Friday, September 12, 2014

Game of the Day (9/11/14)

Red Sox 6, Royals 3. Boston's Clay Buchholz, still struggling through a rather disastrous season, faced KC's Liam Hendriks, who is not exactly a reassuring starting option for a playoff contender in September.

Hendriks worked around a David Ortiz single in the first; Nori Aoki led off the bottom of the inning with a double and was bunted to third, but a walk sandwiched between two strikeouts left him there. Boston took the game's first lead in the top of the second when Will Middlebrooks doubled and Christian Vazquez scored him by reaching on an Eric Hosmer error, but the Royals countered in the bottom of the inning on a Lorenzo Cain double and an RBI single by Alcides Escobar. Escobar then stole second and came home when Aoki singled and Mike Napoli committed a throwing error.

Boston struck again in the top of the third. Mookie Betts led off with a single, and Xander Bogaerts walked. One out later, Yoenis Cespedes was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Napoli drew a walk to force in the tying run, and Middlebrooks singled to put the Sox in front 3-2 and chase Hendriks from the mound. Casey Coleman induced a double play from Jackie Bradley to end the inning, but Buchholz was flawless in the bottom of the third, and the Sox added a run in the fourth. Vazquez led off by reaching on an error for the second time in the game (this one by Escobar). Betts reached on an infield hit, with Vazquez moving to third on a Mike Moustakas throwing error. Bogaerts grounded to third, getting Vazquez thrown out at home, but Ortiz singled to score Betts for a 4-2 lead.

The next four half innings passed without a hit - Aoki's walk in the bottom of the fifth made him the only baserunner to reach in that span. Buchholz hit Josh Willingham to open the bottom of the sixth, and two outs later, Moustakas and Cain singled him around to pull the Royals within a run. Escobar struck out to leave the tying run in scoring position. Louis Coleman, having relieved Casey Coleman and thrown a perfect top of the sixth, combined with Brandon Finnegan on a 1-2-3 seventh. Buchholz was pulled after a one-out walk of Omar Infante in the bottom of the inning, and Tommy Layne and Junichi Tazawa recorded an out apiece to end the inning.

The Sox tacked on a pair of runs against Aaron Crow in the eighth. Middlebrooks walked with one out, and Vazquez matched him with two away; Jemile Weeks then doubled both runners home. Tazawa was flawless in the eighth, and Francisley Bueno nearly allowed Boston to extend its lead again in the ninth, allowing a Bogaerts single and a Cespedes triple. Ortiz hit into a double play in between, keeping the scoreboard unaltered. Edward Mujica then set the Royals down in order in the ninth to end the game and earn his fifth save of the year.

This was a relatively tepid affair, at least by Game of the Day standards, although there were two lead changes. It does, however, serve as a nice opportunity to take another look at how much can change within a year of baseball time.

In September 2013, the Royals were clawing to stay above .500 for the first time since 2003, while the Red Sox were on their way to their third World Series title since the last winning Royals season. Clay Buchholz was one of the AL's better pitchers, and Liam Hendriks was an intermittent and ineffective starter for the Twins.

Twelve months later, KC is fighting to stay in first place, while Boston is firmly ensconced in last. Buchholz has had a terrible season, and Hendriks is still an inconstant and unimpressive pitcher, but has changed teams twice. And the outcome of this game, which would have been quite unsurprising a year ago, is now a disappointing mild upset, one that puts the Royals only half a game ahead of Detroit in the AL Central.

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