The primary focus after the Red Sox' 7-3 win in Baltimore on Saturday night, and rightfully so, was on Stephen Drew's two home runs. Without question those blasts were the biggest reason his team was able to keep pace with Tampa Bay in the American League East, and with a career-high five RBIs they helped him fill the box score as much as he has since signing with Boston.
Though there was another big play that won't show up in the box, and can't be quantified, but still had a significant -- despite its subtlety -- impact on the Sox' 62nd victory.
It came in the bottom of the fifth, at which point Boston held a 4-0 advantage, but Baltimore was rallying. J.J. Hardy and Henry Urriata had opened the frame with successive singles, which brought Brian Roberts to the plate against Ryan Dempster.
After working the count to 2-and-1, Roberts got a pitch he liked and hammered a line drive to deep right. It got over the head of Victorino in a hurry, banging off the wall on the fly, and so Hardy scored easily. Urriata moved to third.
But Roberts remained at first.
Even at 35, Roberts still moves well enough to get two bases out of a ball off the wall -- but Shane Victorino didn't let him. He played the ball perfectly: not getting twisted around by a ball hit directly over his head, quickly getting into position, properly anticipating the carom, and expertly getting his body in a position to quickly make a strong throw.
Seeing all this, and having respect for Victorino's arm, Roberts didn't even bother to try it. He made a big turn, then hit the brakes and retreated back to the bag -- not wanting to make the first out at second base in what was starting to look like it could be a big inning for the O's.
But it wouldn't be. Thanks in no small part to Victorino's expert and expedited retrieval. Dempster did his job by striking out the next hitter, then with runners still at the corners he induced a double-play grounder from Manny Machado. So instead of the lead sliced to at least 4-2 with a man at third with Baltimore's 3-4-5 hitters due, as the ball slung from Drew to Pedroia to Napoli, the Sox escaped a harrowing situation still in command of a 4-1 lead, and with the momentum swung back to their side.
That manifested itself the next half-inning, when Drew launched his second long ball, and Boston seized control of the game that had a must-win sense about it from their side. Manager John Farrell seemed particularly amped up, not only eager to argue but taking no chances with the way he used his pitchers -- specifically in pulling Dempster at the first real sign of trouble, then calling on Koji Uehara to close with a four-run lead.
It wouldn't have been disastrous if they'd lost, but the first-place Rays had already won, while the Sox had dropped six of nine overall, as well as 24 of their last 33 against these Orioles, and August is just days away. There was definitely urgency apparent all night (see: Ortiz, David), and after taking the bottom of the order helped build a four-run lead, to give all or most of it back, and let an explosive Baltimore attack get rolling, would've been demoralizing. It was crucial that the Sox minimized the damage there.
And thanks to an unheralded-but-huge play from Victorino, they did.
|Jacoby Ellsbury, CF||1-for-5, 2 K, SB: His steals don't always turn into runs, but his 38th of the season did on Saturday night. He swiped second after singling in the third, and because he did, Victorino's grounder to second resulted in an RBI instead of a double play.|
|Shane Victorino, RF||1-for-5, R, HR, 2 RBI: After slugging double-digit homers in each of the past six seasons, Saturday night's seventh-inning bomb to right was only his fifth -- but he showed he can still hammer a hanger, at the very least.|
|Dustin Pedroia, 2B||0-for-4, BB: When rumors of his pending extension began to spread, Pedroia was batting .316. He's now down to an even .300 -- though were it not for the magnificence of Manny Machado, he would've had at least one hit Saturday.|
|David Ortiz, DH||0-for-2, 2 BB, K, ejection: His modest seven-game hitting streak came to an end when he earned one of the stupidest, most dangerous, angriest ejections you'll see. It's one thing to get mad, it's another to start swinging a bad in the dugout with teammates nearby. Foolish.|
|Mike Napoli, 1B||0-for-4, 2 K: Mike Napoli Strikeout Watch: With 132, he's on pace for 204. In his record-setting 2004 season, Mark Bellhorn had 117 through the team's first 105 games. His single-season club record is 177.|
|Mike Carp, LF||3-for-4, 2B: In just 37 starts, he now has five three-hit efforts and a dozen multi-hit games. Up to .329 overall, with a 1.010 OPS, his numbers are even better than that against righties. Carp vs. Daniel Nava could be an interesting competition moving forward.|
|Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C||1-for-4, 2 R: His single to center kept the inning alive ahead of Drew's three-run homer, then he scored on Drew's two-run blast, too. Those marked the first two times he'd crossed the plate since July 10.|
|Stephen Drew, SS||3-for-4, 3 R, 2 HR, 5 RBI, K: Drew had only one game with multiple extra-base hits since June 4, so to deliver a couple of circuit clouts and a career-high five RBIs was immense for a team that's struggled lately to get anything from the bottom of the order or the left side of the infield.|
|Jose Iglesias, 3B||1-for-4, SB: It looked like he was running as he swung in the fourth, and as a result he beat out a grounder to third for his team-best 24th infield hit of the year. Then he stole second for good measure.|
|Ryan Dempster, SP||5.1 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 4 K: He clearly wasn't happy about getting pulled when he did, but at that point he'd allowed hits to five of the previous eight, and bringing in Breslow turned Matt Wieters around to his left-comfortable right side.|
|Craig Breslow, RP||1.2 IP: He's emerging as the jack of all trades in the Sox bullpen, having entered in the middle of an inning in 10 of his last 14 appearances. Actually tougher on righties (.244) than lefties (.298), he faced four righties on Saturday and escaped unscathed.|
|Junichi Tazawa, RP||1 IP, 2 H, ER, BB: Tazawa issued four walks in his first 40 appearances -- and four in his past seven outings, including three in the last four. That's disconcerting, though he gave away a free pass in three straight appearances earlier this year, then was walk-free for his next 20 innings.|
|Koji Uehara, RP||1 IP, H, K: Ho hum, another scoreless frame for Uehara, whose only run allowed since June 9 came on a solo home run by Jose Bautista.|
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