Over the course of a 162-game season, you sometimes have to find a way to win games when you're not at your best. And when you're in the middle of a funk, finding ways to win becomes that much more important.
That's what the Red Sox did on Friday night against the Oakland Athletics as they snapped a four-game losing streak with what could be generously called an "ugly" win.
It wasn't pretty from the beginning.
Clay Buchholz struggled from the get-go, as his own personal struggles against the A's continued. The young righty entered with a 1-2 career record to go along with a 7.31 ERA against the AL West club. That number jumped when Buchholz allowed four runs in the top of the first.
He struggled all night, seemingly unable to find any sort of comfort or rhythm. Even after the Sox fought back to take the lead after the four-run first, Buchholz gave it back. When it was all said and done, Buchholz had allowed six runs and left with the Sox behind.
"They took a lot of pitches," Buchholz said of the laborious effort, which ended with 99 pitches in just 4 2/3 innings. "That's what you get with [Oakland]. … Everybody knew that going in, and I knew that, I just didn't execute the way I wanted to."
The Sox battled back to take the lead early, but when the A's struck again to take the lead before Buchholz exited, it seemed to take the wind out of the Boston sails.
The Sox reverted to their ways of leaving runners in scoring position, and they seemed destined to put the finishing touches on what would have been a truly disappointing night after Jed Lowrie popped out to shortstop with one out and the bases loaded in the seventh.
With Carl Crawford coming to the plate to face A's righty Craig Breslow, Oakland manager Bob Geren made the call to bring in lefty Brian Fuentes. Crawford worked the count full before fighting off an inside fastball, resulting in a broken-bat flare to center that scored Adrian Gonzalez and Kevin Youkilis.
"He worked the count really well," manager Terry Francona said. "By no means did he crush that ball, but he stayed on it enough and it found the outfield grass and made everybody happy.
"He got deep in the count. Good hitters, the more pitches they see, the more dangerous they become."
Of course, the Red Sox would have never been in the position for that single to be the game-winner without the work from the bullpen. With a day of rest after Thursday's off day, the pen was definitely tested when Buchholz had to leave before the fifth was ended.
Scott Atchison came on and pitched what amounted to be one scoreless inning. Then, lefty Tommy Hottovy made his major league debut, retiring the only batter he faced, to get the Sox into the seventh.
From there, it was up to Bobby Jenks. The big righty bent, but much like the Sox all night, he didn't break. Even after balking a runner to third base, Jenks settled down to get Daric Barton to ground into an inning-ending double play.
It was the turning point in the game, and the highlight of a night of yeoman's work from the bullpen, that was capped by a scoreless inning apiece from Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon.
"Clay's pitch count was so high early, that we went to the bullpen early," Francona explained. "They did a great job. Bobby got out of that mess. Bard and Paps did a tremendous job."
The bullpen and Crawford alike came up big when needed most, even on a night where they could have just packed it in.
"We got down in a hole early on, but guys kept grinding, and we know it's not over until that last out is made," Crawford said. "You gotta give the guys credit, we grinded it out the entire game."
The Red Sox struggled at times on Friday night, but they still came away with the win, no matter how difficult it might have been. When you play 162 games, sometimes, you're just going to have to grind them out.
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