The last playoff game at Fenway Park was Oct. 11, 2009. That’s just about four years ago.
Tuesday night offered a compelling reminder of what the Red Sox and their fans have been missing — and what may be to come. That’s what the 2-1 victory against the Tigers and Max Scherzer felt like.
“That was a lot of fun,” David Ross said. “The crowd and playing [the Tigers] made it kind of a little playoff atmosphere. The crowd was really into it and I think the guys were excited.”
Jon Lester pitched like a guy who should start Game 1 of the playoffs. The Detroit lineup was an aggregate .414 against him and Lester allowed one run over seven innings. He struck out a season high nine without a walk.
Lester (13-8) has a 2.41 earned run average in nine starts since the All-Star break. Over 59.2 innings he has walked 15 and struck out 51 and regained the form he showed in April and May.
“Powerful, a lot of strikes,” manager John Farrell said. “Over the last probably three or four starts his cutter has come back to where it was as we’ve seen a couple of years ago.”
Will Middlebrooks, banished to the minors for two months this season, had a huge two-run single with two outs in the fifth inning. He had been 0 for 4 against Scherzer in his career with four strikeouts.
Middlebrooks was looking for a slider and when he saw it out of Scherzer’s hand, he told himself not to “get too big” with his swing.
“You have to try to go up the middle with Scherzer,” Middlebrooks said. “If you get something over the plate you have to do something with it.”
Farrell managed the bullpen like it was a playoff game in the eighth inning. Rookie Brandon Workman, not Junichi Tazawa, was first out to face Miguel Cabrera. He fell behind 2-and-0 then got a fly ball.
“He’s gained a lot of confidence by all of us, Workman has, and trust in him,” Farrell said.
Lefty Craig Breslow was next. He retired Prince Fielder on a groundout before old friend Victor Martinez singled. Then came Tazawa, who fanned Omar Infante.
Farrell explained that he wanted Tazawa for later in the inning in case a runner was on base because he holds runners better than Workman. Perhaps. But it seemed telling Workman was in a big spot there.
Koji Uehara needed nine pitches to handle the ninth inning. He struck out the final two batters and bounced off the mound with a huge smile. He has thrown 25 consecutive scoreless innings and retired the last 21 batters to face him.
Uehara has been perfect in his last six save situations, matching a team record set by Jeff Russell in 1993. His stretch of 22 consecutive scoreless outings is the second-longest in team history. Daniel Bard had a 25-game streak in 2011.
Uehara has a 1.16 ERA and an 0.61 WHIP. He has thrown 62.1 innings. His most in the majors is 66.2 with the Orioles in 2009 when he started 12 games.
But Uehara threw 168.1 innings in Japan in 2006.