Bay’s HR takes it back for Sox; Ellsbury breaks Harper mark
As Jason Bay sauntered into the clubhouse an hour after the final pitch had been thrown by Jonathan Papelbon, he expressed surprise that there were media members still waiting for him. Not usually the quickest to shower and dress, Bay was asked what delayed him. He gave the news with a wry grin: Along with Jacoby Ellsbury, who broke the team’s season stolen base record, Bay, whose homer broke a 3-3 tie, had gotten drug tested.
No, their feats weren’t what prompted the tests, though they did prompt raucous celebration from the 38,059 at Fenway Park, treated not only to a 6-3 Red Sox win, but a win full of intrigue and drama, miscues, and more miscues.
Then came the 0-2 Scott Linebrink breaking ball to Bay in the eighth. Two offspeed pitches, one a called strike, one a foul, had set up the pitch. Bay took it out, the ball heading to the top of the Monster seats, and sending the home team on its way past the White Sox.
“This is always a constant battle,’’ Bay said. “You go out there, you get a pitch you can drive, and I had some early on that I didn’t swing at. It’s kind of nice to do it when it matters, and put the team up. That’s something I had done a little earlier in the year, with the big hits and then just kind of struggled for the month and a half there, so it was nice to kind of get back and have a big hit for the team when we needed it.’’
Bay can look bad, striking out looking on pitches from Freddy Garcia in the second and fourth innings. He grounded to third in the sixth. And then, just when it seemed his night might be coming to a quiet close, one swing changed everything. As manager Terry Francona said, “That was a beautiful, beautiful swing.’’
“He had thrown me two [offspeed pitches] but it’s still in the back of your mind that he throws 96 miles an hour,’’ Bay said. “You’re just basically looking for a strike, and it was one [curve] that had hung up there. It’s a situation where it’s easier said than done to react, but that’s basically what it was.’’
That kept the Sox up by 1 1/2 games in the wild-card race on Texas, and three ahead of Tampa Bay, with all three teams victorious last night.
But a bit earlier, in the White Sox’ eighth, it had appeared that it might not be that easy.
Hideki Okajima dropped a Carlos Quentin pop to start the inning, showing exactly why pitchers don’t normally go for popups.
Then catcher Victor Martinez tossed the ball back to the mound with the next batter, Paul Konerko, at the plate. But it sailed past the belatedly outstretched glove of Okajima, and reached center field, and Quentin reached second base.
Konerko singled to right, giving the White Sox a prime chance. No outs, men on the corners. But Chicago left them there, as Okajima got Jermaine Dye to pop to short and A.J. Pierzynski to strike out. Manny Delcarmen came on and induced Alex Rios to pop to second.
“Whew,’’ Francona said. “The ball goes up, and it’s got to be Oki’s ball because of the height. I felt like somebody punched me in the stomach, and then before you can even look up, I feel like I got hit with the other hand. That ball’s flying into center. But rather than mope, he beared down and made pitches, and then Manny did also. That was impressive.’’
White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen wasn’t quite in agreement.
“That killed us,’’ Guillen said. “We don’t score and they take advantage of that situation for the next inning. That’s going to be our problem all year long. You watch this ballclub closer - we’re really bad with a man on third base and less than two out. Maybe the worst team in baseball right now. If somebody’s worse than us, that’s a record.’’
Those weren’t the only wacky plays, with the White Sox getting two runs in the seventh when, with two outs and men on second and third, Alexei Ramirez struck out. Except the ball from Jon Lester bounced up and across the plate and got away from Jason Varitek for a wild pitch, with Konerko scoring. Then Chicago took a 3-2 lead on an RBI single by Jayson Nix on a ball that went in and out of the glove of Mike Lowell. That would be it for the White Sox.
The Red Sox tied it in the bottom of the seventh. With one out, Varitek doubled, then was removed for pinch runner Nick Green. That brought up pinch hitter Martinez (for Alex Gonzalez), and he singled to left, scoring Green. Martinez came through again in the eighth after Bay’s homer. He doubled to left, scoring Green, who had singled. Martinez came across on an Ellsbury single.
Ellsbury had doubled in the first and stolen third, his 55th of the season, breaking the team mark set by Tommy Harper in 1973. He then scored on a Dustin Pedroia groundout.
“We’re in the middle of it and we have our work cut out for us,’’ general manager Theo Epstein said before the game. “There’s no guarantee road to the postseason. There’s none in the offseason. There’s not in spring training. There’s not during the year. There’s not now. We’ve got to fight for it and I think we’re prepared to do that and we like the roster we have to try to get that done.’’