Sep 25, 2011, 11:52 PM EST
This story could have been about Terry Francona dropping the ball. Fortunately for the Red Sox, Jacoby Ellsbury was there to bail out his manager, with plenty of help from Boston’s bullpen.
Ellsbury, who hit his 29th and 30th homers in a 6-2 loss in the first game Sunday, delivered a three-run bomb off Scott Proctor in the 14th inning of the nightcap, giving Boston a 7-4 win over the Yankees and a one-game lead in the wild card with three games left to play.
It’s going to be a tough sell with Justin Verlander getting so much hype, but Ellsbury’ superb late-season run has made him a serious MVP candidate. He’s hitting .368 with seven homers, 10 doubles, 20 runs scored and 19 RBI in 106 at-bats this month. He has 20 homers, 55 runs scored and 54 RBI in 66 games during the second half.
The bullpen also stepped up big for the Red Sox. With the score tied at 4, Jonathan Papelbon got Daniel Bard out of a bases-loaded jam by striking out Austin Romine to end the ninth and then stayed in to pitch scoreless 10th and 11th innings. It’s just the second time he’s pitched two innings this year and the second time in five years that he’s gotten as many as seven outs.
The Red Sox may well have won this one in regulation if Francona hadn’t dropped the ball. John Lackey bounced back from a three-run first to give the Red Sox a very solid outing, but for some reason, Francona sent him back out for the seventh with a 4-3 lead, even though Alfredo Aceves had already started warming up in the sixth. Lackey gave up a leadoff single to Eric Chavez and was immeditely pulled. The Yankees went on to tie the game after pinch-runner Brett Gardner stole second, advanced to third on a groundout and scored on a sac fly.
Four months ago, the shoe was on the other foot. Yankees manager Joe Girardi sent Bartolo Colon back out for the seventh in a 2-2 game against the Red Sox, only to pull him after Jarrod Saltalamacchia singled to start the inning. The Red Sox ended up with three runs in the inning and won 5-4.
As I wrote then, if a starting pitcher is just one mistake away from getting pulled, you don’t send him back out to make the mistake. It’s a foolish way to manage, and while it didn’t cost the Red Sox a win tonight, it may very well cost them Monday after the team had to extend Papelbon, Morales and Bard in this one.
But the Red Sox will carry some momentum with them into the series against the Orioles. It would have a morose flight to Baltimore had the Red Sox lost this one in extras. Now they don’t have to depend on the Yankees beating the Rays this week; they can just go ahead and take care of business themselves.
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