Xander Bogaerts

Why You Should Have Cared About Friday's Red Sox Game: This is how the youth movement was supposed to work

Rob Bradford
September 05, 2014 - 7:07 pm

(For the final month of the regular season, "Closing Time" will be called "Why You Should Have Cared," looking beyond the final score -- at a time when losses are arguably more valuable to the Sox than wins (for draft and waiver position) -- for either meaningful signs for 2015 or simple aesthetic considerations.) Heading into the month it was a real issue for the Red Sox: How could they get the young players on this roster to actually offer some certainty heading into 2015. Finally, Friday night offered a big step in that direction. The grouping of Mookie Betts, Christian Vazquez, Xander Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks all offered something in the Red Sox' 9-8, 10-inning win over the Blue Jays that suggested better times were ahead. The signature moment came in the Sox' three-run 10th, which led off with the trip of Betts, Bogaerts and Vazquez. With the hosts trailing by a pair of runs, Betts kicked things off with a single up the middle. "Leading off an inning, it's a big confidence booster," the center fielder said. "Going into the rest of the games into next year, being comfortable late in game situations against their closer, one of their best pitchers, I think it's a good thing." He was followed by Bogaerts' base hit into left. "Just coming up that inning it was like Mookie, me and then Vazquez. I was like, '€˜Wow, we've got three young guys to start something going,'" said Bogaerts, who came into the night hitting .126 with runners in scoring position. "I'€™m glad all of us got something done so the other guys could drive us in." Then came Vazquez' push bunt -- into the air and over the charging first baseman -- loading the bases. (Earlier in the game the catcher tied Rich Gedman's club record for most pickoffs in a season, nabbing Melky Cabrera at first.) "He'€™s an intelligent player," said Bogaerts of Vazquez. "That was probably on purpose. Smart baseball guy. You don'€™t see that often." Finally, Middlebrooks managed to come off the bench for an RBI, pinch-hit single in between shortstop and third base. And off the Red Sox went. The veterans took over from there, with Dustin Pedroia tying it with a sacrifice fly, and Yoenis Cespedes ultimately clinching the walk-off with a bases-loaded blast to center. Of the youngsters, perhaps the most encouraging was the performance of Bogaerts, who has seemed like a different hitter since returning from his concussion a week ago. During that span, the shortstop is hitting .370 with an 1.000 OPS. While the 10th-inning single was clutch, his eighth-inning double to the warning track in right field was perhaps the most encouraging blow of his night. "No, I don'€™t think I would have hit that pitch the whole season," said Bogaerts when asked if he would have managed that two-run line-drive a month ago. "It was a ball. I would have taken it. But I saw the way he pitches and he was leaving a lot of stuff down so I made sure I went down and got it." He then added, "I wouldn'€™t want to get hit in the head again, but it did help I guess. Definitely a mental breather, and physically. Just trying to play the best I can." OTHER REASONS YOU SHOULD HAVE CARED ABOUT FRIDAY'S GAME: - No closer was needed this time. But that still didn't hide the latest issue to hover over Fenway Park: Once again, the Red Sox are going to have to find a game-ender. Edward Mujica did what he was supposed to -- he came in for the ninth inning with the game tied and didn't allow a run. That's what closers are supposed to do. Before Thursday, that would have been Koji Uehara's turn at taking the mound. But, as we found out prior to the Red Sox' win over the Blue Jays Friday night, somebody else besides Uehara will be calling themselves the Sox' closer for the time being. Mujica has done a fine job over the past two months, leading him back into a role he served as a member of the Cardinals a year ago (converting 37 of 41 save attempts). But even if the righty continues his current path, it's hard to imagine any sort of certainty regarding the end of the Sox' bullpen heading into 2015. (Click here for Mujica's reaction to becoming the new closer.) Uehara, who will be not used for a few days, is only going to pitch in low-leverage situations in the coming days, according to Red Sox manager John Farrell. And