugout to see another dangerous weapon lurking in the on-deck circle.
Perhaps there is no 3-4 punch in baseball history quite as feared as the Yankees’ Babe Ruth-Lou Gehrig duo was from 1926 through 1934 (Gehrig was the No. 5 batter on the 1925 Yankees). On the 1927 Murderers Row team, Ruth hit .356/.486/.772, Gehrig batted .373/.474/.765 and the pair combined to swat 107 home runs and drive in 339 runs. In 1930 Ruth had a .359/.493/.732 batting line, Gehrig hit .379/.473/.721 and the duo combined for 90 homers and 327 RBIs. The very next year, Ruth batted .373/.495/.700 at age 37, his final truly great season, and Gehrig hit .341/.446/.662. They smashed 46 homers apiece and drove in a combined 347 runs with Gehrig driving in 184 of them by himself, the most ever by an American League player in a season. In the nine seasons they batted third and fourth respectively, Ruth and Gehrig combined to drill 771 home runs with 2,748 RBIs. There has been no 3-4 combo that has been feared more or put up better numbers in all of baseball history.
A more modern example of the production Ruth and Gehrig put up from the three and four holes in the lineup, respectively, comes from the 2004 through 2008 Boston Red Sox. David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez did not have the same longevity of Ruth and Gehrig, but there were equally as feared by major league pitchers. In 2004, their first season as a 3-4 combo and the year the Red Sox broke an 86-year drought to win the World Series for the first time since 1918, Ortiz hit .301/.380/.603, Ramirez batted .308/.397/.613 and the duo combined for 84 homers and 269 RBIs. The next year, Ortiz had a .300/.397/.604 batting line, Ramirez hit .292/.388/.594 and they combined to whack 92 home runs and drive in 292 runs. In their four and a half years as a 3-4 combo (Ramirez was traded to the Dodgers on July 31, 2008), the duo produced 354 homers and 1,120 RBIs and helped win Boston’s only two modern World Series championships.
No 3-4 combo today comes close to the Ruth/Gehrig standard of excellence. Nonetheless, there are still some very good ones that are very tough to pitch to, despite injuries limiting many of baseball’s most dangerous 3-4 duos this year. Washington’s Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse don’t match up statistically (combined for 30 home runs and 106 RBIs) with the rest of baseball due to a Zimmerman injury that caused him to miss 58 games, but give the Nationals something to build around with their young and talented farm system. The Phillies have seen a similar problem with Chase Utley missing 51 games with an injury, and as a result, have seen their 3-4 duo combine of Utley and Ryan Howard combine for 36 home runs and 138 RBIs, well below what they normally produce together. The Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez has missed 46 games this year, but he and Mark Teixeira have still hit 49 homers and driven in 152 runs combined. Kevin Youkilis has missed 21 games for the Red Sox, but has combined with Adrian Gonzalez to blast 40 home runs and bring home 181 runs. The Rangers have lost Josh Hamilton for 40 games, but he and Michael Young have hit 27 homers and driven in 157 runs. Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday have missed a combined 42 games to injury, but have hit 50 home runs with 145 RBIs. Cincinnati’s Joey Votto and Jay Bruce have stayed healthy, each knocking in 84 runs and combining for 51 long bombs, but have been plagued by Bruce’s inconsistency all year long. However, healthy or not, none of these duos match the Milwaukee’s Brewers 3-4 punch of Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder.
Braun and Fielder have terrorized opposing pitchers together since Braun reached the big leagues in 2007. Their first year together, Braun hit .324/.370/.634, Fielder batted .288/.395/.618 and the pair combined for 84 home runs and 216 RBIs. The 2009 season was another remarkable campaign for the anchors of Milwaukee’s order, combining for 78 homers and 255 RBIs while Braun owned a .320/.386/.551 batting line and Fielder hit .299/.412/.602. In what is likely their last year mashing together in the lineup because Fielder is a free agent at the end of the season, the duo have smashed 53 home runs and driven in 187 runs together, the most production of any 3-4 duo in baseball. Braun is posting career-highs in batting average (.333) and on-base percentage (.404), and is also leading the National League in slugging percentage (.592). Fielder meanwhile, leads the NL in RBIs with 101, is fifth in slugging percentage (.547), and is close to matching career-highs in average (.298) and OBP (.413).
