Yes, a miracle may still happen. An utterly improbable collapse and / or comeback may yet occur. But it's officially time to put that in the same category as the probability Bigfoot exists or the probability of a child actually growing up to be a professional astronaut. Stranger things have happened, but not usually.
And so, some notes on a tough loss laced with a heavy dose of finality.
** It didn't look like Ryan Kalish had a prayer of reaching that ball, a sinking liner he caught to end the second inning. Even more surprising than the fact that he got there was his somersaulting follow-through, tucking his glove arm and shoulder safely under himself, rather than falling hard on his shoulder joint as we've seen Ellsbury do on occasion. Not only did he execute a perfect tuck-and-roll, but he also popped back up and landed on his feet in one fluid motion.
I was agape. Remy called it the catch of the year, and I agree.
** Early on in the game, excitable Rays starter Matt Garza looked like he was telling himsef out loud to calm down, gesturing as if he was literally crushing something down, muttering and grimacing between pitches.
In the top of the fourth, Garza thought Mike Lowell swung twice when it was obvious that Lowell took a step forward but held up the bat. Not even close. But Garza protested theatrically, which is how he seemingly does everything, to the point of screaming at the umpires after Lowell eventually flied out harmlessly to end the inning. Even his own catcher looked like he was trying to tell him Lowell hadn't swung, and it looked as if Garza brushed it off.
My God, he is annoying. Like, fingernails on a chalkboard annoying. Of course, Josh Beckett has his moments, and I've seen Jon Lester be needlessly snotty at times, but after tonight I can't think of any of their behavior that rivals Garza's constant twitching and kvetching on the field. It's obviously worked for him to some extent, but good Lord.
** V-Mart finally got his revenge for a blown call on a caught-stealing at second in the bottom of that inning, gunning down Evan Longoria at second. Am I the only one who looks at Longoria and sees Dennis from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia? I can't be, can I?
** Buchholz also became visibly frustrated with the umpire in the bottom of the fifth after some borderline calls. Not to quite the same shoulder-shrugging, neck-rolling extent as Garza, but it was there. The unusual part of it was that the Rays hitter at the time, Dan Johnson, also seemed baffed at the strike zone. Eventually Buch got a called strike three that was very questionably on the outside corner.
He walked back up on the mound, his back to the umpire, rolling his eyes. But Buch bore down and made short work of the next batter, too. No shouted recriminations as he left the field.
** In the top of the seventh, it was Mike Lowell's turn to fume over a checked-swing attempt that was ruled strike three. He flipped his bat, drawing points in his direction from the third base umpire and a protracted conference with the home plate umpire, though Lowell was not actually tossed. I don't think either Garza or Lowell was correct in their assessment of the umpires' calls, but I do wonder if these altercations are the result of general, mounting frustration with umpires in the league this year.
** Buch's curveball of old made an appearance or two tonight, dropping in for called strikes. His changeup dropped off the table. All of this was set off by a fastball that hovered in the 94 range and showed late movement.
He'll probably always be wiry and thin by most standards, but he's begun to fill out at least some, got that show hair, as Kevin Millar would say, and developed a kind of quiet swagger, less bombastic than Beckett and less fussy than Lester, but with a dagger-eyed game face that's a thrill to behold. He's the complete package this year. A joy to watch perform.
** VMart and Papi were like clockwork tonight. In the top of the fourth, a V-Mart single and a Papi double put runners at second and third for the Sox, and a sac fly from Beltre produced the game's first run. V-Mart and Ortiz once again assumed their positions on base in the top of the sixth with a single and a walk respectively.
In the sixth, Garza received a mound visit from Hickey after falling behind Beltre 2-0. It looked like they were getting to him. But Beltre then proceeded to ground into a double play as Don Orsillo's sinking tone voiced our collective disappointment. The pressure-cooker of a 1-0 game continued.
The Red Sox stranded another baserunner after a bloop single by Kalish in the top of the seventh. Bill Hall whiffed to kill that rally.
Buch held the line until the seventh, and it was arguably Buch himself that ruined the gem, when he threw away a pickoff attempt to first and Pena scampered to third, the first Rays runner of the game to reach and pass second base.
JD Drew also chose to catch a foul popup that inning, which JD's touch turned into a sacrifice fly, tying the game at 1. That'll be grist for the mill tomorrow. But you can't forget the LOB that had come before.
** I could've fast forwarded or checked my text messages, since I was well behind in the DVR by the time the eighth inning rolled around. I'd heard the new text chime twice and assumed one of the two teams had scored another run, and then I'd gotten the usual notification of a final score. But which way had it gone?
I could've peeked. But I didn't. Because if it wasn't in favor of the Red Sox, I decided I didn't want to know just yet. I knew if they lost this game it would be time to start making peace with disappointment, but I wanted to put that off until it was absolutely necessary.
And then V-Mart stepped to the plate, and knocked a towering bomb into the stands behind right center field. 2-1 Red Sox.
** I was wrong about the subsequent text notification being the final score, too. With Daniel Bard still warming in the bottom of the eighth, Buch faced BJ Upton, and Upton unceremoniously tied the game again with a leadoff home run.
I don't second-guess decisions by Fancona as much as some people do, but I think it was pretty reasonable to assume Buch was cooked after that seventh inning. Bard has been lights out. I suppose Francona might've been hoping Buch had one more inning in him so Bard could close things out, but he'll be under a microscope for that one. Though it was also because of that troublesome curveball for Buchholz again, hanging over the plate this time.
** The LOB loomed large again as Bard finished out a one-two-three ninth and the game headed into extras. A bad feeling stirred in the pit of my stomach. The Red Sox are 2-6 in extras this year on the road, 5-9 overall. The Rays, 6-5 (stats per NESN, Edes). The moment Upton's homer left the park, it felt like it was all over but the shouting.
The Sox had their best chance in the top of the tenth with V-Mart on base once again and Papi up. Papi took a questionable called strike, then whiffed his way into an 0-2 hole. Randy Choate threw outside, ball one, inside, ball two. Then Papi flied out. Scott Atchison was coming in for the bottom of the tenth. Okajima was warming behind him. That sinking feeling got worse.
Just get it over with, I thought. Just get it over with. And then Dan Johnson finally obliged.
** It didn't come easy to the Rays. The Red Sox fought like hell, and came very close to giving us a barn-burner tomorrow. But in the end, it seems increasingly clear the pessimists among us will probably be vindicated. No doubt there will be calls from some corners tomorrow to fire the [ETA: second-] winningest manager in Red Sox history* for his strange bullpen decisions tonight. What's left of Jacoby Ellsbury's effigy may yet be burned in the streets.
But none of it was that simple. Not for the whole season, and not during this game.
* And the other guy certainly isn't walking through that door.