Jorge Velandia flied out to Coco Crisp tonight at about 10:40 PM, and it finally became official. The Boston Red Sox will be playing October baseball for the fourth time in the last five years.
The Sox became the first team to officially clinch a playoff berth with an 8-6 win over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. But it was one helluva roller coaster ride to get there tonight.
J.D. Drew hit a two-run homer and continued his hot hitting as of late, and Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched six solid innings and the Sox led, 5-3. But Dice-K walked two batters with two out in the seventh, and Javier Lopez gave up a three-run shot to Carlos Pena to put the Rays ahead. It looked like the bullpen was once again letting a Red Sox win disappear into the night.
As it looked like a golden opportunity to clinch a postseason berth was going down the drain, Jason Varitek hit the first pitch from Al Reyes in the ninth into the left field seats to tie it, and after an Eric Hinske double, Julio Lugo hit a two-run blast into the seats in left to put the Sox out front. Jonathan Papelbon came on to seal the deal with a perfect ninth to put the Red Sox into the postseason. The winning pitcher tonight: none other than Eric Gagne, who pitched a solid, clean eighth inning. The celebration was low-key but you could tell the players were ecstatic with the great come-from-behind win, after a truly brutal week.
Boy, nothing ever comes easy with this team.
Now let's go get the division.
The Magic Number Picture tonight honors a man who maybe the most beloved man in Red Sox history. He's done everything you can possibly do for one ballclub: player, coach, manager, scout, broadcaster. He only hit 17 home runs in his career, but he's one of the only baseball players in history to have a right field foul pole named in his honor. He's been associated with the club for seven decades, and he's one of the truly class gentlemen this game has ever known: John Michael Paveskovich, also known as Johnny Pesky. (You really didn't think I was going to honor Bill Buckner here, did you?)
Hopefully one day the Red Sox will retire his number, and I hope Johnny is around to see it happen.