The pair also has the longevity factor, as they will have been placed as 3-4 batters, respectively, in the Brewers’ lineup for five seasons by the end of this year. They have combined to pound 343 home runs and drive in 1,052 runs in their time as a 3-4 punch. Their production together is the closest baseball has had in a 3-4 duo since Boston’s Ortiz/Ramirez combination, and they are dangerously close to the numbers that Ortiz and Ramirez put up together in the four and a half years they spent destroying opposing pitching in the middle of the Red Sox order. The one thing the Ortiz and Ramirez were able to do together that Braun and Fielder have not is consistently win. The Brewers hold a 9.5 game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central, and if they hold on, it would be the first time Milwaukee’s 3-4 punch has won a division and only the second time they visited the postseason. In comparison, the Ortiz/Ramirez 3-4 duo won one division but also two World Series titles together, going to the playoffs a total of three times. While it may end this offseason because Fielder is expected to sign elsewhere in free agency, the Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder 3-4 punch is the most feared in the majors today – and the best in baseball since David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez bludgeoned opposing pitching in Boston’s order from 2004 through the middle of the 2008 season.
The Boston Red Sox have hit 151 home runs this season, second of any team in baseball to the New York Yankees (165). David Ortiz is leading the Red Sox with 24 round trippers, but the man who is trailing him in that category may surprise you. It’s not Adrian Gonzalez. Kevin Youkilis is not the answer, either. Nor is Dustin Pedroia or Carl Crawford. It is center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who has 127 more stolen bases in his career than home runs, who has knocked 22 pitches out of the park this season.
Entering this season, Ellsbury had hit a total of 18 triples and 20 home runs in his four-year career. He had never hit more than nine homers in a single campaign. His only two full big league seasons, a .280/.336/.394, 22-double, seven-triple, nine-homer, 47-RBI, 50-steal, 98-run rookie year in 2008, and a 2009 in which he batted .301/.355/.415 with 27 doubles, 10 triples, eight home runs, 60 RBIs, 70 stolen bases and 94 runs scored indicated that Ellsbury could thrive with the Red Sox by getting on-base at a good clip and then use his speed to get around the bases in front of Boston’s beefy middle of the order. While most players develop more power as they age into their late-20s, the Red Sox never imagined Ellsbury would hit more than 15-to-20 homers in a season at best.
At age 27 and coming back from multiple rib injuries that caused him to miss all but 18 games of the 2010 season, Ellsbury’s 2011 expedition has been a revelation. With a .313/.370/.517 batting line, he has gotten on-base in front of Boston’s RBI-guys in Gonzalez, Youkilis and Ortiz consistently at the top of the lineup. While he led the league in stolen bases in both 2008 and 2009, Ellsbury has still been able to use his speed to swipe 33 bases this season, all while zooming around the diamond to score 89 runs, good enough for third in the majors. Ellsbury, though, has always been able to get on-base and score runs successfully in the majors. The difference of Ellsbury at the plate this season is evidenced by the increased amount of pop in his swing. He has set career-highs in doubles (31), home runs and RBIs (79).
With over 30 stolen bases already this year, Ellsbury is only eight home runs shy of putting himself in exclusive company. Of all the great hitters who have ever played for the Boston Red Sox, Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Jimmie Foxx, Carlton Fisk, Bobby Doerr, Jim Rice and Wade Boggs to name a few, none have ever hit 30 home runs and swiped 30 bases in a single season. Ellsbury’s power streak has been a recent phenomenon, as 13 of his 22 round trippers have come in the 39 games he has played in since July 6. During that span, he is averaging a home run every 12.69 at-bats, just above the 11.22 at-bats major league home run leader Jose Bautista is averaging to hit a homer, and well below the 22.95 at-bats Ellsbury is averaging to launch a four-bagger this whole season. However, as long as he stays healthy and stays on his current season home run pace, Ellsbury will likely become the first Red Sox to join the 30-30 club.
