What a game! I guess that, when we lose, we really like to take revenge afterwards. As frustrating and unproductive as we were on Saturday, everybody really pulled out all the stops on Sunday. If this team hadn’t set the stage by playing so well on the whole up to this point, I would have said that our performance last night was completely unbelievable. Such a performance could never have happened last season. It was so excellently awesome to watch it. I mean, it’s nice to be dominant in every conceivable way.
Let’s start with Lester, whose performance was obviously an enormous highlight. When I said after his last start that I wanted him to pitch longer and more efficiently and that I was sure that he’d get there eventually, I don’t think I meant that he’d get there in his very next start. But he did, and with flying colors. He pitched a full seven shutout innings. He didn’t give up any walks, so if it weren’t for the five he allowed and the fact that he didn’t go the distance, he would have had a perfect game. Minus the hits, he would at least have had seven perfect innings. Whatever. The bottom line is that Jon Lester was a shining example of everything that every Major League starting pitcher should ever hope to be.
Lester threw one hundred pitches exactly, sixty-seven of which were strikes. And he had six strikeouts to his credit, which is almost one per inning on average. His cut fastball was moving and dancing in just the right way. There’s something really beautiful about a pitcher having complete and total control over the ball such that the ball does exactly what he wants it to every time. And his cut fastball was on. And he threw in some curveballs, changeups, and sinkers for variety that were potent in their own right as well.
He threw as few as eight pitches, in the first, and as many as twenty pitches, in the fifth. His inning pitch counts were everything in between during the other frames. He was efficient, cold, and calculating, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen his release point tighter or more consistent.
His first inning was one-two-three and featured his first strikeout, a quick, three-pitch affair ending with a swing through a curveball. He gave up two singles in the second but bookended the inning with strikeouts, both swinging, the first three pitches ending with a cut fastball and the second four pitches ending with a cut fastball. He gave up another single in the third, which he opened with a five-pitch called strike that ended with a cut fastball, or a cutter, depending on which way you look at it. He racked up another three-pitch strikeout in the fourth that ended with a swing through a fastball before hitting a batter. He gave up another single in the fifth, had a one-two-three sixth, and opened the seventh with his last strikeout, four pitches that ended with a swing through a sinker. He gave up his last hit that inning as well.
As well as he pitched, only two of his seven innings were one-two-three. But he never faced more than five batters. And his other outs were the standard collection of groundouts, flyouts, lineouts, and such. Don’t look now, but Lester’s ERA is 1.50. That’s based on a small sample size, but we can still enjoy it.
Mortensen came in for the eighth and ninth and took some pages out of Lester’s book. He gave up two hits and no walks, preserving the shutout. That means that the Jays were held to seven hits but achieved nothing else all game long. All seven were singles. They left eight on base and had only two opportunities with runners in scoring position, of which they obviously did not take advantage.
Fortunately, the same can not even remotely be said for us. When Ellsbury hit the second pitch of the game for a double, I knew that we were in for quite a pleasant ride. Victorino followed that with a single, and then we undertook three straight scoring plays. First, Pedroia brought Ellsbury home with a single. Then, Napoli doubled in both Pedroia and Victorino. Lastly, Middlebrooks laid on his first pitch of the game, a fastball slow at eighty-four miles per hour, for a home run to the opposite field in right. It was his second jack in as many games and was by no means about to be his last.
Iglesias led off the second with a single, but we didn’t score that inning. Napoli led off the third with a strikeout, but then Middlebrooks doubled, moved to third on a passed ball, and scored on a sac fly by Nava. It was a textbook example of manufacturing a run while capitalizing on the opposition’s mistakes. The fourth also began modestly with a groundout by Bradley. Then Iglesias doubled and scored on a single by Ellsbury.
Middlebrooks led off the fifth and worked the count full; he took three straight pitches for balls and then encountered two fastballs that were almost identical: both were four-seams, and both traveled at eighty-two miles per hour. He took the first one for a strike and swung through the second. But he didn’t miss the third. It was a little bit faster than the previous two, but he had its number the whole time and smashed it to left center for his second home run of the game.
Pedroia singled in the sixth, but we didn’t score. But Middlebrooks issued a repeat performance to lead off the seventh inning. It was one of those moments where it takes you a second or two to realize that you aren’t watching a replay and that it’s actually happening. Middlebrooks took his first three pitches for balls and an eighty-six mile-per-hour two seam for a strike. Then, he got an eighty-six mile-per-hour four-seam that he just decimated and sent yet again to left center field.
Three home runs. One game. Will Middlebrooks, ladies and gentlemen!
And then there was occasion to do yet another double take, because Nava made it back-to-back jacks with a solo shot of his own on a two-seam clocked at eighty. It was his second pitch of the at-bat, and it also ended up in left center field.
And then there was Ellsbury’s at-bat leading off the eighth. The only reason why a third double take was hard to do was because Ellsbury was fighting hard in that at-bat. It lasted for a grand total of nine pitches. We’ve seen our hitters battle through longer ones, but his patience and eye were both still admirable. He took a curve for a strike, fouled off a cutter, took a curve for a ball, fouled off a fastball and curveball and cutter, took two fastballs for balls, and finally, on the ninth pitch with a full count, he uncorked a massive swing on a fastball that put the ball beyond the right field fence for his first home run of the year!
And then Carp lined out, Pedroia walked on five pitches, and Napoli hit a textbook home run. It was one of those classic Napoli ones that looks like it’s no big deal. It was the third pitch of the at-bat, a fastball that he sent out to center. I saw it with my own eyes, and I could not believe that it had actually happened. I actually thought the eighth inning would see yet another homer; Middlebrooks’s at-bat resulted in a flyout because the ball was hauled in right in front of the wall, but off the bat it certainly looked like it had enough to make it out.
We probably used up everything we had at that point, because Bradley, Iglesias, and Ellsbury all went down in order in the ninth on a grand total of thirteen pitches. All three struck out swinging.
All told, we had ourselves fifteen hits, six of which were jacks. Bradley and Salty were the only starters who failed to get hits; Bradley walked, so Salty was the only starter who failed to get himself on base. Iglesias and Napoli both went two for five, Pedroia went two for four, Ellsbury went three for six, and Middlebrooks, the offensive man of the hour, went four for five with four runs and four RBIs. All four of his hits were for extra bases. There were the three home runs of course, a baseball version of a hat trick if I’ve ever seen one, and a double. It was his second multi-homer game and the first three-homer game of his career. He’s our youngest to do it since Jim Rice did it in 1977 and the team’s first since Dustin Pedroia did it in 2010. Ellsbury and Victorino both had stolen bases to their credit. We left six on base and went five for seven with runners in scoring position.
And the best part of all: we won, thirteen-zip!
Be happy; we’re playing our home opener today! Baltimore is coming to town. This should be fun.