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With the bats silenced, defensive aggressiveness helps Sox beat Mariners

Posted by David D'Onofrio  August 1, 2013 07:59 AM

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By trying to take the extra base, or playing a hit-and-run, or swinging early in the count, aggressiveness is a common part of offense. By attacking hitters in certain ways, it's a routine part of pitching, too.

Far fewer are the opportunities to be aggressive defensively over the course of a baseball game. But by seizing on a couple of them in extra innings on Wednesday night, the Red Sox gave themselves a chance to beat the Mariners -- and eventually they did, 5-4, after the contest had ticked past the five-hour mark and the calendar had flipped from July to August.

Stephen Drew ultimately played hero by knocking home Dustin Pedroia with the winning run in the 15th inning, though that opportunity might never have come if the shortstop hadn't helped keep the game alive with a risky, but ultimately right, defensive decision four frames earlier.

The choice came arose when Seattle had a man on first with one out against Red Sox reliever Matt Thornton, and when Michael Morse chopped a grounder slowly over the mound. Drew charged it hard, and fielded it in front of the second-base -- so far in front that he was on the infield grass with all his momentum headed toward first.

The safe play -- and the play most probably would've made -- would've been to follow that momentum and take the sure out at first. There would've been two away at that point, and it would've been up to Thornton to get Michael Saunders. But Drew got aggressive.

"From the time I grabbed it," he said, "my thought is to go ahead and get him out there."

That thinking didn't make for an easy play, as by the time Drew collected the ball and got it out of his glove his only chance was to make a little sidearm shuffle across his body, and the choice seemed to surprise even Pedroia, who didn't stretch to receive the throw. But somehow Drew got it there, and seemingly omnipresent umpire Jerry Meals said it got there ahead of pinch-runner Brandon Ryan, so the lead runner was eliminated.

Seattle was left with a man only on first -- and that proved enormous when Saunders followed with a single to center field. There it was collected by Jacoby Ellsbury, who since the start of the 2011 season has collected 126 singles with a runner on second. Of them, 115 have scored. And only one has been thrown out.

Ryan would've been waved around. He probably would've made it. But Drew never allowed him the opportunity.

"Believe it or not, he got a hit," the shortstop said of Saunders. "It worked out. Close play, but he was still out."

Four innings later, Jonny Gomes got his opportunity to keep things tied. The scenario was actually the same as it would've been had Drew's gamble not worked out -- runners at first and second, one out, Saunders batting -- with Drake Britton on the mound.

Given the velocity Britton pairs with a slider, and the lefty-on-lefty matchup between the rookie and Saunders, Gomes was "pretty sure a ball would come my way," especially once there were two strikes on the hitter. And he was right.

Saunders put good wood on the ball, and stung a sinking liner toward shallow left. Leading off of second, Raul Ibanez thought with near-certainty that the ball would land safely, so he took off toward third in anticipation of trying to score. Had Gomes decided to play the ball on a bounce it might've been tough to throw out Ibanez given that head start, so instead the left fielder opted to try and take that prospect out of the equation.

"What we do in the outfield, it's a do-or-die situation," said Gomes, who came in hard and fully extended himself. If he missed the ball both runners were likely to score, and at least Ibanez would be home safely if he trapped it. But Gomes got his glove underneath it with his dive, snatching the ball inches off the ground.

"It stayed up long enough, and like I said, do-or-die," he said. "To be able to play left here, you definitely have to do extreme things, extreme angles."

Afterward, Gomes was most pleased with the way he finished the play. After the catch, he got up, then jogged the ball in himself to tag second and double-up Ibanez. He did that purely for the fact he knew the 7-unassisted double play was a baseball rarity. Not unlike defensive aggressiveness.

"Never had one, never seen one," he said with a big smile. "That's why I'm glad I've got it on my resume."

