Okay, sure, that would have been a more compelling headline 24 hours ago, when the Red Sox could’ve taken the lead in the AL East by beating the Rays last night–but of course, 24 hours ago UmpBump was catatonic because of the extreme jackassery of a company called Siteground. (Apparently, we were gettin’ too big for our britches. Or rather, their servers.) Now, the best the 1.5-games-back Sox can hope for is to come out of this series in the Fens just a half-game behind (and the best Umpbump can hope for is to limp into the future, bloodied but unbowed…okay, maybe a little bit bowed).

Watching last night’s game, I was struck by just how evenly matched the two teams really are. Like the Red Sox-Yankee contests of the past couple of years (though not so much this year), this game dragged on for hours. It was parry, thrust, parry, thrust, right up until the last out.

Tampa seemed to have the Red Sox beat until Jason Bay hit his third roundtripper in as many games, putting the Red Sox on top with a two-run shot over the left field wall. But then the Rays rallied off of Papelbon in the 9th, tying the game on a solo homer and going ahead on back-to-back doubles. But even so, the Red Sox threatened again in the bottom of the ninth, with pinch runner Jacoby Ellsbury stealing second and then scrambling to third when Dioner Navarro’s throw went flying into the outfield.

In such a well-matched contest, managerial decisions often seem to tip the scales one way or the other. And last night was no exception.

So why Terry Francona wasted an out earlier in the ninth by trying to have Jason Varitek bunt Mark Kotsay, who’d walked, over to second is beyond me. First, if by some crazy chance it works and Kotsay does get to second, what do you think the chances are that the next batter, David Ortiz, would be intentionally walked? Somewhere between 99.95% and 99.98 %, I’d say. And second, why sacrifice at all? Why not put in Ellsbury as your PH right away, have him steal second, and then let him either a) stay there, when Varitek strikes out, or b) advance to third when Varitek grounds out, or c) have him tag and run to third when Varitek flies out? But it makes no sense to me, when you’re down to your last three outs, to waste one on trying to get your slow-footed catcher to bunt a guy to second base. I mean, I know Varitek’s odds of making an out are pretty high anyway, but at least when you let him swing the bat you have about a 31% chance that he’ll won’t make an out. Asking him to bunt gives you almost a 100% chance that he will.

The sacrifice wasn’t a play I’d grown used to seeing the Red Sox make, but it seems (unofficially, to my inconstant and subjective eye) to be making something of a comeback lately. About a month ago, I vented my spleen to the UmpBump staff:

Enraged Sarah: sox are up 2-1 against the other sox. jacoby ellsbury on first, no outs. terry francona calls for crisp to lay down a bunt to move ellsbury to second. tell me why, why you wouldn’t just have jacoby steal?! he’s one of the fastest players in the league!! why waste an out that way?!?!!! uuuugh.

Reasonable Paul: because to do otherwise is unconventional. and doing something unconventional means you’re going to get fired. saying things like you don’t want your big hitters walking because they clog the bases means you’re “experienced”.

Irrationally Infuriated Sarah: but the red sox almost never sacrifice! the red sox are steeped in moneyball ways!!!

To make matters worse, as Jerry Remy and Don Orsillo noted last night, if I heard them right, the Rays have sacrificed less than any other team in baseball this year. Damn you, Joe Maddon, and your hardball savvy and your trendy glasses!

I’ll try to liveblog/open thread/be here tonight. That is, if UmpBump is still here a couple of hours from now.

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