The “Greek God of Walks”–Kevin Youkilis–may have been supplanted by a couple of young guns on the left side of the 2013 Red Sox infield, but this team seems to have no trouble understanding the concept that four balls to one batter means that batter gets his base. They came into Tuesday’s double-header leading the Majors in walks from the pitching side (260), as well as being second in that category on offense (273). With Alfredo Aceves (5th on team – 19 BB) and Felix Doubront (3rd – 32 BB) scheduled to start the twin bill, the scales were out early to determine which side’s ability to get on the easy way would have the greatest effect. The fact that Aceves has achieved his ranking on the walks list in no fewer than 35 innings less than the four pitchers ahead of him furthered the idea that this could be a very long day at Fenway Park.
Working in the Sox favor in the first game was who the Rays had lined up in their rotation, one Christopher Alan Archer. Originally a 5th round draft pick by the Cleveland Indians in 2006, Archer came to the Rays in the Matt Garza deal with the Cubs two years ago, and started this season behind David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Roberto Hernandez, Matt Moore, Alex Cobb and Jeff Niemann on the Rays depth chart of starting pitchers. With Price, Niemann and now Cobb on the disabled list, however, Archer had made a scant three starts coming into today. He, too, has struggled with walks, surrendering nine free passes in only 15.0 innings. What has kept him in the rotation is the 13 strikeouts he has also racked up in that span. To put it bluntly, the kid has stuff.
There was one other small thing providing some intrigue to this game, and this series, and that was the debut of the Rays’ top prospect Wil Myers. The big piece the Rays hauled in from the Royals for James Shields (as well as Game 2 starter Jake Odorizzi) was classified as a “Super Two” prospect, meaning that he had to remain in the Minors for at least 97 consecutive days this season in order for the Rays to get a fourth year of team control before Myers becomes arbitration eligible. While the Red Sox had similar discussions about Jackie Bradley Jr., their monetary concerns are not the same as those of the Tampa Bay Rays, who must constantly do more with less to be competitive.
Alfredo Aceves didn’t get to the bullpen for warm-ups until about 20 minutes before first pitch (traffic), but once on field, he breezed through the top of the first inning on ten pitches. In the bottom of the inning, Jacoby Ellsbury doubled, moved to third base on a Shane Victorino flyout, and came home on Dustin Pedroia’s sacrifice fly. The 16 pitches Archer threw in that inning would make it tied for the most efficient of his outing, a sign as ominous as the storm clouds approaching Fenway at that point in the game. There would be no rain until the bottom of the fifth inning, however, so there was still an official game to play.
The Rays tied it in the very next half inning on a Luke Scott RBI double. Sure enough, Aceves walked three batters in the inning, though he did a very nice job in only allowing one of them to score. Archer also walked three in the bottom of the second, but a double play ball off the bat of Jarrod Saltalamacchia allowed him to get out of the inning unscathed. Archer got the ball over the plate more in the third inning, but perhaps a bit too much, as the Sox’ top four hitters all hit the ball hard, including David Ortiz’s 2-RBI single up the middle. Ortiz had been only 4-for-26 on the road trip through Tampa and Baltimore, but he picked up his team-leading 51st RBI on the season, as the comforts of home began to lift Ortiz’s spirits.
Aceves had another 1-2-3 inning in the fourth, but Archer was finally able to accomplish the feat as well. With the rain just beginning to fall, it was imperative that Alfredo Aceves get three quick outs to make the game official. Per MLB rules, the first game of a double-header must be completed in order to play the second. Either way, if Aceves could not complete the inning quickly, the chance to complete both games seemed slim. Thankfully, Aceves allowed only a one-out single to Yunel Escobar, and the Red Sox had just enough time to add one more run in the bottom of the fifth before the sky opened up. With that, the Red Sox and Rays waited, and waited, for two hours and 59 minutes until Saltalamacchia struck out against Josh Lueke to end the fifth inning.
Junichi Tazawa took over for Aceves in the sixth inning, and struck out two in a quick inning that allowed for the possibility of a return in the second game. Things did not go as smoothly for the Rays in their half of the inning, as Ellsbury and Victorino each hit two-out triples to push the score to 5-1. The Rays were able to get runners to the corners in the eighth inning against Koji Uehara, but did nothing with the opportunity. The Sox also went quickly in the inning, as Ellsbury lined out to third base to fall a home run short of the cycle. Wil Myers flew out to Ellsbury in the top half of the next inning to complete a fairly uneventful debut.
Finally, 15 minutes after the DVR began recording Game 2, Craig Breslow got Escobar to ground to second to end the game. Though it went in the books as a game time of 3:10, no doubt both teams headed to the clubhouse wishing they had as much as an hour to get ready to play the nightcap. Or maybe not, as it would be hard to imagine guys like Dustin Pedroia and Joe Maddon sitting still for any length of time when there’s a baseball game to be played. So, in the immortal words of Ernie Banks, “Let’s play two!”