The Red Sox pulled off a 4-2 victory to force a game 7 tomorrow, first pitch starting shortly after 8pm. Tonight was bound to lack the high drama of game 5, but there were still minor heroes to be found. Jason Varitek broke out of his 0-for in an absolutely huge way, hitting a solo shot in the bottom of the 5th to put the Sox up for good. Youk was as reliable as ever, driving in two runs. Coco and J.D. continued to scorch the ball, and Papi, oh Papi, I'm sorry for doubting you, big fella. The doubt is like what Jason Bay says about his strike-outs: It's a big part of my game.
Perhaps the toughest performance of the day came from Josh Beckett, who pitched effectively through what looked to be considerable pain. A hanger inside to Bartlett was really his only serious mistake of the night. I refuse to call anything that B.J. Upton does a mistake. (I've said it before, but it bears repeating, Upton is as locked in right now as anyone I've ever seen.) Beckett made it through 5, then Okie came up with two big, hitless innings that really quieted the crowd and disheartened the Rays. Masterson started shaky but settled down quickly and got through a clean 8th. Pap made short work of Longoria, Crawford, and Aybar in the 9th.
Altogether, it was a workmanlike win for the Sox---if there is such a thing in an ALCS Game 6. At times they certainly seemed to be doing their impression of the playoff-Angels. There were, in total, 12 men left on base for the Sox. 12 men. But they just kept getting on and never seemed to doubt that they could push a few across when need be. And on that note, I'd hardly say the Rays were in panic mode, though the TBS broadcasters certainly took the Bartlett error (leading to the Youk rbi) as a sign of complete composure collapse. The fact is the Rays looked a little flat, but hardly worried.
There's going to be a lot of stories about Sox momentum in the morning, but I for one see this Game 7 as a tabula rasa. Except, of course, for the fact that these were the two best teams of the 2008 season, they know each other like the backs of their hands, and I don't doubt that every player on the field is going to be as hungry as you would expect for an ALCS Game 7. It should be a doozy.
Get some sleep, everyone, get a nice cup of coffee in the morning, and bask in the best damn feeling in sports. Win or lose, we've got an October Game 7 coming right up.
---Can anyone from Tampa Bay testify about noise levels in the stadium? There was a lot of talk about it, but it never seemed to play a role from where I was sitting. Was I hearing that wrong or did they just get the wrong 6,000 extra people to fill in those seats? Pretty weak showing.
---Anyone else seem to think Tito was chewing tobacco instead of gum when Masterson was in pitching? That's an actual question. Was he that nervous or was I seeing wrong?
---Walking the streets of NYC today in a Sox hat, I had 6 people shout at me "Go Rays". There were only 2 "Go Sox" people. And one guy with golf clubs and Nantucket Red pants walking somewhere on the UES who asked me what time the game started. I pretended not to speak English. We didn't need that guy tuning in. Point is, America loves a Cinderella.
---Is Bartlett wearing magnets in his elbow?
---The pitching matchup tomorrow should be great. Lester v. Garza. Shields might be the Rays big-game favorite, but from what I've seen of the kid, Garza's got the real pair and isn't afraid to swing 'em around a bit. And for the Sox, there's nobody I want on the mound more right now. Lester's got a lot on his resume so far, but this would be quite a coup.