I think all of us were in just the mood this morning for a good, old-fashioned, all-day-long country ass-whupping, to be delivered unceremoniously to the Orioles in the form of Josh Beckett. I wanted him to do to them what he did to the Indians in 2007 -- walk in, spit on the ground, declare this his ballpark, and quickly restore order.
Well, that's not how it happened.
One of the reasons I'm an Eck proponent is that, as a pitching junkie, I've learned something fascinating just about every time he's called the game. Today he pointed out in the third inning that Josh was facing a series of right-handed hitters after having faced a long string of lefties, and thus was having trouble locating his fastball on the outside corner to the right-handers.
I'm not sure if, technically speaking, the motion should be the same to put the ball on the inside corner to lefties and outside corner to righties. But I can see how, even if it was, your eye would play tricks on you with the batter in the opposite box.
It's little nuggets like that which have deepened my appreciation for this sport with every game I watch, and especially every pitcher I watch. I'll never have any idea what it feels like to do what they do, but it's been enough just to try to understand how they do it. And when it comes to raw physical gifts, even on a mediocre day, Josh Beckett is continually astonishing.
Today what had me marveling at his freakish coordination wasn't even a pitch - it was the collision with Felix Pie at first base in the 5th inning. I watched the slow-mo replay a couple of times, and first let me say it was the second time I've seen another professional ballplayer collide with Beckett and wind up being helped off the field (though this time wasn't nearly as bad - Pie came back).
But more interesting to me was the fact that in a situation in which almost every other human being on the planet would probably have fallen, too, Beckett caught the full brunt of his unbalanced weight awkwardly on one leg, and then recovered. Just like the last collision, almost exactly two years ago, while the other player lay lifeless on the field, Beckett never touched the ground.
Anyone who plays baseball at the major league level is gifted. But Beckett seems to be a rarity among rarities.
All that said, especially for him, he kinda sucked today. It was not, in fact, the whuppin' we were hungry for. Instead, this time it was Boston's turn to come back.
They were down 5-1 in the top of the 9th, on the brink of the unthinkable: a dropped series to the last-place Orioles. However, like Sam Perlozzo in the Mother's Day Miracle, Dave Trembley could be counted on to replaced a cruising starter at the beginning of the ninth inning. (Though as commenter Char points out, in this case the situation was different.)
The Red Sox pounced on the new pitcher, Jim Johnson. Pedroia walked on five pitches to lead things off. Then it was time for one of our right-handers to jump all over an outside fastball -- Kevin Youkilis smashed the pitch from Johnson over the right field wall. 5-3 O's.
Time to call for the closer, George Sherrill, who'd held the Sox down last night after the Baltimore comeback. Jason Bay, 0-for-13 in the series and 0-3 in the game, struck out for the fourth time in as many at-bats. I'm giving him a pass, right now, though - he's had the team on his back most of the year. He was quickly followed by Papi, who also struck out, buckled by a nasty breaking ball on the inside corner.
Even when you watch knowing what happens, it's hard to believe that it will -- two outs in the inning and they were about to score two more runs? But Ellsbury followed Papi by blooping a single to left center. And then Sherrill just fell apart. He walked Jeff Bailey and Jason Varitek, and then gave up a game-tying, bases-loaded single to Rocco Baldelli.
Josh was first to the rail as the tying run crossed the plate, pumping his fist and grinning in that slightly deranged way that makes him look like a chipmunk.
When Tito ran Julio Lugo for Jason Varitek, that's when I know I would have been declaring the game lost if I'd been watching live. O me of little faith, as it turned out.
But I still had to see it to believe it -- if you'd told me when I woke up this morning that by the 11th inning of this game, Beckett would have a ND as Julio was about to become the hero, I'd have told you not to eat any more mushrooms you found in the woods. And yet, that's exactly what happened.
Ellsbury also helped things along with a "chalk double" (another Eckersley-ism), and then he took third base on a flyout by Jeff Bailey, so all it took was a single from Lugo to bring him home for what would be the winning run.
But first, there was some other business to attend to -- in came Jonathan Papelbon for the second game in a row with a one-run lead (though this time, no one was on base).
No strikeouts. No dominance. Very little bombast, even, especially for him. Just an economical inning, two pop-ups and a flyout and a few pounds of his fist in his glove as he yelled to Kottaras. Otherwise unremarkable, except that it capped a great comeback, and officially took the team record for career saves out of the hands of Stanley Steamer forever. Julio Lugo even caught the final out.
"The Orioles can't even fail as spectacularly as the Red Sox," harrumphed my husband, his bravado returning. "That's how much they suck."
And all is now right with the world.