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Walkoffs are awesome.  That is a fact.  I am a fan of the walkoff, but I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen one like this.  I would not want to be on the receiving end of one of these.  No, I would not.  For the Jays, there is no question that this was absolutely and completely humiliating.  It was completely avoidable, and yet it happened anyway and, in retrospect of course, there was nothing they could do about it.  It happens sometimes; that’s the nature of the game.  But I would not want to be Toronto right now.

Napoli and Nava led off the second with back-to-back singles.  Napoli scored on a double by Lavarnway, and he and Nava both scored on a double by Brandon Snyder.

In the fourth, Dempster gave up three singles, a walk, and a groundout that resulted in two runs scoring.

Ellsbury singled and scored on a double by Gomes in the fifth.

Breslow came on for Dempster with the bases loaded and one out in the sixth but got through it.  He gave up a solo shot to lead off the seventh; Wilson and Miller both pitched that inning.  Uehara came on in the ninth and gave up a solo shot that tied the game at four.

The Jays made a pitching change for the bottom of the ninth.  Iglesias grounded out, and then Snyder singled and Ellsbury walked.  Jonathan Diaz came in to pinch-run for Snyder, and the Jays made another pitching change.

I don’t know about you, but I was getting ready to settle in for a long night.  It just felt like one of those times when it was pretty unlikely for any late-inning heroics.

And, in fact, I was right.  There weren’t any.  There was just a late-inning mistake.

Adam Lind was out with a back injury, so Josh Thole, a catcher, had to step in at first.  Victorino stepped up to the plate and hit a ground ball.  But since the Jays’ first baseman was unused to playing first, the ball went off his glove, and Diaz scored from second base.

And so it was a 5-4 walkoff.  No heroics.  Just paying attention with the opposition made mistakes.

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Why couldn’t we have played this way against the Yankees? We did during that first game, our crowning achievement of the series.  And, as I said, it all went down hill from there.  I would have loved to have snuck at least one more win in there.  Then again, if we snuck in one more win every single time we wanted to sneak in one more win, we would not be in our current situation, which is fighting just to get out of the basement with the team we’re currently playing.

Dice-K got the nod and, not surprisingly at all, didn’t pitch well.  He gave up four runs on three hits while walking three and striking out five over five and one-third innings.  It was the third inning that did him in.  He began the inning by hitting a batter and walking another.  After getting a strikeout, he walked another batter.  And then two consecutive wild pitches resulted in two runs plus another walk, and a groundout brought in the final run of the inning.  So if you think about it, he allowed those three runs without allowing a single hit.  It’s the first time one of our pitchers has done that since the 1970s.

He began the sixth with a groundout and then allowed a triple.  Mortensen came on and allowed his inherited runner to score on a single.  During all of Dice-K’s other innings, though, he was basically solid.  He was great.  In fact, there were times when he looked dialed-in and on cruise control.  But we’ve seen this kind of thing before where his real downfall is not being able to sustain that across all of his innings equally, and you have the one or two or three or more bad innings that determine the fate of his start.

Fortunately, he was taken out before he could allow further damage.  And it turns out that, between the third and the sixth, we’d been doing some scoring ourselves.  Ross led off the fourth with a four-pitch walk, Gomez singled, Lavarnway fouled off a slow fastball for a strike, and then he received almost the exact same pitch in terms of type and speed.  But he got of it the second time around.  He launched it to left, and it exited the park with ease.  One swing.  Three runs.  Tie game.

Then we had the bases loaded with two out in the fifth, and Nava came up.  Obviously that situation your default hope is a grand slam, and if not a grand slam then at least some sort of extra-base hit.  Nava singled.  But it still brought in two more runs, which gave us a two-run lead at the time.  Which, by the way, would not have been possible without some fine baserunning by Aviles.  Aviles had singled and was the first runner to get on base.  He moved to second on a groundout by Ross before Gomez reached on a fielder’s choice.  Brett Lawrie thought he could tag Aviles for the out, but in a fine display of athleticism and acumen, Aviles neatly avoided the tag and slid back to the bag.  Nice.

Then, of course, they scored their run in the sixth, which reduced our lead to one, a lead that Tazawa preserved in the seventh.  But Padilla, who came on for the eighth, began the inning with a single-double combination that tied the game at five.