In his only two full major league seasons before 2011, Jacoby Ellsbury proved he could be a good top of the order hitter by getting on-base and into scoring position often for the middle of the Red Sox’s order. After two good seasons in 2008 and 2009, he missed nearly all of the 2010 season, but returned with more pop in his bat than ever. Ellsbury has hit 22 of his 42 career home runs this year. He has not lost any of his speed, either, as he has swiped 33 bags so far in 2011. Ellsbury has had such a good all-around season that he may make history by becoming the first player in Red Sox history to hit 30 round trippers and steal 30 bases in one season. The Red Sox expected Ellsbury to be a staple at the top of the order scoring runs for a dynamic offense. They never imagined him to grow into this kind of power but he has suddenly become one of the most dangerous players in Boston’s lineup by becoming the Red Sox’s newest power threat.
It is one o’clock in the morning. The Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays have entered the 15th inning of a scoreless game at Tropicana Field. In my tired state, for some reason I decide to make a diary of my thoughts until the end of the game. Here it is:
1:14 a.m.- Dustin Pedroia pummels a pitch from Rays pitcher Brandon Gomes. Rays centerfield B.J. Upton runs it down. How many hard-hit balls that look like they will land 10 rows into the bleachers will be caught tonight?
1:16 a.m.- Kevin Youkilis gets hit for the 4,982nd time this season. Actually, ESPN play-by-play guy Dan Schulman informs me it is the 12th time this season Youkilis has been hit. I was just a little off in my estimation.
1:17 a.m.- Drew Sutton steps up the plate. It really seemed like a good idea to have Sutton pinch-run for David Ortiz with the bases loaded and no one out in the top of the 11th. Not so much right now.
1:18 a.m.- Sutton pops up with runners on first and second with one out. If only Big Papi was up…
1:20 a.m.- ESPN flashes to the Red Sox dugout with Big Papi leading a clan of players wearing rally caps. I have to say I love the look. Maybe this will be the Red Sox’s new thing, like the bullpen band, which started in 2007.
1:21 a.m.- Darnell McDonald pops up to end the top of the 15th. Still 0-0. I go grab a box of “Quattro Formaggio” Triscuits. Always a great snack.
1:23 a.m.- Alfredo Aceves begins his third inning of work tonight for Boston. Have to say he’s been a great pickup this offseason by Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein. The versatile pitcher has started, filled the long-relief role and helped set-up for closer Jonathan Papelbon.
1:24 a.m.- The Red Sox have left 15 men on-base. Ugh.
1:28 a.m.- Aceves hits Evan Longoria and Casey Kotchman in consecutive at-bats. One out. B.J. Upton coming up. I am a little nervous.
1:29 a.m.- Schulman informs the audience that this is the longest game in Rays history. All 14 years of it.
1:31 a.m.- Aceves gets Upton to pop up and Justin Ruggiano to ground out to end the 15th inning. What a great job by Jason Varitek. The 39-year old catcher has caught all 15 innings tonight. Unbelievable.
1:34 a.m.- No errors in this game so far. Only two major league games ended with completely clean and errorless baseball today.
1:35 a.m.- The Rays bring in their final pitcher in the bullpen, Adam Russell. They have just one more player available on their bench, Elliot Johnson, who is a second baseman with a total of 19 at-bats this year. I’m really hoping we see him pitch. That would make this game even more enjoyable.
1:37 a.m.- Josh Reddick draws a leadoff walk. The Red Sox still haven’t had a hit since Dustin Pedroia’s double in the ninth. The Rays’ bullpen has walked 10(!) Red Sox hitters. The bats need to come through at some point.
1:38 a.m.- Varitek lays down a perfect bunt to put Reddick in scoring position. I’m not normally a big fan of the bunt, but in this situation, I like the call.
1:39 a.m.- Marco Scutaro walks up to the plate. I have noticed that he has switched bats from earlier in the game. He is now using a black bat instead of the basic, no-paint bat. Maybe this is the lucky bat that will deliver the elusive hit!
