Tuning in to the Red Sox game tonight, even against lowly Baltimore, was like watching a novice on the flying trapeze. And eight of nine innings would be tightrope-tense as the Sox and bottom-feeding Orioles went one-potato two-potato to a 2-2 tie.
In the top of that inning, the Orioles had runner on with two outs when Ty Wigginton sent a fly into no-man's land in deep left center. There, new Sox acquisition Eric Patterson had been playing deep, but shaded toward the foul line. He loped in toward where the ball looked headed for the grass, and then the warning track, and then who knew...and at the last second, dropped his glove, and the ball plopped in.
After the strains of "Sweet Caroline" had died down, Marco Scutaro opened the bottom of the frame with a double, and was followed to the plate by Daniel Nava, who proceeded to hit a towering pop-up toward the right-field foul line, where it fell amid three scrambling Orioles. Scutaro scored the go-ahead, final, and winning run.
But between Scutaro's foot touching the plate and "Love that Dirty Water" there came Vintage Papelbon (or at least a reasonable facsimile, as this was still 24-55 Baltimore, after all), eyes and fastball blazing, earning swings and misses on pure heat. Adam Jones was the first K victim, losing his balance on such a defensive swing for his final strike he appeared to be first ducking, and then running away from, what had come from the monstrosity on the mound.
Next was Matt Wieters, who fouled out to third base. Adrian Beltre's face as he made the out was focused, but he snapped his glove closed around it and then raised his eyebrows as if to say, sarcastically, "whoda thunk?" The Fenway crowd, which always seems to be full of total suckers for Papelbon, rose to its feet and bellowed incoherently while he chiseled away at Josh Bell. Bell did not go quietly, but finally swung through the high cheese, as hundreds of fists pumped in unison behind home plate.
With a half-dozen new injuries, many of them major, in the last week alone, with minor leaguers and waiver-wire types manning the outfield and dotting the lineup, your 2010 Boston Red Sox tonight are a half game back of the Yankees for first place in the AL East.
Whatever happens from here, how can you not love this team?