even if he gets back on a roll in his new role, this current stretch of six outings (in which opponents are hitting .500) -- along with the fact he will begin the '15 season as a 40-year-old -- will lead to uneasiness. And then there is the other issue in regards to Uehara and next season -- he is still going to be a free agent at the end of '14. So, what are the options? Farrell told Red Sox broadcaster Dave O'Brien recently on the pregame show that the organization sees Rubby De La Rosa -- he of the 98 mph fastball, wipe-out slider and drop-off-the-table changeup -- as a starter. So much for that ... for now. Brandon Workman would seem to be next in line among those within the system, although his stuff can't match De La Rosa's right now. Junichi Tazawa flat-out said he didn't like pitching in the ninth inning when he had his go-round with the role a season ago. All of a sudden, the Red Sox have undeniably found themselves with yet another hole to fill on a roster flush with uncertainty. Even with Uehara's contract expiring, this was supposed to be one of the positions they didn't have to worry about. The Sox, after all, held on to Koji at the non-waiver trade deadline to at least hold the option of handing him the $15 million qualifying offer at season's end, cementing another year of the closer. But now ... The won the game, but lost yet another chunk of piece of mind. - With his game-winning hit in the 10th, Cespedes came away with four hits and two more RBI. He now has 26 RBI since joining the Red Sox. The total is 20 percent of the runs scored by the Sox over that span. He is now 6-for-9 with the bases-loaded this season. - Pedroia is evidently no longer concussed. After being cleared to play, the second baseman immediately made his presence felt with two hits and a key sacrifice fly in the 10th which knotted the game at 8-8. - Surprise, surprise: Junichi Tazawa almost took the loss against the Blue Jays. While it was actually Tommy Layne who allowed a go-ahead hit in the 10th inning, Tazawa gave up the one-out single to Edwin Encarnacion before giving way to Layne. This season, Tazawa has allowed five runs in 5 2/3 innings against the Blue Jays, who had touched up the righty for a 6.64 ERA in 21 previous meetings. (Against Toronto, he has allowed 31 hits in 21 2/3 innings.) - It was a night Daniel Norris won't forget. Norris not only made his major league debut, coming in with one on, two out and his Blue Jays holding a one-run lead, but with David Ortiz at the plate. The second-round pick in the 2011 draft -- hailing from Science Hill (TN) High School -- punctuated his night by freezing Ortiz with a curveball for an inning-ending strikeout. The 21-year-old had cruised through the Blue Jays minor league system as a starter, having pitched at three minor league levels this season. Combined, Norris went 12-2 with a 2.53 ERA in 25 starts before being called up Tuesday. Norris, who is ranked as the Blue Jays top overall prospect, lives in a 1978 Volkwagen van he purchased after being drafted by Toronto. (Betts also later said he grew up playing against the pitcher throughout high school.) - It was intriguing to see reliever Drake Britton once again. The pitcher who had left such a positive impression throughout spring training, putting him the mix at one time for an Opening Day roster spot, struggled mightily at Triple A this season. Britton totaled a 5.86 ERA in 45 outings, walking more (38) than he struck out (37). Coming in relief for Webster, the lefty retired both batters he faced, getting Adam Lind and Dioner Navarro on ground outs. Britton did make 18 appearances for the Red Sox in 2013, finishing with a 3.86 ERA. - The Red Sox and Rusney Castillo drew a day closer to an introduction. The Cuban outfielder claimed a single, double and  two runs with an RBI for Double-A Portland. Castillo is now 4-for-11 in four minor league games. Castillo, who was pulled after seven innings Friday night, is scheduled to play once again for the Sea Dogs Saturday (noon) in what could be a clinching game in their best-of-five Eastern League semifinal matchup against Binghamton. - Prized Blue Jays starting pitcher Marcus Stroman can on to pinch-run with one out in the 10th inning. - Blue Jays outfielder Melky Cabrera's season came to a conclusion after suffering a right pinky fracture, having been injured when being picked off by Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez. - Click here for a box score.