Boston Red Sox Junichi Tazawa Thrown to Wolves in Debut

August 8, 2009   ·     ·   Jump to comments
Article Source: Bleacher Report - New York Yankees

Junichi Tazawa just stood there, on top of the mound, dejectedly staring into the Boston Red Sox bullpen. The fans, those that had remained, were raucous, jumping up and down frantically.

As New York Yankees slugging third baseman Alex Rodriguez rounded the bases after depositing a two-run home-run into that bullpen, the 23-year-old Tazawa slowly walked towards the dugout, then, as Rodriguez close in on home-plate, which was surrounded by his jubilant teammates, Tazawa stopped before reaching the basepath between third and home to watch the celebration unfold.

As Rodriguez was bombarded, Tazawa continued the lonely walk into the somber dugout, then down the tunnel into a dead silent clubhouse.

The game was tied at zero up until that point. No one had scored through the first 14 2/3 innings. For the first seven innings, it was a battle of star starting pitchers, Josh Beckett for Boston and A.J. Burnett for New York. Neither ace was in much trouble during their outings.

Over his seven innings of work, Beckett allowed four hits and two walks, while striking out seven thanks to his fastball, a fastball with perhaps the most movement in the majors, and a 12-6 curveball that starts at the shoulders then dips down below the knees. He was nearly unhittable.

Burnett, if not for a single by Red Sox center-fielder Jacoby Ellsbury to begin the game, was. His pitches were also working like clockwork, moving every which way. Both pitchers were so good, in fact, that when they threw a fastball down the middle, it had so much movement that the opposition could only fight it off defensively.

Rarely did a player make it to second base. Ellsbury made it there twice. He stole his 49th base of the season after acquiring Burnett’s lone hit, then, after taking one of six walks Burnett issued, he stole his 50th bag off reliever Phil Hughes. These were two opportunities missed, two of their four chances in the entire game.

Hughes got Dustin Pedroia to fly out to end the eighth inning. Nothing much happened over the first eight innings, nor for the next five. The relief was just as good as the starting pitching.

On Boston’s side, Daniel Bard escaped a second-and-third, two-out jam in the ninth, then Ramon Ramirez, Jonathan Papelbon, Manny Delcarmen, and Takashi Saito combined to toss four innings of one-hit ball.

On the Yankees side, Mariano breezed through the ninth inning, then Alfredo Aceves, the long-man that the Red Sox lack (they traded theirs, Justin Masterson, to Cleveland), tossed three innings and handed things over to Brian Bruney, who pitched the first of his two innings before the excitement took place.

It was the top of the fourteenth and everyone in the dugout for both teams were near or hanging over the railing. Both teams wanted the victory, but the Red Sox needed it. They had been crushed the night before by their arch-rival to fall 3 1/2 games back in the American League East.

The 3 1/2 game deficit was a five-game lead on June 23. With their pitching staff down to two pitchers, Beckett and Jon Lester, and their offense with more holes now than ever, they needed a win in the worst of ways.

Victor Martinez, acquired on August t for Masterson, battled Bruney. He was quickly in an 0-2 hole, then took three balls inside to work a full-count.

He was just tardy on the sixth pitch, a fastball with little movement, but wasn’t on the seventh, the exact same pitch. He nailed it to deep right-field. Papelbon lept out of his seat wide-eyed and said, “Go, ball, go!” In flight, it looked like it was destined for the seats.

Right-field in the New Yankees stadium is called the wind-tunnel. Home-runs have flown out at an alarming rate this season. On any other night, Martinez’s drive would have been gone.

Instead, in the cold New York air, it held up and fell into the glove of Eric Hinske at the warning track. The Yankees breathed a sigh of relief, while the Red Sox were in disbelief.

Kevin Youkilis singled, but David Ortiz’s bad luck continued. The struggling slugger lined a hot-shot grounder between first and second base, but the two-hopper was snagged by second baseman Robinson Cano, who was playing shallow left-field.

He bobbled the ball, but the slow-footed Ortiz couldn’t beat his 30-foot throw to first baseman Mark Teixeira, out by half a step. He shook his head in disgust as he trudged back to the dugout.

J.D. Drew was intentionally walked to bring up catcher Jason Varitek, who may be leading the ‘who is struggling more?’ category with Ortiz. For a second, I thought Varitek would come through with a big hit. My confidence in the Red Sox captain grew as Bruney missed three straight times after throwing a first pitch strike.

It was a 3-1 count, a hitter’s count. Varitek was served a fastball right down the pipe on a silver platter, but, not surprisingly, he could do nothing with it, weakly nubbing it to Cano to end the threat.

Tazawa, the last arm left in Boston’s bullpen, who was just called up prior to the game, relieved countryman Takashi Saito to face fellow countryman Hideki Matsui. Presumably, millions upon millions of people in Japan, at around 2 pm on August 8, turned on their televisions to watch this matchup unfold live.

It was historic: Tazawa, 23, who had made a name for himself in Japan, albeit minimal, versus Godzilla, the veteran who is worshiped in his home country.

Tazawa fired a fastball low for ball-one to Matsui, then one eye-level that was roped foul. Matsui saw another fastball and didn’t miss it. He lined it to center-field, but it hung up just long enough to be caught by Ellsbury at medium depth. Tazawa stepped behind the mound exasperated. He was relieved. Whew!

He was lucky with Matsui, but not so against Jorge Posada and Cano, as both tagged singles to start New York’s rally. Eric Hinske was next and, after working the count 2-2, clocked a changeup into right.

The ball was slicing into the corner. The Yankees hanging over the railing were getting ready to jump over and celebrate. Hinske ran down the line jumping for joy. Then his mood changed and the Yankee dugout that was ready to explode calmed.

Why? Drew, with smooth, long strides, sprinted, following the ball’s flight, leaped, stuck out his glove, and corralled the scorched laser. It was an amazing catch, but though it prolonged the game, it couldn’t save the Red Sox from losing.

Tazawa retired Melky Cabrera to end the inning, but would immediately be sent back to the hill after his anemic offense failed once again to score, let alone get on base. Derek Jeter singled to begin the fifteenth. Tazawa retired the next two hitters–Johnny Damon on a pop-bunt and Mark Teixeira via strikeout–but couldn’t get Rodriguez.

It wasn’t Tazawa’s fault. Because his offense was so terrible, he was the last man standing. He was thrown to the wolves in a game Boston had to win. He, understandably, could only hold the Yankees down for so long.

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