What might get lost in the aftermath of a wild 9th inning rally for the Red Sox is a puzzling decision by Terry Francona. The Boston manager can thank Victor Martinez that he’s not getting hammered in the press today.
To recap, the Sox entered the top of the 9th trailing Texas 4-2. David Ortiz led off with a double and then Jason Varitek followed with an infield single up the middle. Now, watching Varitek run is pretty painful at this point, and had it been anyone else, the second baseman probably would’ve eaten the ball. But he hustled and beat the throw. First and third, no out, down two.
This is where Francona did something strange: he kept Varitek in the game, even though he represented the tying run. Sometimes you see managers wait until a slow runner gets to second base before pinch-running, but that’s in a tie game where the team isn’t staring a loss in the face. Varitek represented a run the Red Sox desperately needed.
Naturally, the next hitter, Jacoby Ellsbury hit a ground ball single up the middle to score Ortiz. But Varitek had no chance of going first-to-third on the play. Would a faster runner have been able to make it to third on the hit? Not definitely, but most likely. After a strikeout, Francona finally pinch-ran for Varitek, but with pitcher Clay Buchholz, a guy who probably hasn’t run the bases since high school.
The next batter, Dustin Pedroia, hit a deep drive to left. Rangers left fielder David Murphy jumped against the wall but couldn’t make the catch. But he got to it quickly and fired it back in, and the relay throw actually nailed Buchholz at home. How is that possible, you ask? Watching Buchholz on the bases, he went halfway when the ball was in the air, then danced back and forth, waiting to see if the ball was caught. When he rounded third, he slipped, and inexplicably adjusted his helmet as it appeared to be falling off. A great throw got him at the plate, and the Sox still trailed by one with two and outs and runners on second and third.
Luckily for Boston, Martinez is an animal, as he ripped a two-strike double to give the Sox the lead. A hit for Jason Bay and a cherry-on-the-top homer from JD Drew put the game away and caused Rangers volatile closer Frank Francisco to tell reporters to “beat it” after the game. At least he didn’t fling a chair at them.
On one hand, the Red Sox won the game, so maybe Francona’s decision-making isn’t worth dissecting. And Pedroia’s hit was a tough play to read, so you can’t get on Buchholz too hard. But we’d love to hear an explanation for waiting to pinch-run for Varitek, and why there wasn’t a more experienced base runner used.