BOSTON -- Even if you are definitively off the trading block, the passing of the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline is always cause for a sigh of relief. The flurry of activity before the deadline is a bit bewildering, even in lame market years like this.
It always feels great to follow up that sigh of relief with a victory. It caps July in a positive way and sends a team whose players feel a bit more comfortable about their status into the important month of August on a good note. And when that win is one of the walk-off variety just after midnight, it's pure elation.
Or so it would seem watching the Red Sox celebrate a 5-4, 15-inning victory moments after we ushered in August baseball at Fenway Park on Thursday morning.
After six-plus scoreless innings between the two teams, Dustin Pedroia led off the 15th with a walk and moved to second on a David Ortiz tapper to first. Following an intentional walk to Mike Napoli and a walk to Jonny Gomes one out later to load the bases, Stephen Drew ripped a game-winning single that bounced just inside the chalk down the right-field line.
With the win, Boston leapfrogs Tampa Bay in the American League East.
Here's some of what happened along the way:
When you play 15 innings: There's a good chance you will see something you've never seen before. For many on hand Wednesday night/Thursday morning, that would be Jonny Gomes' unassisted double play to end the top of the 15th and end Seattle's last scoring chance.
The Mariners got back-to-back singles with one out against Drake Britton. Michael Saunders followed with a liner to left that Gomes picked diving forward just before it hit the grass. Raul Ibanez, probably eager to get his 41-year-old bones to bed, was on second when the ball was hit but had already rounded third when it was caught. All Gomes had to do was keep running in and stomp on second.
Dry spell: Between Kyle Seager's game-tying solo homer in the top of the eighth and Drew's game-winner, scoring chances were few and far between. The Red Sox were actually held hitless over a span of seven full innings following Pedroia's two-run shot in the seventh.
Brandon Snyder broke up that drought in the 14th inning with his hustle double into the left-center field gap. Then he was thrown out by a country mile trying to come in on a Shane Victorino fly to center. There was no controversy on the play at the plate this time as Humberto Quintero took Saunders' perfect throw and stood tall to slap an easy tag on Snyder, whose attempt to bowl over the Seattle catcher went for naught.
Junichi, you need to be better: Red Sox manager John Farrell talked often early in the season about doing what he could to prevent Junichi Tazawa from burning out. He appeared early and often in his first full season as a reliever, and the long campaign was sure to be an uncertain one if Tazawa was gassed.
Even with a less busy July, it seems as if the right-hander has hit a bit of a wall. In his past 12 games, spanning 12 1/3 innings, Tazawa has surrendered seven runs on 15 hits, three of which have been homers. The solo blast given up on an exceptionally flat first-pitch fastball to Seager in the eighth tied the game at 4-4 and took a win away from John Lackey, who was removed after allowing three runs in seven solid innings.
The other guy Farrell hoped to spare along the way was Koji Uehara, but he has shown no signs of fatigue. Uehara threw a 1-2-3 ninth on eight pitches, each of which was a strike. He finished with two perfect frames, throwing just two balls in the process.
The wasted opportunity to end all wasted opportunities: If an alien visited Earth and wanted to be shown an example of a prime scoring opportunity in baseball, one might offer up the scenario we saw in the bottom of the first.
With the bases loaded and nobody out, Seattle starter Hisashi Iwakuma fell behind David Ortiz 2-0 and then 3-1, twice presenting the big slugger with a tailor-made chance to let it rip. Ortiz entered the game with a stratospheric 1.993 OPS with a 3-1 count this year and owns 192 career RBIs in 170 at-bats with the bases loaded. He is a lifetime .516 (16-for-31) hitter with the bases full and nobody out. There was, it seemed, virtually no way Iwakuma could escape without allowing at least one run.
However, a weak tapper by Ortiz back toward the mound and a nice glove scoop by Iwakuma to begin a 1-2-3 double play helped the Mariners escape the jam. In total, the Red Sox in the inning had three singles, a walk and a screaming liner off the bat of Jarrod Saltalamacchia that was caught by first baseman Michael Morse, and failed to score.
After such a disappointing display, intergalactic warfare would be inevitable.
Momentum shift: Iwakuma, who had his worst start of the season July 9 versus Boston at home, was on the ropes before that Houdini act. Surviving the situation seemed to invigorate him and the Mariners.
Including Saltalamacchia's lineout to end the first, Iwakuma retired 10 of the next 12 men he faced and carried a 1-0 advantage into the bottom of the fifth. Boston took a temporary lead with two runs in the fifth, but both runs were unearned as Iwakuma's defense failed him with two errors. He left after 5 2/3 innings having surrendered only those two unearned runs.
Pedey time: There has been plenty of talk about Pedroia's recent slump, and now there will be plenty about how he has broken out of it. Pedroia, who homered in Tuesday's win, hit a two-run shot in the seventh to give Boston a short-lived 4-3 advantage.
There was never much doubt he would break out of it at some point. It is interesting to note that he may be following a similar pattern to 2012, when his batting average spiraled through June and into July before a stint on the disabled list. He came off the DL and ended that month with a mini power surge before batting .342 with 16 extra-base hits in August.
Perhaps the last couple of nights will serve as the catalyst for another solid August, which has traditionally been Pedroia's best month.
Sodium chloridia: When David Ross was healthy and sharing time with Saltalamacchia, the latter was exhibiting more consistent production at the plate than we've become accustomed to from a guy that has his peaks and valleys. With Ross sidelined and Farrell a bit more reluctant to sit Saltalamacchia for the still-unproven Ryan Lavarnway, Saltalamacchia's production took a bit of a hit. He hit .218 (19-for-87) with no home runs and 36 strikeouts in 25 games between June 15 and July 21. Ross most recently played June 14, right before the slump began, and Saltalamacchia caught both ends of a doubleheader June 18.
With a couple of days off and a rainout since July 20, Salty has gone 9-for-26 (.346) with a home run and just three K's. He hit the ball hard three times in this one. Then again, he also struck out with two on in the 15th.
A good day? No, a great day: Two wins to begin the three-game series, coupled with the buzz that comes with making perhaps the biggest acquisition in all of baseball before the deadline, is enough to create a pretty good vibe around the Red Sox. Other happenings around the American League East can only help to give Boston reason to smile entering August.
In the final hour before the deadline it was announced that Tampa Bay Rays left-hander Matt Moore was placed on the disabled list with a sore left elbow. The Rays are calling the move precautionary, but the mere fact that Tampa Bay will have to go a turn or two through the rotation, at best, without the 14-3 Moore, is a positive for the Sox.
The Rays and third-place Baltimore Orioles, both playing at home, then went out and lost by a combined score of 18-0.
King for a day: Series with the Mariners are always unique. You basically see when Felix Hernandez is scheduled to pitch and then immediately place emphasis on winning the other two or three games. Defeating Hernandez, much less even competing against him, is an iffy proposition. The Red Sox have learned that in the past and will be up against it Thursday in the series finale.
Hernandez is 7-2 with a 3.13 ERA and two shutouts in his career against Boston. He owns a 2.53 ERA in six starts at Fenway Park.
Ryan Dempster goes for Boston.