Saltalamacchia's late-inning heroics not enough

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Saltalamacchia's late-inning heroics not enough

BOSTON -- He's not about to be confused with David Ortiz, but catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia now has two dramatic late-inning homers at Fenway the last two weeks.

Saltalamacchia, who won a game against Tampa Bay on May 26 with a pinch-hit, walkoff homer, delivered in the clutch again Tuesday night when he swatted a two-out, two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game 6-6 with the Baltimore Orioles.

This one, however, didn't have the same impact, as the Red Sox went on to lose in the 10th, 8-6.

Still, it was hard to not be impressed with Saltalamacchia's growth as a hitter and the power surge he's been on of late.

In his last 20 games, Saltalamacchia has seven homers and 17 RBI and is hitting .349.

"He's been playing great,'' said Bobby Valentine of Saltalamacchia. "I think he's gaining confidence in all aspects of his game. He walks into the clubhouse and exudes confidence . . . He's a confident player right now.''

The homer came off Orioles closer Jim Johnson, who had been a perfect 17-for-17 in save chances this season and had converted his last 25, dating back to last Aug. 8.

"I was facing a good pitcher and I knew he had a good fastball,'' said Saltalamacchia, "so I was just trying to to be ready for it. I wasn't trying to do too much, just put the ball in play and keep the inning going anyway we can.''

The walkoff homer against the Rays on the last homestand didn't necessarily help Saltalamacchia in his approach Tuesday night. But success in those spots can breed more success.

"I don't think you ever think you're going to succeed (in that situation) every time,'' he said. "You've got a guy on the mound who throws hard. He's trying to get you out. He's not going to lay it over the plate for you.''

Saltalamacchia, hitting lefthanded against the righthanded Johnson, hit the ball the opposite way and it just cleared The Wall, settling into the first row of Monster Seats.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter urged the umpires to review the call on replay. They did and ruled that it was indeed a homer.

"I knew I hit it good, but I didn't think it was going to be out,'' said the catcher. "I thought it was going to be off the wall and at least be a double. A cold night like tonight, the ball doesn't carry very well. I was just happy that I hit the ball well, to get it off the wall, get the run in and keep the inning going.''

McAdam: Walk-off loss quickly washed away by Red Sox celebration

McAdam: Walk-off loss quickly washed away by Red Sox celebration

NEW YORK -- Worst to first.

Again.

Sound familiar?

It should, since the Red Sox are now making this a habit. For the second time in the last four years, the Red Sox have rebounded from a last-place finish -- two, in fact, in this instance -- to claim a division title.

On Wednesday, they won it the hard way -- by losing the game, 5-3, on a walk-off grand slam by the New York Yankees' Mark Teixeira, but clinching first thanks to a loss by the second-place Toronto Blue Jays.

It's as though the Red Sox were determined to win it on a trick bank shot. They had already won the A.L. East more conventionally in 2013, by actually winning their clinching game. But the awkwardness of blowing a three-run lead in the ninth was soon washed away in a spray of champagne and beer in a raucous clubhouse.

"One inning,'' declared John Farrell, "should not take away from the fact that we're champions.''

Indeed, the Red Sox had already paid the price to get to this point with two consecutive finishes in the division basement. They had to wait for their young foundation to mature and evolve.

Mookie Betts went from being a good, promising player to a legitimate MVP candidate. Jackie Bradley Jr. transformed from defensive marvel and streaky hitter to solid, all-around All-Star. Xander Bogaerts continued to improve and finally checked the "power'' box.

"I don't know what expectations we had coming in,'' confessed Bradley. "You just know that as long as you play hard, do the right things, keep together. . . We knew we had a talented team, but you still have to play the game. We were able to play the game at a high level this year.

"I think we knew this could happen in spring training, that we could be a pretty special team.''

By this year, the growing pains were over. The young stars had arrived and were ready to not just flash potential, but this time, do something with it.

"Everything came to fruition,'' noted Bradley, "and we're here.''

Along with the expected developments, there were surprises: Sandy Leon went from fourth-string journeyman to starting catcher, unseating several teammates along the way. Steven Wright went from bullpen long man to All-Star starter. Andrew Benintendi came from nowhere to claim the left field job in the final two months.

Some of this was planned. The rest -- and this is the beauty of sports -- was not.

The team showed a powerful finishing kick down the stretch, obliterating anything and anyone in its way in the final month, winning 11 straight, including seven in a row on the road -- all against division opponents.

The road-heavy second-half schedule that threatened to derail them instead toughened them and served as a springboard.

Comparisons will be made, of course, to the last two championship teams - 2004 stands alone for obvious reasons. Farrell was the pitching coach for one (2007) and the manager of another (2013).

"This is a more dynamic offense than those other teams,'' said Farrell. "We've got more team speed, we've got more athleticism. I can't say that this is a better team; it's different.''

"Better'' may have to wait until November, and the end of the postseason. It will require a World Series victory to match 2007 and 2013.

Time will tell. But for a night, there was enough to celebrate.

"By no means,'' said Farrell, dripping in champagne, "is this the end. This is just the beginning of our postseason.''

 

Quotes, notes and stars: Red Sox lose, but 'celebrate anyway'

Quotes, notes and stars: Red Sox lose, but 'celebrate anyway'

NEW YORK - Quotes, notes and stars from the Red Sox' 5-3 loss in New York.

 

QUOTES:

"I feel pretty good. Let's put it this way: Where we are now, I wouldn't want to play us going into the playoffs." - Red Sox principal owner John Henry

"I wanted to celebrate on that field so bad, but it is what it is. We end up being the first place team in the American League, and we're going to celebrate anyway." - David Ortiz, after the Red Sox lose on a walkoff, but clinch the division anyway.

“I’ll still be trying to hit the next four games, but if it just happens to be my last one (homer of his career), it’ll be pretty special." - Mark Teixeira, who's retiring Sunday and hit the walk-off grand slam.

 

NOTES:

* Joe Kelly became the first Red Sox pitcher to allow a walkoff grand slam since Julian Tavarez in 2006.

* Craig Kimbrel failed to record an out -- in 28 pitches -- marking the third time in 410 career appearances that that happened.

* Koji Uehara posted his 14th straight scoreless appearance.

* Brad Ziegler hasn't allowed an earned run in his last 19 appearances.

* Dustin Pedroia has scored five runs and knocked in seven in his last five games.

* Mookie Betts posted his major league-leading 66th multi-hit game.

* Clay Buchholz has a 2.63 ERA in his last seven starts.

* The one hit allowed by Buchholz marks the fewest hits allowed by him in a non-injury-shortened game since his no-hitter in 2007.

* The win marked only the second time the Red Sox have clinched the A.L. East away from home. The other time was in Cleveland in 1998.

 

STARS:

1) Mark Teixeira

The first baseman is going out in style. In the final week of his career, he hit his second game-winning homer of the week, with Wednesday's being a walk-off grand slam.

2) Clay Buchholz

Buchholz was brilliant, allowing three baserunners -- an infield hit and two walks -- in six shutout innings.

3) Mookie Betts

Betts delivered what appeared to be the game's biggest blow -- a two-run chopped double in the eighth to break open a scoreless tie.