Writer's note: In light of Dustin Pedroia's complaints about all the negativity that surrounds the Red Sox, or as he called it, "you guys' bulls---," this reporter has chosen to show greater sensitivity in his coverage of the team. It's upsetting to hear Pedroia say, as he did Monday afternoon, "I've been around here long enough to know when you're going good, everyone loves you. When you're going bad, everyone hates you.” So with Pedroia's feelings of the uppermost concern, I have set aside my arsenic-dipped pen for a night and will show a little compassion for a team that has so often brought great joy -- three World Series titles in the last 97 years -- to the city it calls home.
What follows has been approved for publication in Bristol [England, that is. ESPN in Bristol, Connecticut, washes their hands of this entire exercise]. For the record, any words appearing within quotes were recorded verbatim at Fenway Park on Monday. The rest of it? Make of it what you will.
By Gordon Edes | Royal Rooter
BOSTON -- Ah, the lads gave it all they had in Monday night's 4-2 loss to the visitors from Atlanta, right down to the final out made by the bold pinch hitter Alejandro De Aza, who cleverly directed the ball just in front of the pitcher's mound with his mighty cut but regrettably was thrown out at first by Jason Grilli, the Atlanta pitcher known to his teammates as "Lucky” for all the breaks that come his way.
The Red Sox, keen to try out a new strategy they had devised in their team meeting before Monday night's game, had lulled the Braves into thinking they were assured of an easy victory, waiting until there were two out and nobody on in the ninth inning to launch what should have been a winning rally.
All was going according to plan, too, as the beloved Red Sox newcomer, Pablo Sandoval, hit a ground-rule double into the visitors' bullpen and our Nap, Mike Napoli, whistled a stinging grounder of the "too hot to handle variety” to Atlanta shortstop Andrelton Simmons, whose hurried throw was no match for the hustle of the determined Nap.
Now, Grilli, the beads of perspiration on his forehead bigger than the drops of rain hanging from the bill of his cap, grimaced as he saw the youngster, Mookie Betts, settle into the batter's box. Betts, who just three days before had, with no regard for his own safety, run face-first into the railing in the center-field triangle, already had two singles in his first game back. Through no fault of his own, Betts had not advanced past first on either occasion, the rain-slickened grass turning a certain base hit by Sandy Leon in the third into a double-play grounder, a stroke of misfortune that improbably struck the Red Sox three times in the first three innings.
Then, in the sixth, Betts had played a nifty game of cat-and-mouse with Braves pitcher Williams Perez, forcing him to make one throw after another to first base because Perez knew that A.J. Pierzynski, the noodle-armed Braves catcher who had departed Boston in shame last summer, had no chance to catch Betts when he sallied forth to steal second.
But the first-base umpire Vic Carapazza, who had 11 o'clock dinner reservations at Davio's (one of the loyal members of the Red Sox grounds crew passed on that information to us) made the kind of call that so often this season has defrauded the Sox, declaring that Betts had been tagged out by first baseman Freddie Freeman while diving back into the bag.
"Reacted late," said Betts, who pretended afterward that the umpire made the right call, but only because his mother, Diana, had taught him always to respect authority. "That's pretty much all I can say about that."
There would be more persecution by the men in blue Monday night. In the seventh inning, the Braves shortstop, Simmons, showed an appalling inability to execute a bunt while attempting a safety squeeze, but then claimed that the pitch had struck him in fingers he had carelessly placed in front of the barrel of the bat. Quite the actor he was, too, grimacing in pain, while the umpiring crew went through the charade of reviewing the play before showing their blatant favoritism to the visitors, rewarding Simmons with a free trip to first base.
Naturally, the Braves parlayed that bit of good fortune into their fourth run of the night, Jace Peterson's bat somehow connecting with a masterfully delivered pitch by the crafty left-hander, Robbie Ross, and sending it to right field for a single.
The Braves already had exhausted an honest man's supply of good fortune in the fourth with four softly struck singles off Red Sox starter Rick Porcello, who certainly deserved better. He also was charged with a wild pitch, though any objective observer surely understood the ball must have slipped out of his hands on such a wet night.
"One inning, that was about it," said Porcello, who deserved a fate much kinder than being saddled with his fifth straight loss, the second longest streak of his career.
Still, Porcello's Red Sox teammates, vowing to spare him the misery of another loss, fought back with their usual grit and determination. Dustin Pedroia, who mistakenly had believed the fans were mocking him when they cheered his catch of a popup Sunday, when in fact they were genuinely delighted to see him flash his usual form after he'd lost two balls in the sun, had two hits and a walk. Pedroia would have had a third hit, too, but Jonny Gomes, rumored to have once played in Boston, threw his glove out just as he was about to fall down in left field and watched in amazement as the ball landed inside.
Xander Bogaerts, the superstar-in-waiting, hit a mighty circuit clout in the seventh for Boston's first run, placing them in ideal position to execute the last-out rally they had designed.
And Betts did not disappoint, rocketing a ball into center field for a base hit to score Sandoval to the cheers of thousands that paid no heed to the cold, wet conditions, a trifle compared to the privilege of witnessing such gallantry.
The sight of De Aza, the astute roster pickup made by GM Ben Cherington just two weeks earlier, striding to the plate to hit for Leon sent ripples of excitement through the crowd. They knew that, with one hit in his previous 12 at-bats on the homestand, De Aza was the right man for the job. He was due.
But Grilli unexpectedly fell off the mound into the path of De Aza's well-placed ball, and somehow was able to recover in time to throw out the swift De Aza. Grilli looked heavenward in gratitude for another appearance by Lady Luck, De Aza bowed his head with a warrior's dignity, and the crowd filed out contentedly, knowing that while they may have witnessed the team's seventh consecutive loss, they had been given their money's worth.