Closing time: Mike Carp's blast propels Red Sox to yet another last at-bat victory

September 11, 2013 - 7:25 pm
Mike Carp swung the bat only once in Wednesday night's game, but it was the biggest swing of the night. With the game knotted at three in the top of the 10th inning and the bases loaded with one out after three walks, Carp delivered the crushing blow to the Rays with a pinch-hit grand slam, the first pinch-hit grand slam for the Red Sox since Kevin Millar did it in 2003, and the first grand slam in extra innings for the Red Sox since Dwight Evans clubbed one in 1989. The Red Sox now have won a mind-boggling 22 games in their last at-bat, and are 10-5 in extra inning contests. Carp was pinch-hitting in place of Jonny Gomes, who had pinch-hit the previous time through the order for Daniel Nava. The Red Sox bench has proven to be extraordinarily deep, with different players consistently coming up big in late innings. Carp's blast was his first home run since June 15 (his ninth long ball of the season), but is just one of the big hits Carp has come up with for the Sox this season. In just 211 plate appearances, Carp has driven in 37 runs and clubbed 25 extra-base hits. With their 89th win of the season, the Red Sox have improved to 20 games better than their 2012 record, representing the biggest turnaround from season to season since the 1967 Impossible Dream Red Sox, when they went 92-70 after finishing 1966 with a 72-90 record. The victory also clinched the 31st series win for the Red Sox and their seventh series win in a row, their longest streak since 2009. The Sox move to a season-high 9½ games ahead of the Rays in the division, and sit 31 games above .500 for the first time since Aug. 31, 2011. WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE RED SOX -- Koji Uehara set a new Red Sox record with 33 consecutive batters retired, passing Ellis Kinder's 1952 mark of 32. Uehara tossed a perfect ninth inning against the top of the Rays lineup, striking out the first two batters he faced and getting Ben Zobrist to ground out to end the frame, bringing his total to 34 consecutive batters retired. -- Ryan Dempster didn't factor into the decision, but he quieted the Rays offense, limiting it to only one run on Wednesday night. It wasn't all smooth sailing for Dempster, however, as he gave up only four hits on the evening, but three of those four hits went for doubles. His biggest issue was his command; although he did record seven punch outs (six of them swinging strikeouts) for the second start in a row, he issued five walks, the fourth time this season he's given out five or more free passes. Some of those walks got Dempster into trouble, and he was forced to work out of bases-loaded jams in both the third and the fifth innings. The right-hander was also rather inefficient, throwing 106 pitches (58 strikes) on the night through just five innings of work. It was the first time since July 11 that Dempster failed to last into the sixth inning. Clay Buchholz is back and picking up where he left off in June, and Jon Lester, John Lackey and Jake Peavy look like locks to make the rotation in the playoffs. That leaves Dempster as the odd man out of the rotation -- and perhaps the playoff roster -- at this point. Dempster has been unable to string together multiple impressive starts on many occasions, and has compiled a 6.05 ERA in seven starts since the beginning of August. -- Mike Napoli continued his scorching month of September with a bases-loaded double in the third inning to drive in two of the Red Sox' three runs on the evening. Napoli's double wasn't necessarily a deep drive; he lined a fastball into right field for what looked like a single, but a misplay from rookie right fielder Wil Myers led to extra bases (Myers looked as though he was trying to decide between making a diving attempt or playing the ball on a hop, and the ball skipped away from him). The Rays intentionally walked David Ortiz to load the bases for Napoli, an interesting choice for a few reasons. Prior to tonight's game, the first baseman was 10-for-20 with 29 RBI, three doubles and three home runs in bases-loaded situations this season. Napoli is by far the league leader when it comes to bases-loaded RBI with 31 on the season (Cincinnati second baseman Brandon Phillips ranks second with 24). In fact, his 31 RBI with the bases juiced are the most by a Red Sox player in a single season in over 60 years, since Vern Stephens drove in 32 in 1950. -- Jackie Bradley Jr. laced a two-out double to deep center field for his fourth double of the season and his sixth extra-base hit in 67 major league at-bats. Bradley has exhibited a considerable jump in his power numbers this year with 26 doubles and 10 home runs in 80 Triple-A games this season. Since taking over the center field job in the absence of Jacoby Ellsbury, Bradley is 3-for-9 with two walks and two strikeouts. -- With one run in already, the bases loaded and Dempster struggling with his command after hitting Evan Longoria in the forearm and walking Matt Joyce, Stephen Drew turned in a spectacular diving play to record a 6-4 forceout, end the inning and save at least one run. It's just more of the same from Drew, who has played an excellent shortstop throughout the entire season. In this case, the run saved proved pivotal, given that the Sox ended up needing extra innings for the win. WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX -- Manager John Farrell has shown faith in rookie Brandon Workman, putting him in high-pressure situations over the past couple weeks. That faith has not been rewarded in Workman's last two outings, however. Workman, who inherited a 3-1 lead in the seventh inning, let the Rays get within a run in his first inning of work, issuing a two-out walk to Zobrist and subsequently allowing an RBI double to clean-up hitter Evan Longoria. He escaped the jam without allowing any further damage, striking out Matt Joyce to end the inning. But Workman came back out for the eighth, and could not preserve the lead in his second inning of work. With one out in the inning, James Loney launched a 2-2 curveball from Workman into the right field bleachers, knotting the game at three apiece. The Red Sox are currently dealing with a vulnerability when it comes to the effectiveness of seventh and eighth inning relief pitching, and Workman looked to be a solid option for late-inning work. The experiment with Workman in a set-up role has gone awry as of late. His rough outing on Wednesday night was not his first; he also received the loss in his last appearance, when his wild pitch in the ninth inning of a tie game in the series finale in New York allowed the Yankees to walk off with the victory. The Red Sox pitching staff has allowed just seven runs in the last three games, with Workman responsible for three of them. Workman has been effective at times, and even with his recent struggles in the set-up role, his ERA is under 4.00 (3.77) in his last 11 appearances. Workman's strikeout numbers have also been impressive; with four strikeouts in two innings in his latest outing, he brings his average to over 11 1/2 strikeouts per nine innings when pitching in relief. But Workman has proved to be shaky in late innings. Although the sample size is small (five appearances), Workman's ERA is over 7.00 in the eighth inning as well as in the seventh inning. -- Facing Alex Cobb for the first time, David Ross had trouble figuring out the righty. Ross killed a rally in the second inning, hitting into a 6-4-3 double play with two on and one out in the second inning and striking out in his second at-bat. Ross finished the evening 0-for-3 with a walk and two strikeouts. -- Will Middlebrooks went 0-for-5 and left four runners on base. He was almost the victim of a triple play, when he hit a ball on the ground to Longoria, who touched third and threw out the runner going to second. Middlebrooks beat the relay at first by just a step or two. After collecting multiple hits in five straight games last week, Middlebrooks is now 0-for-8 in the series against the Rays, having yet to reach base in the series.