Dave D'Onofrio's Sox Beat: These Sox know how to seize the moment
BOSTON -- As the Red Sox waited out a four-day break before beginning the American League Division Series, there was plenty of projecting. Plenty of time to pore over a season's worth of statistics. Plenty of opportunity to study information and formulate opinions on what to expect in the postseason.
But in that process, sometimes it's easy to lose track of the simplest fact of them all: Baseball is a game played by humans.
We were reminded of that in the second inning of Friday's series opener, when Jon Lester saw what he thought was a third strike to Sean Rodriguez get called a ball, then proceeded to groove his next pitch rather than regroup, and the Rays left fielder sent it soaring toward Lansdowne Street.
That gave Tampa Bay the early advantage, which doubled on Ben Zobrist's solo blast two innings later. But then came another reminder that these aren't robots. And this one changed the tone of a series the Sox now lead, 1-0, after a 12-2 triumph.
It came on a high fly to right field — on a ball David Ortiz initially thought might have a chance to leave the yard, but Wil Myers actually had lined up on the warning track. Or so it seemed. Drifting back and to his right, the rookie extended his hand to feel for the wall, but as the ball descended he thought he saw his center fielder coming over, so he peeled away.
When he did, the ball landed. It took a big hop into the home bullpen. It put runners on second and third with nobody out. And it opened the door for the opportunistic Red Sox.
Two batters later, Jonny Gomes doubled home Dustin Pedroia and Ortiz. Gomes then dashed home from second when Stephen Drew beat out a grounder to first, and Drew scored when Rodriguez misplaced the carom of Will Middlebrooks' rocket off the Green Monster. Shane Victorino then plated Middlebrooks with the first of his three hits.
So by the end of the fourth, a 2-0 deficit had become a 5-2 lead. And the Sox weren't done. Nine more batted in the fifth, as they became the first in franchise history to bat around in consecutive frames of a playoff game. In so doing, they stretched their edge to 8-2, largely on the strength of their ability to seize the moment.
"One little play, it can lead to a lot," Victorino said. "That Myers play gave us some momentum. Plays like that happen and you've got to thrive; you've got to get as many runs as you can when a mistake like that's made."
The human element is often downplayed, or even dismissed entirely by those who believe numbers alone can tell baseball's story. Those are the same people who discount the role that culture and chemistry played in the Sox' success this season — despite this team's persistent knack for rising when it matters, and grabbing the game when it's hanging in the balance.
There were Daniel Nava's big hits in April's biggest games, keying a 20-8 record that month. There were the 22 tilts won in their final at-bat, including 11 walkoffs. There were the dozens of instances when they penalized opponents for mistakes, leading ultimately to 97 wins.
Then Friday, in their first chance, they proved their combination of attitude and aptitude can translate to the playoffs, too. And they did it in the collective fashion that's been another of their trademarks.
When Jacoby Ellsbury's fifth-inning single made it 8-2, the Sox had nine hits — from nine different players. Eventually they became the first club since 1936 to have all nine batters register a hit and score a run in the same game. And once the Sox gave him the lead, the ace-like Lester squeezed it securely by retiring the next nine men he faced.
"When we get an advantage," Pedroia said, "we do all we can to keep going."
They got that advantage Friday thanks to the failures of a team renowned for its adherence to the fundamentals, and the miscues of a defense that made the second-fewest errors in the AL this season. The data simply couldn't have seen that coming.
But thankfully for Boston, it was the Sox — not the stats — that decided the game.
Dave D'Onofrio covers the Red Sox for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is email@example.com.