BEYOND THE BOX SCORE
Red Sox 5, Mariners 4 (15 inn.)
Hitters
12-for-54, 7 BB, 14 K, 2 2B, HR
Jacoby Ellsbury, CF 1-for-6, 2 K: He singled to leadoff the first, and was subsequently retired in his next five trips. It's the 12th time in his career he's failed to notch at least two hits when getting at least six at-bats -- lowlighted by an 0-for-8 two years ago.
Shane Victorino, RF 2-for-6, R, BB, K: With two singles, the second of which put him on ahead of Pedroia's (temporarily) take-the-lead blast, Victorino now has 24 games with multiple hits this season -- and 24 games with no hits.
Dustin Pedroia, 2B 2-for-6, 2 R, 3 RBI, BB, K, HR: He briefly put the Sox ahead with a mammoth two-run clout in the bottom of the seventh, and hit homers on consecutive days for the first time since July 27-28, 2011. Eight frames later he worked a four-pitch walk to start the Sox' 15th-inning rally.
David Ortiz, DH 1-for-7, 2 K: For the third straight game, he had a hit to left field against a left-hander, and he finished the month 32-for-93 -- putting him at .359 over the past two Julys after hitting .251 for the month in the three seasons prior.
Mike Napoli, 1B 0-for-5, 2 BB, 2 K: He was 3-for his last-24 when Mariners interim manager Robby Thompson elected to intentionally walk him with first base open, a runner on second, and a lefty on the mound in the 15th.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C 2-for-7, 2 K: He's now had two hits in each of his last three starts. Last year fatigue started to show itself in his numbers around the Fourth of July -- but since that point this year he's now batting a respectable .277.
Mike Carp, LF 0-for-3, K: He failed to reach base, snapping a streak of nine straight starts where he reached at least once, then was pulled for Daniel Nava (0-for-2), who was pulled for Jonny Gomes. Gomes walked twice in two trips, but wound up having the biggest contribution of the bunch -- with, of all things, his glove.
Stephen Drew, SS 2-for-6, RBI, BB, K: Even with his three-hit, two-homer night in Baltimore, Drew is just 8-for-35 since coming off the disabled list. But it's been enough of a contribution to play a major part in a couple of crucial wins.
Brock Holt, 3B 1-for-5, 2B: Holt got the start, and had a hit for the ninth time in 11 games, though Brandon Snyder pinch-hit for him in the 14th -- finding the left-center field gap with a double of his own, and later getting gunned down at the plate trying to score on Victorino's fly to center.
Pitchers
15 IP, 4 ER, 16 H, 3 BB, 12 K
John Lackey, SP 7 IP, 8 H, 3 ER, BB, 6 K: An encouraging performance from Lackey, who'd been charged with nine runs over his two previous outings, and was pulled from each in the middle of an inning with trouble brewing. This time he pitched into the seventh for an eighth straight start -- and finished it.
Junichi Tazawa, RP IP, 2 H, ER, K, HR: Kyle Seager took him deep to tie the game in the eighth. He's now made 48 appearances: in the first 24, his ERA was 2.70 and opponents had a .295 OBP against him; over the latter 24, his ERA is 3.52 and the opposing OBP is .306.
Koji Uehara, RP 2 IP, 3 K: He needed only 19 pitches to get six outs, and he's dispensed only 248 bullets to get 58 outs since taking over as the closer. That's 4.28 pitches per out; entering Wednesday, the AL average was 5.48.
Matt Thornton, RP 1 IP, 2 H: He's yielded 11 baserunners in 6.1 innings since joining the Sox, but thanks to a generous call on a close play at second base (from Jerry Meals, no less), and Ellsbury's sliding catch of Dustin Ackley's sinking liner, Thornton's still allowed only two runs after keeping things tied in the 11th.
Craig Breslow, RP 2 IP, H, 2 BB: Asked to go more than an inning for the 11th time this season, the southpaw retired all three righties he faced, and allowed three of the six lefties he encountered to reach.
Drake Britton, RP 2 IP, 3 H, 2 K: Called upon for the 14th, left a runner on first when he struck out Seager -- Seattle's hottest hitter -- with a nasty breaking ball. He got into some hotter water in the 15th, too, but Gomes' unconventional twin killing bailed him out, and so he's still yet to allow a run in the majors.
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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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