1:39 a.m.- The bat does have some luck in it! Scutaro hits a weak groundball up the middle, but Rays shortstop Reid Brignac botches it. Runners on the corners, one out! Jacoby Ellsbury coming up. Why did Scutaro wait until the 16th inning to use his lucky bat?
1:40 a.m- Ellsbury is 0-for-7 tonight. Wow, talk about a tough night. All he needs to do now is hit a flyball to make up for it…
1:41 a.m.- What does he do? Ellsbury hits a shallow flyball that is not deep enough to score Reddick from third. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? COME ON!
1:41 a.m.- Starting to think that this game might actually never end. Dustin Pedroia steps up to the plate.
1:43 a.m.- Pedroia is one of my all-time favorite players. I absolutely love the guy. The smallest player on the field always seems to deliver in the game’s biggest moments. He has three of the Red Sox’s five hits tonight, going 3-for-7. The rest of the team is 2-for-45.
1:44 a.m.- Adrian Gonzalez swats a flyball to deep right field… Could it be? Not today, it falls just short. Make that 2-for-46. Nice leaping catch by Ben Zobrist to keep this game within reach for Tampa Bay. Jonathan Papelbon time!
1:45 a.m.- Commercial break. I run the Triscuits back to the cabinet in the kitchen. They were delicious.
1:46 a.m.- Surprised to see Papelbon’s ERA in the 4’s. The more I think about it, with the way Daniel Bard is pitching, the more I think this is Papelbon’s last year in Boston.
1:50 a.m.- Papelbon strike out Sean Rodriguez and gets Kelly Shoppach to ground out to Youkilis at third. The crowd screams, “YOOOOOOOUUUUUUUKKKKKK.” Gotta love the great home-field advantage for the Rays at Tropicana Field.
1:51 a.m.- One more out!
1:52 a.m.- Two strikes on Brignac! Put him away, Papelbon!
1:53 a.m.- Nine pitches for Papelbon. Nine strikes. He looks like a man on a mission to get out of Tampa Bay as soon as possible tonight.
1:54 a.m.- Brignac rips a pitch headed towards right field. Adrian Gonzalez makes a nice snag before throwing it over to Papelbon covering first base and the ballgame is over! Papelbon delivers his signature fist-pump. One of my favorite fist-pumps in sports. It’s the same exact one every time but it’s filled with so much emotion.
1:55 a.m.- It took five hours and 55 minutes, but what a game!
1:55 a.m.- It’s games like this that reinforce why this is the best sport on the planet. The two teams averaged one hit every 53 minutes. The Red Sox left 17 runners on base. The Rays used each of their eight relievers and had two coaches ejected. It was the third-longest scoreless game in Major League Baseball history.
2:00 a.m.- Every time you watch a baseball game, you see something you have never seen before. This one had a lot of new twists in it and became one of the most entertaining games I have ever watched. I love baseball.
2:25 a.m.- I am finished editing my article so that it (hopefully) makes sense. I am going to sleep but I cannot get over how great of game that was! Goodnight!
With Daisuke Matsuzaka having just undergone Tommy John Surgery, he may have pitched for the final time in a Boston Red Sox uniform. The Red Sox paid about $100 million ($51 million posting fee for the rights to sign him and a 6-year, $52 million contract) to get Matsuzaka to pitch at Fenway Park. His time with the Red Sox has included a World Series championship, one incredible season in which he finished fourth in AL Cy Young voting and three so-so, injury-filled seasons. The question is, after so many high peaks and deep valleys, was Daisuke Matsuzaka worth the money Boston paid for him?
The beginning of the Dice-K Era started off with a lot of promise. Matsuzaka was not a dominant pitcher by any means in 2007. But while adjusting to a brand-new life in America, in a new league with brand-new rules, new teammates and a very limited English linguistic ability, Matsuzaka’s first year was very solid. He finished with 15 wins, eating up 204.2 innings in the process. In the postseason, Matsuzaka won two games en route to the Red Sox’ second World Series championship in four seasons. The signs were there for him to be even better down the road. He had over 200 strikeouts and would be entering the prime of his career. It was a promising start with the very real potential for him to take big steps forward in 2008, when Matsuzaka would be fully accustomed to his new life.
