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Frustrating as it might've been, Red Sox-Rays game sure was fun

Posted by David D'Onofrio  July 30, 2013 07:15 AM

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The sound and the fury told the story on Monday night at Fenway Park -- first when the vicious reaction to Daniel Nava being called out at home plate roared so loud he couldn't hear his manager arguing with the umpire, and then about a half-hour later when a solemn bunch of Red Sox dressed quickly and hurried out of a quiet clubhouse.

It was a frustrating night at the old ballyard for the local team, which couldn't do anything against Rays starter David Price, saw bad baserunning and a blown call cost them the would-be tying run, and ultimately fell to second place after leaving two men on base in the ninth.

But it sure was a fun night, too.

Get past the disappointment, past the wouldas and couldas and shouldas, past the final result -- and take a moment to appreciate what Monday represented for Red Sox Nation. It marked the return of meaningful baseball, something that's been missing in these parts for most of the past two years, but promises to be a prominent part of our sporting lives for at least the next couple months.

A reminder of just how dynamic and dramatic it can be when your team is good and the games matter, the Rays' 2-1 triumph packed into its nine innings a little bit of everything that makes baseball such a multi-layered, nuanced, beautiful masterpiece when the stakes and intensity are simultaneously raised.

There was the brilliance of Price, who shut down the Sox for the second time in six days by allowing only two hits over 7.1 innings. There was the battling of Felix Doubront, who wasn't sharp, and couldn't figure out why his arm action was so slow, but managed to limit the Rays to two runs over his five innings.

There was the excellent defense of Tampa third baseman Evan Longoria. There was the terrific work of Boston's piecemeal bullpen, which twice pitched out of trouble that threatened to let the Rays pull away. There was the air of opportunity that began to permeate the park as the night got later and the Red Sox somehow managed to stay close.

Then there was the bottom of the eighth inning, which followed a 38-minute rain delay, and set the scene for the fun -- or the frustration, depending on the color of your lenses.

It was a frame full of strategy and high-pressure decision making from the very start, beginning when Rays Manager Joe Maddon decided to send Price back to the bump after a lengthy delay -- then reconsidered one batter later, even after his lefty overcame a 3-0 count to strike out Jonny Gomes.

And by then, the game had reached the point where the chess pieces were moving quickly, and every choice came with heavy consequence. The point where the game becomes fascinating.

Joel Peralta came on in relief. John Farrell stuck with Ryan Lavarnway, instead of summoning Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Lavarnway doubled, and Farrell chose Nava to pinch run instead of Jose Iglesias. Nava then decides to creep back toward second, instead of moving toward third, as Stephen Drew's double sailed to the base of the right-field wall. Brian Butterfield thus held him at third.

And then Jerry Meals made the decision that set off the sound and fury. Nava, who's as nice a guy as there is anywhere, lit into the umpire feverishly. Farrell did the same, except with language salty enough that he was ejected.

But what stood out most was the noise coming from the crowd. Not only had a vast majority of the 37,242 stuck it out through the rain delay, but they were into it. They were angry. Some were irate. Everyone was loud. In that moment, and for most of the night, the group in Fenway on Monday night was reminiscent of the crowds that populated the park a decade ago, when the sellout streak wasn't yet a sham and the mood of the patrons hung on every pitch.

They quieted quickly after Mike Napoli's third strikeout left the tying run at second in the ninth, and it was more of the same in the clubhouse a few minutes later. There was no music and hardly any conversation going on. It was fairly solemn, especially for July 29, though the near-silence spoke to the seriousness with which the Sox took a loss to a division rival. And -- with good reason, given the nature of the game -- there was undeniably a sense of frustration.

But in his corner of the room, Shane Victorino saw more than a bad baserunning read and an umpire's mistake.

"Yeah, it gets frustrating, especially when you battle and you grind and something like that happens," said the fight fielder. "You all get frustrated -- but we put ourselves in a situation late in the game, again, in the ninth, to tie it. That's the stuff that I pay attention to. That's the kind of stuff that shows what this team is all about."

