- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
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"OK," Wells said, stifling the frustration he felt, and he patted Graffanino on the back, knowing how badly his teammate felt about the error that put the Red Sox lead in jeopardy in the fifth inning Wednesday night.
But Wells failed to make the pitch that would end the inning, instead making a tactical and physical mistake and surrendering a three-run homer to Tadahito Iguchi, and now the Red Sox standing as baseball champions are in serious jeopardy. Iguchi's homer gave the White Sox a 5-4 victory, and a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five Division Series that resumes Friday in Boston.
The Red Sox were routed in Game 1 but immediately took control of Game 2, scoring four runs off Mark Buehrle in the first three innings, a sizeable postseason lead for Wells, one of his generation's best postseason pitchers. He kept throwing strikes and getting outs, and even after Aaron Rowand doubled home Carl Everett with nobody out in the fifth, Wells looked at ease.
The White Sox added another run on Joe Crede's dribbler through the middle, but hey, nothing was being tomahawked. Wells lifted his shoulders and drew a large breath and made a good pitch to Juan Uribe, a changeup low and away; Uribe rolled a grounder toward Graffanino. A double play, probably. Graffanino moved forward to field the ball.
Crede was sprinting hard toward second, and as Graffanino reached down, he seemed to be aware of the White Sox runner bearing down on the bag. He lifted his glove and bare hand, intending to scoop the ball toward shortstop Edgar Renteria.
But the ball rolled through his legs.
"I didn't get a good read on it," Graffanino said afterward. "I tried to go quick with it, and I missed it."
Crede rounded second and sped toward third, and Wells turned and cursed loudly, whirling in his anger. Renteria went to the mound to talk to the pitcher, and then Graffanino, who acknowledged his mistake. "I've known Tony a long time, and I'm sure he felt bad," Wells said later.
The Red Sox still led by two runs, and needed two outs to get out of the jam. Scott Podsednik lifted a high pop into foul ground near third base; two outs. One more out to go. Iguchi walked to the plate.
Before the game, the White Sox had talked about Wells' preference to occasionally quick-pitch hitters -- delivering the ball in a slide step, rather than drawing up his front leg and then throwing, mechanics that sometimes surprise the hitter. I'm not going to let him do that to me, Iguchi told himself.
With a 1-0 count, Wells spun a slow curveball on the inner half of the plate, and Iguchi seemed a little off-balance as he took it for a strike, as if he didn't see it. "I'd been a victim of Wells' curveball before," Iguchi said later, through a translator.
Varitek flashed a sign and Wells nodded: Another curveball. Pitchers are sometimes reluctant to throw their curveballs on back-to-back pitches, because hitters often adjust to the speed, but Wells had one change of tempo in mind: He intended to quick-pitch.
Iguchi was thinking curveball. He was thinking about Wells' quick-pitch. And when Wells did both, hanging his breaking ball instead of throwing it just off the ground, Iguchi seemed to lift out of his shoes, in a full and powerful swing.
"He was sitting on it," Wells said. Varitek agreed: "I think he probably did."
Graffanino saw the ball rise toward left field, fly into the stands, and he turned around and walked into the outfield. "It crushed me, of course," Graffanino mused. "We were losing, and it was my fault."
"I feel bad because I didn't pick him up," Wells said.
After the White Sox took the lead, the anxiety climbed within Bobby Jenks, his heart rate increasing, his breaths coming more rapidly. This could be his first chance as a closer in the postseason, he realized, and he stood up and worked to control his breathing. He felt much better when he started warming up, in the seventh inning.
Buehrle had thrown 95 pitches through seven, and with so many Red Sox hitters sporting exceptional career numbers against him, Ozzie Guillen summoned Jenks from the bullpen. Two hundred ninety-three days after he'd been claimed on waivers from the Angels, the gate opened and Jenks jogged onto the field, a big-league closer in the playoffs.
"Same as any other jog out there," Jenks said later, poker-faced.
But he couldn't hold his expression. "Well, not really," he said, smiling.
Guillen had right-hander Dustin Hermanson and left-hander Neal Cotts throwing as Jenks pitched the eighth inning, and Guillen watched Jenks and rubbed his thighs, which is what he seems to do when he's not totally sure what he wants to do.
Hermanson and Cotts kept warming up, and Guillen kept rubbing his pant legs and sticking with Jenks, through Trot Nixon's two-out walk in the eighth, into the ninth inning. With one out, Graffanino, desperately needing redemption, slammed a double into left-center. But Jenks tied up Johnny Damon and the Red Sox center fielder fouled out, and then Edgar Renteria rolled to short, for the final out. Jenks pounded his chest and catcher A.J. Pierzynski pumped two fists at the pitcher; the White Sox are now one victory away from eliminating the defending champions.
Said Wells: "This team has been in this situation before. Let's see what they're made of."
But this is a different year, and a different team, its pitching depleted. Maybe what the Red Sox really need is to just get back to Boston, where the championship run began in Game 4 against the Yankees last year. Where it might end this year.
Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book, "The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty," is available in paperback and can be ordered through HarperCollins.com.
3hAdam Lewis, Special to ESPN.com