A tight fit was perfect for this resilient team
Man cannot live on double-digit victories alone. He needs to pull out one of those 2-1 games every now and then, too.
There was none of that Bombs Away stuff at Fenway last night. We had ourselves a proper baseball game in which the little things mattered. Before the Red Sox could claim the 2-1 victory that gives them a 2-0 World Series edge heading to the Rockies, they had to come up with some situational hitting and some situational pitching and even a situational pickoff that was greatly aided by an inexplicable brain freeze on the part of a man who has a decent chance of being the National League MVP.
I mean, Matt Holliday wasn't just out when Jonathan Papelbon flipped the ball to Kevin Youkilis in the eighth with the Rockies trailing by a run. He was O-U-T from Fenway to Foxborough. It might be the easiest pickoff safe/out call of umpire Mike Everitt's career.
Curt Schilling attributed the pickoff to advance scouting. "In a situation like that, I think Matt was going," Schilling said. "We don't make throws to first on our own."
"Just a simple pick," said Papelbon. "It will probably go down as one of the biggest outs of my career."
Jason Varitek confirmed that bench coach Brad Mills had the hunch and made the call. But the fact remains that Holliday was careless.
The Red Sox worked for this one. They left men on in every inning but the first and they left multiple men on in the third (2), fourth (2), fifth (3), and sixth (2). Clinging to a one-run lead for the final four innings, Terry Francona went to the short list of the men he trusts the most. From April through September, this game would have been handled differently. But this is October. This is the World Series. This is it.
I'm sure Francona meant no offense to the rest of the bullpen, but in order to get the final 11 outs, he wasn't going near anyone but Hideki Okajima and Papelbon. Tito wasn't messin' around.
"It was a phenomenal effort on both their parts," said Francona. "If Okey doesn't throw as many strikes as he did, he wouldn't have been able to stay as long as he did. He set up the whole game."
"That was the Papajima Show," said Schilling. "That was great to watch."
Schilling worked the first 5 2/3 innings, and no one could rightfully ask him to pitch any better than he did. He was touched for a funny little run in the first when he hit leadoff man Willy Taveras on a 1-2 pitch and the speedy center fielder eventually came around on a ball that third baseman Mike Lowell knocked down and couldn't retrieve in time to prevent Taveras from making his way to third, followed by a Todd Helton run-scoring grounder to first. Had the Red Sox not won this game, Schilling would have beaten himself up for hitting Taveras with that pitch; you can be sure of that.
So Big Schill, in what could very possibly have been his final appearance in a Red Sox uniform, held a very good hitting team to that one run with everything at his disposal. He gave the Rockies a little o' this and a little o' that, and if he thought he could have gotten someone out by tossing up his hat or glove, he probably would have done that, too.
By the time he entered the sixth, he was protecting that 2-1 lead. No doubt he wanted to get the 18th out before he left, but he would later admit that he just couldn't get loose in the sixth, and when he allowed a one-out single to Holliday (who was 4 for 4) and followed that by walking Helton on a questionable 3-2 call, Francona - his biggest fan, remember - did what he felt he had to do and replaced Schilling with Okajima.
A tepid Garrett Atkins grounder to first put men on second and third with two away, but Okajima left them right where they were by fanning Brad Hawpe. He then worked through the seventh and eighth, retiring all seven men he faced and striking out three more before Francona brought in Papelbon to face the menacing Holliday.
"Pap was going to face Holliday, regardless," declared Francona.
The 137-ribbie man hit a shot up the middle that nicked Papelbon and was flagged down by Dustin Pedroia, who was unable to make a play. But before the Colorado dugout could flash a signal, Holliday wandered too far off first. Papelbon fired over and Holliday was erased.
A word about offense . . .
The Red Sox have two ways to get pitchers. They have the bludgeon thing and they have the water torture thing. The bludgeon thing is sexier and more fan-friendly, but in tough situations such as the one they found themselves in last night, a team's gotta do what a team's gotta do, you know?
They were trailing by a 1-0 score entering the fourth and had been able to do very little with Colorado starter Ubaldo Jimenez, a young man from the Dominican Republic who can get the ball up there in a hurry. But with one out, the door cracked open a little when Lowell drew a walk.
Remember that word - walk. Anyway, J.D. Drew singled sharply to right. Lowell rounded second and appeared ready to apply the brakes when he picked up the pace again and set out for third. Right fielder Hawpe made a very nice throw that reached third baseman Atkins on the fly, but Lowell made it safely with a belly flop as Drew alertly took second.
Varitek hopped on the first pitch and knocked it to the warning track in center, making it a 1-1 ballgame.
An inning later, the Red Sox again did what they do so well, creating a run out of a two-out, nobody-on situation. The inning began harmlessly enough when Pedroia grounded to third and Youkilis flied to center. But David Ortiz, who had narrowly missed a three-run homer in the third when his shot passed just to the right of the Pesky Pole, walked on a 3-2 pitch to keep the inning alive.
It was the fifth walk issued by Jimenez, and he would regret it. Manny Ramírez singled to left, placing men on first and second with two away for Lowell, who has been a very reliable situational hitter all year, never more so than in these playoffs. Lowell got ahead, 2 and 0, swung and missed at a slider, then ripped a double into the left-field corner to bring home the go-ahead run. Oh, those bases on balls, and oh, those increasingly fascinating Red Sox, for whom innings begin with two on and one out and counts that so often commence at 0 and 2.
Jimenez had been a handful. He left the game having given up just three hits. He was billed as a very hard thrower, but he also gave the Red Sox trouble with his slider and changeup. He stranded two (both on via walks) in the third by slipping a called third strike past Big Papi and he avoided further damage in the fourth when he retired Julio Lugo on a weak grounder to first with men on first and third.
But he walked five, and two of them scored the Red Sox runs, and that's the name of that tune.
"Those walks are disappointing," sighed Colorado manager Clint Hurdle. "It puts you in a position you don't want to get into."
Yup, the Rockies are now down, 2-0. There's a situation you don't want to get into
Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.