Sunday, April 13, 2008

Return of the Jedi

When the Red Sox play the Yankees, it is fun to win, and it is even more fun to make a statement while you do it. Yesterday, our spokesperson for that statement was Jonathan Papelbon. What an inspiring performance! Two runners on base, two outs, one run lead, eight inning, Alex Rodriguez coming to the plate, Francona bringing in ace closer Papelbon to face him. Power versus power. Yankees' best hitter against the Sox' best fireball closer. It was so dramatic, God himself hit pause on the game by throwing lightning bolts over Boston, so he could reload on snacks. When God hit play again (over two hours later!) , Papelbon came out charged with that very lightning, striking out A-Rod on three straight pitches! For regular readers, you know I have been intrigued by Papelbon working on a new and improved slider this spring. He threw it on the second pitch and got A-Rod to whiff at it. And look at those three pitches, 97 mph fastball (fouled off), 90 mph slider (swing and miss), wrapped up with a 98 mph fastball (swing and miss).

Paps came back out to wrap up the game in the ninth getting Giambi and Posada to both strike out swinging, and then survived a drawn-out battle against Robinson Cano (the guy I called most fearless in the Yankee lineup) who forced Papelbon to throw 10 pitches in a terrific showdown until he finally put one in play, grounding out to second.

Pitching wins ballgames, and Josh Beckett looked great until he began tiring in the 6th and 7th. Francona obviously wanted to avoid bringing out the middle relief and stretched Beckett as far as he could. Beckett will need a few more starts to build back his strength with the delay he had in spring training from the strained back. Manny Delcarmen and Okajima did their jobs holding the Yankees at bay for Papelbon's drama to commence.

As I indicated yesterday, I expected Manny Ramirez to surely hit against Mike Mussina, and he did, with a home run and a double driving in 3 of the Sox' four runs. I love to point out and examine strategy here and there. The situation...runners on second and third for the Sox with one out and David Ortiz coming up with Manny on deck. First base is open, and we have seen managers in the past walk Big Papi intentionally only to get burned by Manny. But, with Big Papi struggling right now, new Yankees' manager, Joe Girardi, makes a prudent decision to pitch to Ortiz. Ortiz struck out, making that move look good. Now, he's got 2 outs, and first base is still open. Do you pitch to Manny, who already clobbered a home run against Mussina earlier in the game, or do you put Manny on first and go after Youkilis? This time he opted to pitch to Manny, who stroked the first pitch for a game turning double. Oops.

The 18 game series against the Yankees is all tied up at one game a piece. Next up, Dice-K Matsuzaka will try to continue his hot start against the Yankees' promising rookie, Phil Hughes. Hughes had an iffy outing, only lasting three innings against the Royals in his last start because he had trouble spotting his fastball. That is a correctable problem. So, no guarantee he will pitch poorly tonight. I can't imagine Papi going hitless again - so look out fans in right field! Dice-K has really looked good - I think he is more confident in the strike zone that MLB umps are giving him, and working well with Varitek to exploit that zone using his tremendous arsenal of pitches. If his location is good, with a favorable ump, we could see another pitching gem tonight!


the blue state blogger said...

Dice-K will rule the Fens tonight! And Hughes will rue the day he ever whined about the visitor's clubhouse!

Rooster said...

That's the spirit!

I just hope the weather holds out long enough for Big Papi to go deep and run Hughes out of town!