Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Red Sox Clinch AL Wild Card (With a Little Help From Some Angels)

For the seventh time since 1998, the Boston Red Sox captured the American League Wild Card spot. Yet oddly enough they needed help from the team they will face off against in the ALDS next week.

The Sox were down 8-2 to the Toronto Blue Jays when they scored five runs in the bottom of the 8th to bring it to 8-7. The Sox had a chance to win the game in the 9th but Kevin Youkilis struck out looking. The Sox have lost five in a row.

So the Sox fate was in the hands of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The Angels delivered with a 5-2 win over the Texas Rangers. While it would have been better to clinch it on their own they'll take a playoff spot however they can get it.

The Red Sox continue to win despite some unusual challenges facing Terry Francona and his coaching staff. At first, it appeared they had an abundance of starting pitchers - Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Brad Penny, Tim Wakefield with Clay Buchholz and John Smoltz waiting in the wings. Beckett and Lester have been a solid one two and Wakefield had a strong first half. However, Dice-K had a lost season and Penny lost his way before asking for his release and eventually hooked on with the Giants. Smoltz was ineffective before also being released and landing on his feet in St. Louis. Notwithstanding tonight's bad outing, Buchholz has emerged as a quality starting pitcher and perhaps will start Game 3 of the ALDS after Beckett and Lester. Who would have thought of that in spring training?

With one homerun during the first two months of the season few could have imagined that David Ortiz would have a chance finishing 2009 with 30 homeruns and 100 RBIs. But the Sox are strong enough to rely on other offensive catalysts like reigning AL MVP Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Jason Bay, Mike Lowell and J.D. Drew. The acquistion of Victor Martinez helped in that regard and also gave the Sox an heir apparent to Jason Varitek behind the plate. I would be remiss if I didn't make note of Jacoby Ellsbury shattering the team's all time stolen bases record. It had been held by Tommy Harper who stole 54 bases for the Red Sox in 1973. As of this writing, Ellsbury has 67 stolen bases which leads the major leagues. You also have to catch the ball and reacquiring Alex Gonzalez to play shortstop went a long way to plug that hole.

For the third year in a row and for the fourth time since 2004, the Red Sox will face the Angels in the American League Division Series. The Sox have won the three previous meetings. The onus is on the Angels to prove they can beat the Red Sox in post-season play and if playing for their fallen teammate Nick Adenhart isn't motivation then perhaps nothing is.

I hope I will have the opportunity to see some post-season play at Fenway like I did during Game 5 of the ALCS when the Sox came back from a 7-0 deficit in the 7th inning to defeat the Tampa Bay Rays 8-7. But one cannot ask for miracles on either count.

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