Got to start off with the 9th. Wild. Frankie Francisco, who has emerged as the Rangers closer (with young gun Neftali Faliz nipping at his heels - we'll see this kid soon), came on in the 9th with a 4-2 lead, but Ortiz, who already had provided the Sox offense on the night, started it off with a double. Then the strangeness really began. Varitek - read that again, Varitek - beat out an infield single. Granted, it was the type of play that only Omar Vizquel could make close to begin with; and yes, Varitek was out. But still, the old man beat it out. Then Jacoby, pinch hitting for Nick Green (who's can't be feeling too good that the Sox pinch hit for him and traded for a new shortstop on the same day), knocked one up the middle - Francisco missed catching that by inches, inches. And so the game turned. Ortiz scored, and then things got really weird. Chris Woodward couldn't get down the bunt, so he seemed to decide that a strike out was best, not wanting to risk the double play. Then Tito sent out Clay Buchholz to pinch run for Varitek. Now I understand the thinking. I agreed with it when it was happening. Buchholz is an amazing athlete. He can easily dunk a basketball from a dead standstill. He runs a mean 40. But it sure looked like he hadn't run the bases in a good long while. Pedroia hit a rocket to left. Jacoby took off and waited on second base until seeing the ball hit the wall, then he bolted. Unfortunately, Clay was doing the Men in Black shuffle about two thirds of the way between second and third. He just didn't seem sure that Murphy hadn't caught the ball. After a near collision between Jacoby and Clay and a missed cutoff throw in from left, Clay finally got going, with a sort of flailing run and dive in home. It was a valiant effort. It was a heck of an exciting play. It was out by a couple yards. Kudos to the Michael Young on that throw home and kudos on the Teagarden tag. Kudos all around, since it didn't end up hurting the Sox.
(Quick pause - For the record, I was freaking out pretty good at this point. That play ran over and over, and I started to wonder how I was going to fall asleep any time in the next week. I just pictured that haunting the rest of the season then pushing into the winter. I kept repeating over and over, "Oh, baseball," trying to convince myself that it was all in the fun. But really, I was just freaking out and muttering like a madman. Then up came Victor Martinez, and the onslaught began.)
Martinez fought Francisco in an epic eight pitch at bat, ripping the final pitch down the right field line, scoring Jacoby and Pedey and giving the Sox the lead for good. A Jason Bay single and a J.D. Drew home run later, and the Sox were going into the bottom of the 9th with a 4 run lead and a raucous Arlington population that suddenly revealed itself as a Sox crowd. (Where did all those people come from? I have to say, I have my doubts as to their allegiances. The guy who caught the Michael Young homer in the first was wearing Sox gear, but changed intoa full Rangers outfit in about two minutes flat and then announced on the Texas broadcast that he was no longer a Red Sox fan. What the? I plan on messing with Texas the next time I get a chance.)
Papelbon got into relatively little trouble in the 9th and there it was. The first in a huge series. Lester was big on the night, buckling down and sweating through a hot August night in Texas. He only went 6 (relatively short compared to recent outings) but struck out 11. That gives him a gnarly 187 strikeouts in 159 innings this year.
So the Sox gained a game on both the Rangers and the Rays. And more importantly, they got a shot in the arm in the first game of what is going to no doubt be a brutal two week stretch. Let's hope that Oklahoma boy Brad Penny can give the Sox another good start tomorrow and get them rolling through this road swing. Way too early to start saying 'the Sox needed that one,' but it was awful tempting tonight, at least once it was all over. Oh, baseball.