It turned out that that run would be the last that the Jays would score.  Carpenter replaced Padilla, and all was well in the rest of the eighth.  Not so for the Jays in the ninth.  Ellsbury led it off with a single, after which the Jays made a pitching change that was not helpful.  Aviles flied out, which probably provided some measure of false hope, but then Ross singled, Gomez smacked a bases-clearing triple, and Lavarnway brought him home on a sac fly.

Which means, of course, that for once, we won! The final score was 8-5.  It feels good to win and to win by a respectable margin at that.  So, as I said, Dice-K received a no-decision, Mortensen and Tazawa each got holds, Padilla got a blown save, Carpenter got the win, and Baily got the save for pitching the bottom of the ninth.  And let’s not forget Nava’s spectacular, Ellsbury-esque diving catch for the first out of the eighth! Adam Lind thought he was about to put his team ahead for good, but Nava read the ball all the way, stayed on it, ran exactly the right distance, dove exactly the right time, and hauled it in.  It was an inspired piece of fielding.  Between all of that and the fact that we won, it was a great game full of gems.

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Between a rainout and the schedule, we had two days off.  I thought that would be a good thing.  Two days off to regroup, re-energize, re-focus, and re-find ourselves.  For some, it was exactly that.  For others, maybe they should just have no days off and they would play better.  I don’t know.  Either way, it was ugly.

The game was preceded by a ceremony honoring Jackie Robinson Day and, as is customary on the anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s Major League debut, everyone wore Number Forty-Two.  It’s a day that really makes you stop and think about the true significance of the impact he really had.  Here’s to you, Jackie Robinson.  We salute you.

After the conclusion of the third inning, it looked like many of the predictions I’d been hearing that this series would be the one during which we’d finally turn it around would come true.  In the first, Adam Lind hit what looked like would be the end of us: a three-run shot.  The ball hit the top of the fence, but after that, the view was terrible.  First base umpire Paul Nauert initially thought that the ball landed to the left of the pole.  Luckily, thankfully, fortunately, and correctly, the call was overturned, and it was called a foul ball.  (That would be Lind’s last approach to anything close to an extra-base hit.  In the fourth, Lind hit a ball that was sailing over center field fast, but Ellsbury had that ball’s number all the way.  He made the catch on the run on the warning track in the triangle for the second out in the fourth.)

The offense didn’t do much of anything leading up to the third, but Pedroia took two balls and then walloped an eighty-eight mile-per-hour sinker into the first row of the Monster seats for a solo shot.  This after, in the top of the inning, he made a fantastic play to get an out at first with which Buchholz should have been very familiar; the running, rolling over, spinning around, and firing was almost exactly the same play that Pedroia made to preserve Buchholz’s no-hitter.  Pedroia, in case you didn’t already know, is officially the sparkplug of this team.  And then Gonzalez walked and Youk, for the first time since last July, after taking a ball and a strike, also walloped an eighty-eight mile-per-hour sinker out of the yard.  It landed several feet to the right of the 379-foot mark in center field.  Clearly it’s only a matter of time before he gets going, because that ball was hit with some major power.

Sadly, however, that lead wouldn’t last.  The Jays got two runs back in the fifth and one in the sixth to tie it.  And now would be the time to talk about the pitching.

Buchholz didn’t have his best stuff.  Surprise, surprise.  His final line was three runs on three hits over five innings with three strikes and five walks.  Yes, five walks.  That matches a career high.  That’s more walks than he’s supposed to give up in a whole season.  Two of those walks turned into runs.  As I said, and every sabermetrician will tell you the same, walks will haunt.  Walks bring runners home on hits that otherwise wouldn’t be a big deal.

The five walks were only a manifestation in the books of Buchholz’s problem overall: a lack of command.  That’s where walks come from.  He threw ninety-nine pitches, only forty-six of which were strikes.  He was totally erratic.  He varied his speed, but it was a fail because he had to throw incredibly lame offspeeds to do so.  As he said himself, he’d try to throw one pitch and it would go one way out of the strike zone, and then he’d try to throw the exact same pitch and it would go the completely opposite way out of the strike zone.  In terms of strikes, his most effective pitch was his cutter, and only threw that for strikes sixty percent of the time.  So all of his other pitchers were thrown for strikes even less than that.  He had particular trouble with his other two offspeeds, the curveball and changeup.  His fastballs weren’t so effective either.  He only got up to ninety-four miles per hour.  A plot of his strike zone will show you that he was in out, around, and all over the lower right corner of the zone, and he threw several pitches high.  It wasn’t good.  Anytime you have a starter known for offspeeds, he has to command, because offspeeds are only as good as their execution, which produces the proper location.  If he wasn’t releasing the ball well or couldn’t find the strike zone, he wasn’t going to win.