It's also the kind of stuff that should remind us, particularly after last year, how enjoyable meaningful baseball is.

And how much fun these next couple months could be.

BEYOND THE BOX SCORE
Rays 2, Red Sox 1
Hitters
5-for-31, BB, 9 K, 3 2B, HR
Jacoby Ellsbury, CF 1-for-4: His leadoff single in the ninth gave the Sox a chance, then his steal of second gave them a better chance -- but he was stranded there as the tying run.
Shane Victorino, RF 0-for-4: Forever perplexed by outfield walls, by banging into one he nearly deflected Luke Scott's seventh-inning shot into the bullpen -- but he held on for the out, robbing the Rays' DH of a potential homer.
Dustin Pedroia, 2B 0-for-4, K: He remains confident he'll break out, saying he's hit the ball better than his results indicate over the past few days. But here's a question: When he was at the plate in the ninth, with the tying run on second, did you think he'd deliver? The guess here is that there were more doubters than there would've been a week ago.
David Ortiz, DH 1-for-3, 2B, IBB: He came within a couple feet of his 21st homer in the second, and the only thing that stopped a string of five straight hits was a liner that staggered James Loney at first. After Saturday's incident, Ortiz looks dialed in. (Pun intended.)
Mike Napoli, 1B 0-for-4, 3 K: He battled Fernando Rodney, but the Rays' closer followed up a sequence of heaters with a 3-2 changeup, and Napoli missed it with an off-balance swing. His strikeout rate for the season is up to 33.7 percent.
Jonny Gomes, LF 0-for-3, 2 K: He's now hitting .214 against lefties this season, with his OPS about 100 points lower against southpaws than it's been in all but one of his full-time big-league seasons. If the Sox acquire a right-handed bat before the deadline, that'll be a primary reason.
Ryan Lavarnway, C 1-for-3, 2B, K: Before his wall-ball in the eighth, he was hitting .165 (33-for-200) with a .213 OBP (46-for-213) at the big-league level since he batted fifth for the Sox in their attempt to salvage the season on the final day of 2011. His first extra-base hit against a righty this season is a step in the right direction.
Stephen Drew, SS 1-for-3, 2B: Drew should've been a hero, driving a double to the base of the wall in right with Nava on second in the eighth. As it was, his 15th two-bagger of the year went for naught.
Brandon Snyder, 3B 1-for-3, R, RBI, HR: In for Iglesias, he made a nice play on an in-between hop to start the double play that allowed Doubront to escape trouble in the third, he homered off Pesky's Pole in the sixth, then lifted the would-be sac fly on which Nava was called out.
Pitchers
9 IP, 2 ER, 9 H, 5 BB, 10 K
Felix Doubront, SP 5 IP, 8 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 4 K: At one point in the top of the fifth, both starting pitchers had recorded 12 outs -- David Price in 40 pitches, Doubront in 93. He needed 104 to get through five frames, but danced around trouble enough to leave with the deficit only 2-0, and with his 14th straight start allowing three ER or less.
Jose De La Torre, RP IP, H, 2 BB, 3 K: After opening with a walk and a single, he then whiffed Desmond Jennings, Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist to escape the threat. Impressive stuff from the righty who has at least three strikeouts in four of his last five appearances.
Drake Britton, RP 2 IP, 2 K: He continues to be excellent, having worked six scoreless innings since his promotion, and yielding only two hits and a walk in the process. He faced five batters on Monday, including three lefties, and retired all of them.
Koji Uehara, RP 1 IP, K: He's two days away from a flawless July, having been unscored upon in 13.1 innings this month, and trimming his ERA to 1.42 for the year.
This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Dave D'Onofrio is a sports journalist who focuses on the Red Sox and Patriots, and also writes Boston.com's "Off The Field" blog about what Boston's sportsmen do away from the More »

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