Aww, remember baby David Pauley?
May 31, 2006 --
All of it. The way Francona and Nipper clustered around the despondent Pauley in the dugout, hanging his head so low it was almost between his knees, the way Jason Varitek gave him a firm "buck up" slap on the butt, the way Manny and Papi broke out the big-boy bats in support, the way Mirabelli would lead Pauley gently back up onto the mound during conferences with one hand on his back and was seen giving him enthusiastic instruction between innings in the dugout...Sometimes the "back up your teammates" ethic in baseball seems like so much empty-headed machismo, especially when it comes to beanballs and fights. But tonight it was a touching display, the millionaire Boston Red Sox professional baseball club suddenly looking for all the world like a ragtag sandlot team, sticking up for the little guy on the mound.
It was a toss-up, watching little Pauley, all growed up and starting for the Mariners last night (on just the 14th major league start of his career), between whether he was making hitters look stupid, or if Sox hitters were just off-balance. You could certainly argue Hermida and Lowrie were the victims of poor timing after long absence. Also, there were grumbles aplenty from both teams about the umpiring. And finally, at times there were mental errors for Sox hitters. For example, take Kevin Youkilis in the top of the second, smacking his own bat in frustration after a truly stupid...well, not even a swing...almost more of a flourish of the bat, really, which put him into an 0-2 hole .
You also wouldn't be able to tell whether Pauley's one-run win was by design or just muddling through from his demeanor. He still has a kind of "aw, shucks" way about him -- after he went on to strike out Youkilis, Pauley puffed out his cheeks and let out a long breath, as if he'd dodged a bullet But then, he buckled back down and wriggled out of a bases-loaded jam without so much as a run surrendered that inning.
He failed to dodge the bullet with David Ortiz two innings later. Papi unloaded on the first pitch he saw from Pauley in the top of the fourth, a pitch Pauley left, surely by accident, on the lower inside corner of the strike zone. Every angle and plane in Ortiz's body is attuned to hitting that precise pitch. He seemed to jump out of his shoes with eagerness to bury it in the right-field stands. 1-0, Boston.
Pauley was countered by about as cool a customer as they come on the other side of the ball. Jon Lester stacked the Ks like cordwood in those first four innings, dropping in curveball and cutter with ease for strikeouts both swinging and looking.
In the background, from time to time, rose a chant of "Let's Go, Red Sox".
Ortiz took Pauley for a ride again in the top of the fifth, but this one died in the glove in center field. Pauley would leave the next inning without giving up another run.
Lester, meanwhile, continued slicing through the Mariners lineup. Nine strikeouts. Ten. He'd faced the minimum through five and a third. It was beginning to look like the league would see another perfect game this summer.
That is, until the ball clanked off Eric Patterson's glove in center field, a ball which could have been, should have been a flyout.
Lester mostly maintained his expressionlessness, but his gestures grew short, and on occasion, a grimace flashed across his face, while he switched to the stretch as if woken from a dream. I suppose he pretty much had been.
A few pitches later, the no-hitter disappeared, along with the lead, into the same right-field stands where Papi's homer had landed, this time off the bat of Mariners left fielder Michael Saunders.
It was just the eighth home run for Saunders this season. It was the first homer off Lester by a lefty all year. I'm not saying...I'm just saying.
Now Lester's posture began to droop. Patterson looked like he was mumbling a curse, as the camera inevitably swung to his face in the immediate aftermath of this turn of events. That face suggested he was counting on the ground to swallow him, any minute now.
For every missed opportunity this series, there's been the shadow of the man who should be there. [Fill-in-the-blank] woulda had it. In tonight's case, the blank would be occupied by Ellsbury. The other night, on that fateful relay from Bill Hall to first, Pedroia. But they are not, to paraphrase another voice from Boston sports past, walking through that door. At least not for another few days.