He didn’t lose either.  He didn’t receive a decision.  Two batters into the sixth, he was lifted in favor of Alfredo Aceves, who induced a double play but then allowed his second inherited runner to score.  So he received a blown save for his trouble.  But that was nowhere near the worst of it.  Because Bobby Jenks came on after that and finished us off.

Jenks faced six batters in the seventh and recorded only one out, a swinging strikeout on four pitches.  If only that flash of brilliance permeated the rest of the frame.  Two line drives to Crawford for two runs, one run on a wild pitch, and a fourth run on another line drive to Crawford.  Those four runs are a career high; those four hits tie a career high.  It was brutal.  Single after single after single.  Run after run after run.  And suddenly our power third inning was completely erased and, not only were we no longer tied, but we were back to losing.  Jenks so far has been great, so maybe he’s allowed one majorly huge inning of badness.  It just came at the worst time because we lost the game right there.  Which is why he got the loss.

Doubront pitched the rest of the inning with ease.  Wheeler came on in the next inning, promptly sent down his three batters, and made way for the offense.

We looked like we were going to come back.  We were down by four, and we looked like we knew that we could overcome it.  Gonzalez grounded out.  Youk and Papi walked consecutively.  Drew struck out swinging.  And Lowrie, who came in to pinch-hit for Salty, singled in a run.  Scutaro doubled in two more.  And Ellsbury stood at the plate.  You could cut the suspense with a knife.  One more run would tie it, and any more would put us out in front.  And then we would make it happen in the ninth for the win.  So what did Ellsbury do? He flied out to right field on his first pitch.

Paps came on for the ninth; he walked one but, thanks to a groundout and a double play, faced the minimum.  In the bottom of the ninth, a strikeout and two groundouts ended it.  We lost, 7-6.

A note on the weather.  It was freezing outside.  Buchholz mentioned it after the game.  Did that have anything to do with his lack of performance? Only he would know.  Should it have anything to do with it? Not in the least.  First of all, we’re not the Rockies and this isn’t Denver.  If the Rockies can play all year long in Denver, we can play all year long in Boston, and we don’t even need a humidor.  Secondly, this is a team of guys that make their career here.  That means dealing with the bitter cold as well as the brutal heat.  Buchholz came up through the farms.  He’s been pitching in Boston for several years already.  Every once in a while, you have to deal with particularly uncomfortable conditions, but hey, that’s baseball in Boston.  Besides, Wheeler came over from the Rays, who play in Florida, and I didn’t see him having a problem.

Three of our five hits were for extra bases, but we left six on base and went two for eight with runners in scoring position.  Nobody posted a multi-hit game, although Youk and Papi both walked twice.  Crawford did absolutely nothing; no walks, no hits, nothing.  So I would say that, no, right now, at this particular moment in time, he is not currently in the process of earning his contract.  Gonzalez, however, is a different story.  Not only is he earning his trade, but he is also earning his contract, an extension that was announced yesterday.  We signed him for seven years and $154 million.  Money-wise, it’s the ninth largest contract in Major League history, largest of our current ownership, and second largest in club history, right behind the Manny Ramirez deal of 2000, which exceeded this one by six million dollars.  I will be the first to admit that I’ve never been the biggest fan of contracts that are large in either money or years because it decreases the financial and strategic flexibility of the club, but when it’s done shrewdly, it can be effective.  This contract provides us with stability at not one but two key positions, because now Youk knows he can get comfortable at third.  And so far, overall, Gonzalez has been hitting, and he’s been hitting in a particular style that shows us that he’s going to be successful here.  Let’s also remember that we’re not the Yankees.  We don’t hand out this kind of money or these types of contracts very lightly.  In Theo we trust.  And as soon as Crawford starts hitting and stealing, we’ll see returns on that too.

The bottom line is that we lost yesterday.  The good news is that we lost by only one run, which means we were right back in it.  The bad news is that we lost by only one run, which means that we only needed one more and we couldn’t get it, not even with our lineup.  We had sub-par starting pitching, and we didn’t always have the greatest hitting, but this one is on the bullpen.  Aceves allowed his inherited runner to score, but that’s only one.  That could have been the difference-maker.  Instead, Bobby Jenks comes in and starts throwing like a pitching machine.

