It even shows up, if you scroll through ESPN's play by play page for the game, like a meteorological event on a weather map. After the five runs that scored between the two teams in the first two innings, all is quiet columns of grey until the point where it says, in bold lettering, "D. Reyes relieved D. Matsuzaka."
You want a scapegoat? You want to ride somebody? Here's your guy. Dennys Reyes. The guy who came out "in relief" only to hit not one but two batters, walk another, throw a dozen pitches without collecting an out, and recording one single, solitary, pathetic little strike. The guy who singlehandedly loaded the bases, then went to sit on the bench and watch the rest unfold.
And this is where the ugly green of that inning on ESPN's page, to indicate-run scoring plays, starts to show up, like the deepest, nastiest center of a severe thunderstorm on a Doppler screen.
This cruel and unusual inning would continue with a mental error (though not officially recorded as such; it was ruled a fielder's choice) on the part of Jason Varitek, though I would just like to point out to those still jumping all over 'Tek that it took all of us -- Kevin Youkilis, Varitek, umpires, Terry Francona, and fans alike -- several minutes to figure out just what had happened. And so, on a related note, I'd also just like to mention that the word "Boneheaded" is usually reserved for errors which are a) actual errors and b) glaringly obvious. Ahem.
Still, yes, this play was when the Sixth Inning from Hell truly began to take on its surreal and nightmarish quality.
Michael Brantley hit a liner that bounced in and out of the glove of Youkilis, who probably let the ball go on purpose in an effort to get more than one out. And it might've worked, too -- Youk stepped on the third-base bag in time to force out Matt LaPorta, and then threw for home, where Travis Buck (the guy who'd begun the inning getting beaned in the back by Dennys Reyes) was headed for the plate.
Tek fielded the ball cleanly, stepped on the plate, then shifted forward, the better to hold the remaining runners on. What he didn't realize (and we ALL didn't realize until several minutes after the fact, I feel the need to point out again) was that Youkilis had stepped on third, meaning it was a tag play at home, not a force. Varitek could easily have tagged Buck, but didn't think he needed to. Thus Buck scored the fourth run for Cleveland.
While the Youkilis-Varitek play was painful and strange, the ultimate low point would have to have been the stomach-dropping dread of watching Azdrubal Cabrera's towering three-run homer off a Wheeler pitch, as it soared toward the right-field stands shortly afterwards.That was your ball game, right there, even though Official Hope of Red Sox Nation Adrian Gonzalez would contribute a bomb of his own in garbage time.
No, let's not panic -- but let's not be disingenuous either. That inning, from start to finish, front to back, from the pitcher's mound to the basepaths and the catcher's mitt, absolutely sucked. And it's the sloppiness of that inning -- not to mention the seeming hopelessness of Reyes, who won a spot on the team over Hideki Okajima this year -- that sticks with me today.
Here's hoping we can finally wash its ugly taste out of our mouths tonight.