Dan Johnson, who entered the game hitting .149 in 46 at-bats, ended it with power he has always possessed.

I am a big advocate for going back to the olden days. Away with pitch counts and babying; let pitchers pitch. It’s a shame that a complete game is big news in this day and age. The pitchers haven’t changed; baseball has. And money has a lot to do with that transformation. But tonight at Tropicana Field, I wanted Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona to pull starting pitcher Clay Buchholz after seven innings.

Buchholz pitched like the Cy Young candidate he is, and Cy Young winner he should be. He dominated the Tampa Bay Rays offense, an offense that has been quite good all year despite not having a hitter hitting over .300. He allowed a single run on three hits over seven innings. His fastball was overwhelming. His curveball was devastating. His changeup had its unhittable bite. There was little the Rays could do. And then, with the score tied at one entering the eighth, with Buchholz having thrown 103 pitches, Francona had a decision to make.

After the scorching hot Victor Martinez laced his third home-run of the series in the top of the eighth to give Boston a 2-1 lead, he should have done what he’s done often this season. When a starter’s pitched seven, go to your bread and butter of Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon. Both have been lights out of late. And with the Rays one swing away from tying a game the Red Sox dearly needed to win, new faces and a new repertoire is needed.

Buchholz, as I said, was extraordinary. He has been all year. Francona has the utmost confidence in his staff. He currently doesn’t have a weak link in his rotation. And Buchholz is the best of them all. Considering Francona has the tendency to stick with what has worked, the decision to take him out or leave him in was a tough one to make. In the end, he left him in.

This wasn’t Grady Little leaving Pedro Martinez in too long during the 2003 ALCS against the New York Yankees. That was just plumb crazy (Martinez was clearly fatigued and had already shaken his teammates hands, believing his night was done). But, considering what ultimately happened, it was enough to reach back into my memory bank and mention that nightmarish scene. Buchholz was set to face the bottom of the Rays order. It wasn’t as if he was sent out to put away the heart of their lineup. If Boston’s bullpen was shaky, then yes, you leave him in. But that isn’t the case. Bard is one of the best set-up men in the game.

As he faced B.J. Upton, who is having a woeful all-around year, hitting just .235 while playing lackadaisical defense, it was clear he still his fastball still had its velocity, as ball-one was clocked at 93 on the gun. But his curveball, it turned out, lacked its tightness. It looped over the plate to Upton, hanging slightly, and the underachiever crushed it into the left-field seats. The game was now tied.

Who knows what would have happened if Bard had relieved Buchholz after the seventh, but I reckon it would have been similar to how he performed in the ninth. He needed only 11 pitches to dispose of three of the Rays biggest bats—Evan Longoria, Carlos Pena, and Matt Joyce. Oh what could have been.

Martinez collected his fourth hit of the game and sixth in eight at-bats in the series, a single with two outs in the tenth, but aside from that the Red Sox went quietly. Francona now had another decision to make.

Boston needed to win this game. It certainly wouldn’t be the nail in the season’s coffin if they lost. But it was big enough for Francona to think about putting in Papelbon in a non-save situation. He did not, though, putting Scott Atchison out there instead. The decision immediately backfired, though few thought it would end as it did. Rays fans hoped; but the odds were significantly against it.

Dan Johnson was the first batter up. The 31-year old designated hitter has had a tumultuous career. He had a solid rookie year in 2005 and hit 18 homers in 2007. He spent most of 2008 in the minors with the Durham Bulls, the Rays Triple-A team. He slugged 25 homers and batted .304 there, but then moved away from American baseball and spent a year in Japan, where he played with the Yokohama BayStars of the Central Japanese League and was pretty productive despite a poor average.

He returned to the Rays after that experience, playing in their minor league system once more before being called up at the beginning of August. He had just three hits in his previous 35 at-bats with the big club as he stepped to the plate. He was due–due for the biggest hit of his career.

Atchison got ahead of Johnson, firing in two strikes he took looking, but then had a battle on his hands. A battle that ended up lasting eight pitches, with the eighth, a fastball right down the pipe, blasted into the right-field seats. Home-run, ball game: a 3-2 comeback win and a difficult loss to take for the Red Sox, a team in dire need of any win they can get.

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