But we need to remember something.  We may be two and ten, and we may be in last place in our division.  But we’re five games out of first with 150 games to play.  We’ve seen so much worse.  We’ve been five games out of first with less than thirty games to play.  And I still stand by my assertion that a lineup, pitching staff, and bullpen like ours absolutely can not be good only on paper and not in practice.  We will turn it around, and when we do, I would suggest that the rest of Major League Baseball take notice.  It’s the meantime before that turnaround that’s going to be tough.  Next up: Beckett and hopefully a repeat performance of his last start.

In other news, the Bruins were shutout by the Habs in our first playoff contest.  Never a great way to start.

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis

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That was one of the most unusual clinchings I have ever seen.  That was because, strangely, we didn’t clinch.  The Rangers clinched for us.  We lost, 8-7, to Toronto, but if the Rangers lost last night, we were officially in.  But the Rangers were in Anaheim, so it was a late start, so after our game, the players sort of trickled out of the ballpark but stayed in the area to return to celebrate a Texas loss.  I heard Daniel Bard went to his apartment across the street to have dinner, Ortiz went out somewhere in the area, and Pedroia put his son to bed.  But when the Rangers lost, just before 1:00AM, almost the entire team was on hand to break out the champagne, because ladies and gentlemen, we officially won the Wild Card.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are officially going to the playoffs! On the backs of the Texas Rangers, but who cares! We were getting there ourselves one way or another anyway.

As for our game, it’s both concerning and dismissable.  On the one hand, it was a loss, and by Clay Buchholz, who pitched horribly.  Honestly, he looked like his old 2008 self.  Seven runs on eight hits with a walk and four strikeouts.  Five home runs.  Five.  I’m not making this up.  Four were solo shots; two were lead-offs, one with one out, and one with two outs.  The other home run was a two-run shot by Adam Lind, who would go on to hit two more.  The man finished the night with three home runs.  Three.  Seriously.  Not once in all of last year did Beckett allow five home runs, and home runs were his big issue! And Clay Buchholz has to allow all five in one game right before the playoffs? Is he trying to send all of Red Sox Nation into collective worry? At least he was efficient; he threw less than eighty pitches.

Ramirez was good, Saito allowed a sixth home run, and Wagner and Papelbon were both good.  Especially Papelbon, who took care of the ninth in seven pitches.

Like I said, the final score was 8-7, so the offense put up a good fight.  Ellsbury went two for five and stole, Pedroia went three for five with a double and a caught stealing, V-Mart and Youk each batted in a run, Ortiz went two for four with a double and an RBI, Bay walked twice and scored twice, and Drew went three for four with a towering three-run shot with two out in the eighth.  That was a huge home run.  It made me think of his grand slam in October 2007.  So at least we know his bat is ready if we need it.

Aside from Buchholz, on the other hand, we have to consider the fact that Toronto always does this.  We consistently have trouble with them in the month of September, and the later in September we play them, the more trouble they give us.  I remember we almost lost the division in 2007 because we played them and Eric Gagne was on the mound.  (Although the narrow outcome of that particular game had more to do with Gagne than with Toronto.) But one more run and we would’ve headed to extra innings, where we would’ve won it and clinched the conventional way.  But a clinch is a clinch, and you have absolutely no idea how psyched I am for October.  The second season.  It’s almost here, for the sixth time in the past seven years! But Tim Wakefield had a point.  The fact that the team celebrated as one at the ballpark despite the circumstances speaks to the team’s character.  It takes a pretty uniquely special group of guys to feel that a playoff berth was deserved and hard-won together no matter how it may have technically been made official.

But wait; it gets better.  We’re facing the Angels in the ALDS! Again! For the third year in a row and the fourth time in the past six years! And the best part? We’re nine and one in all of those series and have won all of them!

Meanwhile, Halladay at Wakefield.  This is just as much for Wakefield as it is for October’s starting rotation.  Wakefield needs playing time so he can recover, and October’s starting rotation could use a rest.