Sure enough, Matsuzaka took giant leaps forward in his second year in the majors, finishing 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA, leading the league with just 6.9 hits allowed per nine innings. At 27 years old, many thought this was exactly the pitcher the Red Sox would be getting when they paid all that money for him. At this point in time, following a World Series championship and a dominant season, Matsuzaka seemed like a bargain.
Despite his successful 2008 campaign, there were some very big warning signs that Matsuzaka had been able to cover up by wiggling through tough jams. For one, his walk rate rose significantly, from 3.5 BB/9 during his rookie season to 5.0 BB/9 in his second year. In fact, Matsuzaka led the majors in walks issued that year, with 94. This lack of control made his pitch count rise rapidly and did not let him work deep into most games. Matsuzaka averaged just 5.78 innings per start, throwing only 167.2 innings in total. He was able to strand runners and escape a lot of damage because opponents posted just a .258 batting average on balls in play. Perhaps the biggest foreshadowing of the future was when Matsuzaka was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a shoulder injury at the end of May. Though he was still able to make 29 starts that year, Matsuzaka may never have been able to rebuild his shoulder strength to what it was before the injury due to clashes with Boston management on rehab strategy, perhaps causing future injuries throughout the remainder of his time in Boston.
Matsuzaka never made more than 25 starts in a season during the final three years of the Dice-K Era. Those warning signs in 2008 turned into major problems when he actually was healthy enough to pitch. His walk rate actually improved slightly to 4.6 BB/9 in 2009. Despite this, Matsuzaka was not nearly as fortunate as he had been in the previous year. He would finish 4-6 with a 5.76 ERA in a campaign limited to just 12 starts because of another shoulder injury. Opponents posted a .380 BABIP, swelling Matsuzaka’s hit rate to a staggering 12.3 H/9. Matsuzaka allowed 81 hits in just 59.1 innings, which along with his control problems, gave him a 1.87 WHIP. That number would have been worst in baseball had Matsuzaka thrown enough innings to qualify.
2010 was somewhat of a bounce-back year for Matsuzaka. A combination of back, neck and forearm injuries limited him to only 25 starts. His numbers were similar to that of his first season with Boston. He would go 9-6 with a 4.69 ERA in 153.2 innings, continuing to improve his walk rate per nine to 4.3 and reducing his WHIP to 1.37. However, when the Red Sox paid over $100 million for him to pitch, they expected a pitcher who would improve on a first season that featured so many adjustments. Matsuzaka had done the opposite following 2008, regressing to the same pitcher he was while facing so many changes in 2007.
The regression continued into this season. Matsuzaka became even more of a nibbler than he had been before, walking 5.5 hitters per nine innings in 8 games, seven of them starts. Before tearing an elbow ligament in a May 16 start against Baltimore, he went 3-3 with a 5.30 ERA and 1.47 WHIP while actually being lucky with opponents posting a .248 BABIP. He would have just two quality starts all year, making it into the sixth inning in just three times.
Matsuzaka underwent Tommy John surgery on Friday in Los Angeles. Recovery time normally takes between nine and 12 months, but it could take some pitchers over 15 months to fully recover and be able to pitch again. There is a chance that Daisuke Matsuzaka has thrown his final pitch as a member of the Boston Red Sox.
Daisuke Matsuzaka’s major league career in Boston started off with so much promise. He had a solid rookie campaign while contributing to a World Series title. Had the Red Sox still been searching for a way to break the Curse of the Bambino and not won the World Series in 2004, the 2007 title would have immediately made Matsuzaka worth $103 million. But this was different. Red Sox fans certainly appreciated the title, but it was not as sweet as the 2004 championship. Matsuzaka had a great 2008 year, but was never the same pitcher after that, regressing to no more than a 5th starter at best when healthy in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Despite a strong start to his time in a Red Sox uniform, injuries and inconsistency throughout his tenure will leave Daisuke Matsuzaka to be remembered as a disappointment and not worth the large sum of money the Red Sox signed him for.