Several hours before it would ultimately end, today's game seemed well in hand. Jonathan Papelbon was on to pitch the top of the ninth in what seemed like an otherwise routine 7-3 Sox win. And that's when all hell broke loose.
Once things had been made challenging, Papelbon bucked up and struck out catcher Landon Powell for the first out of the inning -- but this was no three-pitch K. Paps was quickly up 0-2 on the burly Powell, and then ran the count full and had a pitch fouled off before putting him away. That's when old buddy Coco Crisp stepped to the plate.
No doubt about it: Dustin Pedroia screwed up. On the first pitch from Papelbon, the ball came off Coco's bat straight for Pedroia at second base...and kept going right through him into shallow right center, as he appeared to be getting ahead of himself, scuttling back toward the bag and moving as if to transfer the ball, before he was sure he had it.
Because of Pedroia's error, Mark Ellis scored. 7-4 Sox.
I must admit that through much of regulation I was asleep on the couch, battling a bad head cold. But at this point, I sat up and paid attention.
Shortstop Cliff Pennington's at bat following the Pedroia gaffe went like this: Strike (foul), Strike (looking), Foul, Ball, double down the left field line, Jason Varitek ejected.
The Pitch F/x chart for home plate umpire Tony Randazzo's strikezone looks a little off in places, but as Projo's Brian MacPherson would point out on Twitter, "I've seen worse." I don't fault the umpire for tossing Varitek, either, who appeared to have a rare meltdown over balls and strikes, a clear violation of the rules.
Where I do fault Randazzo is in walking out toward Papelbon, removing his mask, and hollering something after Papelbon turned away in frustration over another pitch. Papelbon turned back around, saw him, and went completely apeshit. He was well up in Randazzo's grille by the time Tito got there to intervene, and it was obvious the closer at least gave overpowering his manager a thought before finally accepting his own ejection and leaving the field.
Five more innings would follow. The Sox would use two more pitchers, Bobby Jenks for an inning and two thirds, and well-deserved winner Alfredo Aceves for an incredible 4.0, during which he threw more than 50 pitches and actually walked off the field bleeding from the pitching hand at one point -- but he would return for another inning after that. Aceves wasn't high on my list after his starting performance Tuesday, but today he gets my Iron Man award.
More than five hours after it began, the game finally, mercifully came to an end in the bottom of the 14th, when JD Drew singled in Carl Crawford. Jed Lowrie was also on base, having been walked intentionally for Drew, despite being 0-6. JD found a measure of redemption in the resulting walkoff RBI, but ... ouch.
There was the usual mob in the middle of the field after the winning score, but even that celebration seemed a little muted after this exhausting and unnecessary marathon of a game, which burned through the bullpen to the point where we could really use a John Lackey 90-pitch complete game tomorrow to make up for it. Yeah. Raise your hand if you think that's happening.
If I have to pick one goat for this game, fairness dictates it should probably be Pedroia -- calling his error costly would be a vast understatement. But it's just hard for me to be mad at Pedroia, apparently, even when he probably deserves it.
The next candidate will obviously be Tito, whether for his decision to bring in Papelbon in the first place with a four-run lead, or for his pinch-running decisions that removed power from the lineup, which in turn kept the bullpen strung up on the rack for that much longer. In the end, this was a game of attrition, and while the Red Sox at least won the stupid thing in the end, its potential effect on games to come is what I'm most worried and upset about, so this also earns at least a portion of my blame.
But I have to say the moments that sit worst with me in the immediate aftermath this game are the Papelbon / Varitek ejections. Yes, Pedroia's error was costly, and yes, the umpire may have sucked. But did either of them have any excuse for losing control the way they did? Not really. Did their tantrums cost their teams just as much as Pedroia's error? Probably. And frankly, whether it's a save situation or not, when called upon, Papelbon has a job to do. He didn't do it today, and gave up three earned runs of his own to go along with the single unearned score supplied by Pedroia.
It's a good thing the rest of the team showed more mental stamina in digging out the win, eventually. But tomorrow, and in the days that follow, we'll find out what this afternoon's epic really cost us.