Whoever was concerned that it took us thirteen innings just to lose a ballgame need fear no more. Yesterday, the team showed us that it does not, in fact, need thirteen innings just to lose a ballgame.
The team needs seventeen.
You read right. We played a seventeen-inning game yesterday that we eventually lost. Think about that. That’s basically like playing two baseball games in a row, like a doubleheader without a break in between, except that it’s only one game that you’re trying to hang on to by the skin of your teeth. The whole thing lasted six hours and seven minutes. It was the longest game we played since 2006.
So it was demoralizing enough that we couldn’t get the job done ourselves, that both our starter and our offense delivered performances sufficiently mediocre so as to put us in a situation that the game wasn’t won by the time nine innings ended. And it was bad enough that we had to play extra innings at all, just two days after playing another extra-inning game, a game that we lost. And perhaps it was even bad enough that the number of extra innings we had to play was truly astronomical to the point where, as I said, it amounted to a whole other ballgame in and of itself. But on top of all of that, as if all of that weren’t bad enough, we had to go and lose it.
We just lost a seventeen-inning ballgame. If we had any morale going into it, and honestly it didn’t really seem like there was much there to begin with, you can pretty much rest assured that we don’t have any anymore.
Just to put the outcome in perspective, it really is true that, if you’re going to identify a point at which the game was definitively lost, it isn’t really fair to say that the reliever that allowed the winning run lost it for us. Because the reliever who allowed the winning run, and who therefore took the loss, was not a reliever. It was Darnell McDonald. If you’re going to play a seventeen-inning game, you’re going to run out of pitchers no matter who your manager is. And at that point, Bobby V. was just looking for an arm to send out there regardless of who it belonged to. There was nothing he could do.
As a result, acknowledgement must be given to the team’s ability to last that long. I can’t believe we just played a seventeen-inning game; that’s beyond ridiculous. I didn’t think I’d see something like that. It was a marathon in every sense of the word. Everyone was tired and exhausted beyond all capacity to deliver, and yet somehow we hung in there for one more inning, and the next inning, and then the next and the next and the next until something had to give, and that something was the roster of our bullpen. That is to say, the bullpen itself was not at fault. Rather, the bullpen was the only aspect of the team yesterday that shone; it and it alone was responsible for preserving the tie as long as it did. It wasn’t its fault that, by the time its roster was exhausted, the offense still hadn’t done anything to win the game.
Now down to the technicalities of it. As I said, if the point of loss is to be identified, it should be identified as the early goings, in which Buchholz yet again provided a sub-par showing. He only lasted three and two-thirds innings and gave up five runs on seven hits, three of which were home runs, while walking four and striking out four. In those innings alone, he somehow managed to throw eight-one pitches, forty-six of which were strikes.
Buchholz allowed a solo shot on the first, hit by the second batter he faced, JJ Hardy, on the fifth pitch he fired in total to start the game. He had a seamless second featuring one walk and three strikeouts, which provided a teasingly good reason to believe that perhaps he was going to settle down. But he returned to his disappointing self in the third, when he gave up another solo shot to Hardy. He then gave up a three-run home run in the fourth and was taken out after he allowed two straight singles after that. He is the first pitcher since Red Ruffing did it in 1925 to give up at least five earned runs in six straight starts.
The offense woke up in the bottom of the fourth, when Aviles doubled and scored on a single by Sweeney. At that point we had only to score three more runs to tie it. Instead, in the bottom of the fifth, we scored four. Papi singled. Ross singled. Salty walked. And then Middlebrooks, the call-up in response to Youk’s ailing back, absolutely smashed the first pitch he received in that at-bat. It was a curveball. It sailed over the Green Monster seats. Not into the Green Monster seats. Over the Green Monster seats, into Lansdowne Street. Now that’s power. Not only did Middlebrooks hit his first Major League home run, but he hit his first career grand slam.
At the time, it was exactly what we needed. Not only did it give us a tie, but it also was a major shot in the arm regarding that oh-so-elusive morale we’ve been trying to find ever since the season started. I mean, not only was it a kid’s first home run, but it was a grand slam! It seemed like the perfect thing to rejuvenate us.
Buchholz had been replaced by Miller, who finished the fourth and pitched a one-two-three, all-strikeout fifth. Miller was replaced by Albers, who pitched the sixth and seventh. Albers was replaced by Padilla, who allowed an RBI double in the eighth, which gave Baltimore a one-run lead. We tied it back up that very same inning when Papi led it off with a double and scored on a sac fly by Salty. It was the last run we’d score all night, and the game remained tied at six for eight more innings.
Padilla was replaced by Aceves, who pitched the ninth and tenth. After allowing a single to start the eleventh, Aceves was replaced by Morales, who finished the eleventh and pitched the twelfth. After allowing a single to start the thirteenth, Morales was replaced by Hill, who finished the thirteenth and pitched the fourteenth. After allowing a walk to start the fifteenth, Hill was replaced by Atchison, who finished the fifteenth and pitched the sixteenth.
McDonald came on for the seventeenth and opened it with a walk to Wilson Betemit that was promptly erased when Salty caught him stealing second base. But he then allowed a double and a walk followed by a home run of his own.
There were a few chances along the way for us to put it away that we didn’t convert. With one out in the ninth, Aviles singled and tried to steal second, but the scenario couldn’t have played out any worse: Aviles was caught stealing right after Sweeney struck out. Our best chance to put ourselves out of our misery was probably the sixteenth; with two out, Byrd reached on a fielding error and tried to score on a double by Aviles but was thrown out at home for what was an incredibly crushing moment, full of such promise one minute and the next minute evocative of what was to come the next inning.
Sweeney opened the bottom of the seventeenth with a single, and Pedroia followed with a walk. So it was not inconceivable that we could have rallied. Except for the fact that Gonzalez struck out and McDonald grounded into a double play.
So there you have it. We played seventeen innings and hit sixteen hits, five of which were for extra bases. We put up four multi-hit performances; Middlebrooks and Papi had two hits each, while Aviles had three and Sweeney had four. Three members of the starting lineup, Aviles, Sweeney, and Gonzalez, had a game high of eight at-bats each. We went two for nine with runners in scoring position. We were caught stealing twice, turned six double plays, and made three errors (Salty made two of them, a fielding and a throwing error, and Middlebrooks made a throwing error). We trotted out nine different pitchers, one of whom is not even a pitcher. (To be fair, Baltimore’s winning pitcher was Chris Davis, who spiked Aaron Cook and who is not a pitcher either.) For the first time ever, we had a cleanup hitter go 0 for 8 (in case you can’t guess, it was Gonzalez, who apparently offered Bobby V. to pitch if necessary). We lost, 9-6, and were swept by the Baltimore Orioles of all teams for the first time since 1994. We finished our homestand with a record of one and five.
The most important thing that Doubront can possibly do today in Kansas City is eat up innings so that the bullpen doesn’t have to come out. Considering that he has yet to pitch through the seventh inning in eight career starts, the bullpen is hoping he’ll step up and deliver.