First of all, to the fans who packed that ballpark tonight in the baking, broiling heat, I salute you. Especially to those who stayed PAST the seventh inning. Ahem.
It was hard to know what to expect going in to this matchup of one of the league's worst offenses against one of our most inconsistent pitchers in John Lackey, while on the Red Sox side of the ball, one of the league's best offenses went up against the always-fearsome King Felix Hernandez. Safe to say that the last thing I was personally expecting was a pitcher's duel.
Watching Lackey chewing his gum, baring his teeth, huffing and puffing and bitching and moaning, I can't say I have become more endeared to him, even with his improved performance of late. A lot has been said to defend the guy, but he was in the hole with me before he even got here, and continues to be an unlikeable character, if you ask me.
But credit where credit is due: Lackey has ceased to serve up meatballs down the middle and begun to work the corners and hit his spots more consistently. His misses were at least off the plate, and he got ahead in many counts tonight, surrendering just the one run in that first inning.
Lackey was also beneficiary of good defense, not only at the hands of Ellsbury but from Josh Reddick as well, who made a nice sliding catch in the top of the fifth, as well as Kevin Youkilis, who barehanded an awkwardly-hopping grounder to end the bottom of the seventh.
Reddick also earned some Dirt Dog stripes with a head-first slide into first base in the early going, a dive which earned some comparisons to the original Dirt Dog, Trot Nixon. That comparison isn't favorable for everybody, especially detractors of Nixon's who found his hustle compensated for his actual skill level, but I think Reddick is more the complete package -- he has shown a willingness to get dirty, sure, but so far he has also been genuinely impressive, particularly for a callup.
Hernandez, meanwhile, is pretty good even on his worst day, but wasn't his sharpest tonight, falling behind hitters and finally falling victim to the now-customary 2011 Red Sox 7th Inning Rally, in which they plated 5 runs to make the score 5-1. The game might've been put away earlier, too, had the Sox not grounded into 5 double plays, four of them inning-ending, on the night.
In the top of the 8th, Red Sox reliever Franklin Morales made things unnecessarily interesting, surrendering a no-doubter three-run homer to Carp; he would give up another resounding hit to Jack Cust before being pulled for Daniel Bard.
And so, on the one hand, this ended up being a close game against one of the league’s worst offenses – worst teams overall, really, having lost 12 in a row coming into this game –and it became close after the Red Sox should’ve had it put away. On the other hand, to quote @TheMuddyChicken, "If you told me 3 weeks ago that the Red Sox would even be in a Lackey v. Hernandez game in the 8th inning, I'da slapped you silly." Lackey was certainly better than I think any of us had hoped for, and eventually, the Red Sox offense did come through, while Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon buttoned things up tidily in the end.
P.S. Speaking of The Muddy Chicken, it has come to my attention after my absenteeism that this is the hip new nickname for Pedroia, that or Laser Chicken. But I'm starting to prefer Honey Badger. I mean, think about it.