Boston Globe Staff/Jim Davis

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Brad Penny got lit up.  Period.  That’s something we haven’t seen since the first month of the season.  The final score was 6-2, and Penny allowed all six runs.  Six runs on eight hits with a walk and three K’s in five innings.  A two-run home run for Adam Lind in the fifth.  It was ugly.  Ironically, it was also efficient; it only took him eighty-two pitches to drop this one.  Every starter has a bad day, which was proven by Josh Beckett’s bad first month, so I wouldn’t mind this so much if it weren’t for the fact that it decreased our first-place lead to two games.  Like I say, it’s only temporary, but obviously I still would’ve liked to win this one and keep it at three.

So the game had highs and lows.  That was a low.  Masterson’s excellent two-inning performance and Ramirez’s good pitching in the ninth were highs.  The offense was a low; we only scored two runs.  The high was that, while one of them was courtesy of Baldelli, whom we already know can bat around, the other was courtesy of Jed Lowrie, who in his return to the field and the lineup after missing most of the first half after slumping a bit, hit a ridiculous home run in the seventh inning.  The first pitch he saw from Jesse Carlson ended up not in the ballpark.  And the swing was full, it was powerful, the kid looked great.  No wrist or knee issues whatsoever.  And his fielding looked great, except for one incident, and that incident was the only incident all day that was any indication of the fact that he hadn’t made a start in about three months.  And that was his collision with Mikey Lowell in the eighth while trying to catch a pop fly.  They droppd the ball, and Lowrie was charged with a fielding error.  That was the only evidence of inexperience and being rusty all afternoon, so I can live with that.  I’m telling you, I am so psyched to have this kid back.  He should have a great second half, get some experience under his belt, and he’s already proven that he’s a Major League starter, so we’re looking at our final answer to the shortstop position right here.  And if that’s the case, we’re in great shape, because this kid has all five tools.

Also in the seventh, Scott Rolen robbed JD Drew of a line drive in a ridiculous play that happens maybe once a year.  I couldn’t believe it.  He ran a few steps and then leaped towards second base and snagged the ball in the air.  That does not happen.

Today is probably the season’s showdown of all showdowns thus far, what with the trade deadline coming up.  Lester will pitch opposite Roy Halladay, and if JP Ricciardi is serious about trading Halladay, he’ll have to be brilliant.  I mean this should be an epic battle.  Some of the best pitching in the Major Leagues right here.  I’d prepare myself for a close score.  The lineup will have to be tight, making the most of every opportunity that comes up because with Halladay on the mound, there won’t be that many.

Swamigp’s Sports Blog

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I’ve been writing some lengthy posts lately, so I’ll keep this brief.  We won.  The final score was 5-1.  And with this win, Toronto has only a half-game lead over us in first place.  That’s pretty much no lead at all.  I’d say you can start considering us in first now.  Because it’s only a matter of time before the numbers reflect it.

Jon Lester did indeed remember who he was.  This is easily one of his best starts all season.  You saw him pitch last night and you were thinking there was no way this was the same kid who pitched those other horrible outings.  6.1 innings, only one run on eight hits, two walks, four strikeouts.  A little high on the hits and a little low on the K’s, but trust me, I am not complaining.  That was a gem of a start.  So that’s five quality starts and three quality wins in a row (five, if Nick Green pays attention to what he’s doing).  Lester used a full range of pitches to get it done.  He threw 106 pitches in total, 68 of which were strikes.  Yes, the ratio there is a little off, but again, I’m not complaining.  Excellent outing.  Outstanding.  Once I saw he was settled in for good I was so psyched I refused to think about it, just in case I’d jinx the man.  I think it’s safe to say he’s back.  Let’s see what he does with his next start.  Ramirez and Paps were perfect.

Pedroia the Destroyah went two for four with an RBI and a run.  Jason Bay hit a ridiculous two-out, two-run homer in the first to plate two of the three we’d score in that inning.  Then in the seventh, Adam Lind hit a high foul ball in left field.  Jason Bay made the catch at the wall.  Literally.  He couldn’t have gone any further.  He reached up with his glove and grabbed the ball before it went over the ledge.  And that was huge, because there were two outs in the inning with the bases full of Blue Jays.  So, as usual, Bay getting it done at the plate and in the field.  No errors.  Ellsbury stole, and Drew got caught.

Tonight is our first Interleague matchup, with the Mets.  I love Interleague.  Nothing provides a boost in the standings and a scoping-out of the possible World Series competition than a matchup with a National League team.  Dice-K will be returning to the hill in the midst of quite the showdown; he’ll be opposing Johan Santana.  But Dice-K is Dice-K; he’s got it.

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