Red Sox, Rays drama to the very end
September, 27, 2011
By David Schoenfield | ESPN.com
So, all of this happened on Tuesday in two games in the American League, where all that’s at stake is a playoff spot, one team trying to avoid a colossal collapse, the other team trying to prove that small-market franchises can slay the wealthy dragon, maybe an MVP award, and the pain and suffering of an entire Nation:
- A triple play. It may end up as the most important triple play in major league history.
- A rookie catcher, in the biggest game of the season, making his first career start behind the plate in the majors.
- That catcher -- Boston's Ryan Lavarnway, only the third Yale player drafted since 1965 to reach the big leagues -- throwing out a baserunner trying to steal third base and then hitting a three-run home run, the first of his career. And then hitting his second career home run.
- An intentional walk … to bring Alex Rodriguez to the plate.
- The Red Sox hitting a guy cleanup who has never started in the cleanup position before.
- Nick Swisher doubling off the center-field wall, but Mark Teixeira not scoring from second base on the play.
- Jacoby Ellsbury showing why he may be the AL’s Most Valuable Player with another clutch home run.
- Adam Jones, fouling off pitch after pitch from Jonathan Papelbon with the tying run at second base in the bottom of the ninth, Orioles fans standing like they had a playoff berth on the line.
- Matt Joyce, Matt Joyce, Matt Joyce. You made Tampa Bay fans very happy.
All that plus a thousand other little pieces of joy.
Where do you start? You start with the triple play, of course. But turn back the clock to the previous at-bat. With runners at second and third and the game tied 2-2, Swisher lofted a high fly to left-center. Teixeira, thinking the ball may be caught, looked to tag up from second, so when the ball instead bounced off the fence, he was unable to score. As they say, it’s the little things. (How often do guys try to tag up on a play like that, anyway? Not often, it seems.) Jorge Posada was intentionally walked to load the bases.
And then came the play that Rays fans will put in their back pocket and pull out for decades to come if Tampa ends up making the postseason: Russell Martin up. Hard grounder to Evan Longoria. Step on the bag. Over to Ben Zobrist. Lightning quick on the turn. The throw to first baseman Sean Rodriguez beats Martin despite his head-first slide.
Longoria to Zobrist to Rodriguez, definitely the sweetest of words in Tampa Bay.
The game wasn’t over. Joyce provided the big hit, a three-run shot off the Yankees’ $10 million middle reliever, Rafael Soriano. Is there a better sound in sports than the buzz of a baseball crowd -- the low hum of fans talking and vendors selling -- suddenly turning into a gigantic roar when something good happens? Love that sound.
In Baltimore, the hero was a rookie catcher named Ryan Lavarnway. With Jarrod Saltalamacchia fighting a sore collarbone and Jason Varitek battling a sore knee, Terry Francona gave the kid his first start behind the plate. Lavarnway’s three-run homer in the fourth gave the Red Sox a 5-1 lead. He’d homer again in the eighth. Francona showed no fear. He also batted Jed Lowrie cleanup for the first time his career.
A triple play. A rookie from Yale. The biggest games of the season.
We’re down to No. 162. Forget everything that has happened over the previous 161. None of that matters now. It’s one game to stay alive, to create legacies or avoid one. David Price will start for Tampa. Jon Lester will start for Boston.
And I have absolutely no idea what will happen.