What's always amazed me about Dice-K is his ability to adapt to the game. I don't know any pitcher who's so unfazed by allowing walks, because it just always seems like he minimizes the game of baseball to a simple confrontation between himself and whoever's in the batter's box, tuning everything else out. And I think he believes he can get a strikeout any time he wants.
10:20 p.m. ET: Give it to these Rays fans: they know how to make noise. Of course, it doesn't hurt to have metallic tintinnabular instrumentation.
10:25 p.m.: Second baseman Dustin Pedroia just robbed Carlos Pena of the team's first hit with a sliding stop of a one-hopper... in the outfield.
Evan Longoria, swinging on 3-0 (as he should have), just popped out to J.D. Drew in foul ground.
Last year, while Clay Buccholz was en route to tossing a no-hitter in Fenway, there was talk of whether to pull him in the 9th if he came to his pre-assigned pitch limit. That discussion probably isn't happening tonight with Dice-K. This was a man, remember, who threw 250 pitches in a 17-inning game in high school -- and won, of course. Two games later, after pitching the previous game in relief, he threw a no-hitter for the championship.
10:33 p.m.: The announcers just asked themselves whether Mark Kotsay, with runners on first and second and none out, would try to bunt.
"I think they do," said Buck Martinez.
To which I thought: c'mon. These are the Red Sox, who employ a Harvard grad as GM and Bill James, among others. This is a team that knows modern baseball and has little use for sacrifice bunts.
Kotsay did not bunt, instead popping out to Akinori Iwamura behind second base.
10:35: Jed Lowrie should have been called out on the 0-2 pitch. Perfect curve ball by James Shields ruled high.
Four pitches and two minutes later, the ump gives Shields a pitch that may have been high. You give a little, you get a little, I guess.
10:39: Pop-up. Inning over. God Bless America.
I thought it was only Fox that used American Idol rejects for the singing of God Bless America.
David Archuleta wasn't half bad though, and the Idol connection may have been coincidental -- a Miami native, Archuleta makes a believable case for being a Rays fan... as much as anyone can make that claim, anyway. (Tampa's got some incredible bandwagon fans, probably the best in the country. Remember when the Lightning made their run at the Stanley Cup? No? Oh, right... cause they play hockey.)
10:44 p.m.: Carl Crawford, hard hit to right.
Dice-K's opposing BA with runners in scoring position was .164 during the season, which isn't all that surprising: he gets tougher in jams, deploys more of his weapons, almost as if, knowing you want a sacrifice fly, he has you where he wants you.
Dioner Navarro looked overmatched with runners on first and third and none out. He could have been called out on a 1-2 sinker; instead, he popped out to shallow left. Then Gabe Gross swung meekly through a 3-2 two-seamer, this before swinging and fouling off a 3-1 change-up that was out of the zone. Next batter grounded into a fielder's choice to short.
"He continues his masterful work," Chip Caray said. Masterful indeed.
Nice to have two and a half aces, Boston.
11:01 p.m.: Pitching change for Rays. Time for my MLB.tv International Postseason streaming to buffer up.
I said buffer up!!!
Former Royal J.P. Howell is on the mound. He promptly allows a stolen base.
A note to Gabe Gross: it's called a layout, and it looks like this. Try it next time a ball falls just three feet in front of you.
Crawford can't come up with a sinker off Kevin Youkilis's bat and the Red Sox now lead by two.
11:15 p.m.: High and tight pitch drills J.D. Drew on the right shoulder. Scary.
11:18: Grant Balfour blows a 3-2 fastball by Jason Bay with the bases loaded. Gutsy execution.
It's precisely moments like these that seem suspended in time when viewed from the present tense. In about five minutes, we'll look back at this moment, with fans rising out of their seats and bells banging at an ever-quicker, ever-madder pace, and see it as a "turning point," either when the Red Sox blew the game open or the Rays somehow managed to get out of this veritable jam. And when looking back, this moment will have context, shape, contour. Now, however, in present tense, it's as if our everyday flow of things has been stopped -- our breathing, our blinking -- as we await the next pitch. Nothing else happens. The future is untold. The path unforked. The choice yet unmade by the forces which dictate the direction of our universe.
Pop-out. On to the bottom of the 8th!
Red Sox up 2-0 and Matsuzaka is back on the mound to face the top of the order. I'm not sure about this decision to leave him in. The 108 pitches don't mean much: it's the fact that he labored so hard the previous inning, and after escaping without allowing a run he must have felt a certain sense of relief or satisfaction. Now he's asked to rebuild that intensity, this after cooling down on the bench while the Red Sox took their sweet time scoring their run last half-inning.
Iwamura singled, then Dice-K sails a pitch past Jason Veritek's glove. I'm convinced: Terry Francona should've gone to his bullpen.
I was fine with giving the batter the green light on a 3-0 pitch when Matsuzaka was pitching a no-hitter and not making any mistakes. When you have runners on first and second and none out and you're into the opponent's bullpen? No. Absolutely not.
Evan Longoria followed by grounding into a double play, and suddenly an entire state of baseball newbies learn about the precious devilry of following this excruciating sport. It'll tempt you and tempt you and tempt you to the edge of Shangri-la before pulling the carpet and sending you tumbling into a pit of darkness and despair.
Here's how the 9th inning went:
11:55 p.m.: Jonathan Papelbon blows three fastballs past Carl Crawford: 95 mph, 95 mph, 96 mph. (with one ball in there).
11:59: Infield pop-out.
Midnight: am I seeing this right? With the game still going on, there're two people leaving? From the exit right behind home plate? Tell me I didn't see that right.
12:01: Navarro strikes out swinging.
See you tomorrow. I only hope the Rays don't get swept, because these Red Sox are really, really good.