First, and foremost, let me breathe a HUGE sigh of relief for Kevin Youkilis, whose X-Rays are apparently negative after he fouled a ball off his left shin in the first inning last night, and was taken out of the game.
NESN kept showing the trainers in the dugout peeling back Youk's sock to reveal an ugly purple welt on his leg, near where the shin bone meets the ankle. When it happened, it had looked so much like the foul off the instep that downed Pedroia last year that I told Youk half-jokingly through my television, "Don't be pulling a Pedey here." When he didn't return to the field, I yelled, "I didn't mean it!!"
And thus began an, er, adventurous night.
The thrills and chills weren't done yet for a fan base that still has an injury-riddled season fresh in its mind. Pedroia was next to slide into second kamikaze-style, on a steal attempt in the third inning. The impact on his surgically-repaired left foot / ankle knocked the base itself out of alignment and was nasty to watch.
Pedroia sat on the ground for a minute afterward, legs splayed out in front of him. Then he got up and began to try to walk it off, favoring his left leg. Francona and the trainers sprinted out, but the gritty little bastid stayed in the game. He showed few signs of injury after that, but then again, he wouldn't, would he?
This set the tone for jangly nerves, at least in my household, so I could be imagining things, but after all of that, starting in the fourth inning, when he issued his first walk, Josh Beckett seemed to start to favor his right shoulder, just a tiny bit. He was still pitching incredibly, of course, but the trainers had apparently seen something, too, and visited with Beckett in the dugout at least once between innings, making him flex the fingers on his right hand.
He went back out onto the field again, and so I guess that was that. But throughout the game, strange body language continued for Beckett, who is normally more smooth and sniper-squinty when he's really dealing like that. He seemed to hitch his shoulder much more exaggeratedly than normal coming off the field. At times instead of his satisfied smirk or trademark string of profanity walking off the field, there was a weird grimace on his face. During the seventh inning, he took his glove off on the mound and stretched out his pitching arm.
This is not scientific -- but something felt weird.
Of course, it might've been nerves -- Beckett was also pitching a no-hitter.
That fact didn't really dawn on me until about the sixth inning, when Gordon Edes tweeted this:
End of five in Anaheim. Bos 0 4 0 Ana 0 0 0
It felt, at least on my side of the computer screen, like a spell had been broken. I didn't see anybody actually came out and mention the no-no in so many words, but there were more people, at this point, who began to notice and draw our attention to it in Edes-like ways, including Don Orsillo on TV. I struggled not to think about it, but that's like the proverbial "Don't think about a pink elephant!" -- you can't not.
Outside of the shoulder weirdness, and even being oblivious to the no-hitter at first, I had been enjoying the hell out of the Beckett performance. He began the game showing three strong pitches -- fastball, curveball, changeup -- in quick succession to the very first hitter he faced, like an Inquisitor laying out an array of vicious, gleaming tools. He would use all of them on the Angels, holding them at his mercy most of the night.
As I'm sure anyone who's read this blog before can imagine, however, my disappointment when Beckett lost the no-hitter on a cheap little infield single for Erick Aybar in the sixth inning was profound. I really, really, REALLY wanted to see it happen, by then. And no sooner did I have that thought, than Aybar was popping up and running like his ass was afire to get to first, and Beckett fielded the ball but could do nothing with it, and it was over.
I wasn't the only one, if Twitter is any indication, who quickly grasped at a potential silver lining -- with the weird shoulder stuff going on, now Beckett wouldn't feel the need to go the full nine, or put a lot of pitches on his arm. Or so we thought.
He was back out for the seventh, and following the aforementioned arm-stretching, gave up a two-run homer to tie the game. He'd lost the no-hitter, and now he'd lost both the shutout and the lead. Surely, we thought, he wouldn't be back for the eighth.
As a matter of fact, at 125 pitches, Beckett left the field after eight full innings one pitch short of a career-high pitch count. And I know I wasn't the only one scratching my head about that one.
Still, it all depends on perspective. From the point of view of a lost no-hitter, things were tragic. From the point of view of a basic quality start, things were stellar. Beckett more than took care of his end, surrendering just two runs, even if they were a soul-crushing two runs at the time.
No, in the end, it was the guys with the sticks I hold responsible for robbing Beckett of even a W for his troubles, and keeping me up until 2 am to watch extra freakin' innings on the West Coast. Through nine, the lineup went a pathetic 1 for 14 with runners in scoring position, and this "1" was a broken-bat bloop to right field from Jacoby Ellsbury. When all was said and done, they left a grand total of 15 runners on base and went 2 for 18 with runners in scoring position. I know at least a couple of the hitters were banged up, but come on.
I usually obsess about pitching first, but this has also been a pattern for the Sox so far this year, and I'm also not the only one getting sick of it. The Red Sox rotation seems to be beginning a turnaround, but without the bats to back it up some nights. Beckett especially has been nails so far this year, and last night, he received a no decision in return for pitching a masterpiece.
Come on, guys.
Once the game went to extras, I began puttering around the house, nervously cleaning things, hoping it would just be over with by the time I came back. Nope. Every time I checked the TV, it was still going on.
Finally I sat back down. Top of the 11th. My lucky Sox socks were turned inside out, for a rally. The Sox managed to squeeze two runs across, though not without an adventure for Pedey on the basepaths.
Papelbon time. I finally (and, I thought, symbolically) turned the lights out.
The closer made short work of Erick Aybar, but then neither Papelbon or Varitek could field a bunt off the bat of Peter Bourjos. On a wild pitch from Papelbon shortly thereafter, 'Tek lost track of the ball, and Bourjos advanced to second. Even at this late hour, they were keeping things "interesting", and I did not appreciate it.
Facing the tying run in Howie Kendrick, and one strike away from putting a merciful end to the game, it took Paps another eight pitches and a mound conference with Varitek to get the last out. Nothing seemed to work -- climbing the ladder, throwing the split, trying to get him to chase outside. Kendrick either laid off or fouled them off.
On another superstitious impulse, I stood up and turned the lights back on. On Papelbon's next pitch, Kendrick finally swung and missed.
I'd call this the toughest win of the season so far. And, in retrospect, the most exciting game -- but only in retrospect. As much "fun" as it was, I'm hoping the Sox find a way not to put us through all that again tonight.